Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
San Diego may not have the best passing offense in the NFL, but they can hit the deep ball. With second-year cornerback Cortez Allen replacing Ike Taylor, who's missing a rare game due to injury, the Steelers' defense must eliminate those big plays in Week 14.
Cortez Allen's role with the Steelers is clear. It's just going to be very difficult.
Life After Ike Taylor begins in Pittsburgh, as the cornerback will likely miss at least two games with a hairline fracture of his right ankle. He suffered the injury breaking up a deep pass from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco intended for wide receiver Torrey Smith.
In four quarters and two plays into the teams' second game, Taylor allowed Smith one catch for seven yards on eight targets.
Allen came in for Taylor, and was given the assignment of covering the impressively athletic Smith. The Ravens gunned at him often (too often, even), but Allen held his ground, by and large.
Baltimore passed for 320 yards in those two games, with one touchdown pass and one interception thrown by Flacco. The Steelers have allowed four touchdown passes in their last five games, and are the league's top-ranked passing defense (166 yards per game).
Much of that is credited to the outstanding individual play of Taylor during that stretch. Since getting victimized by Tennessee in the Titans' upset 26-23 win over the Steelers in Week 6, the Steelers defense has gone on a tear, and brought the team from the brink of collapse into contention for the playoffs.
All that being said, Allen must fill in for Taylor - a guy who's played in every game of Mike Tomlin's six-year tenure as head coach.
The Steelers won't handle him with kid gloves, either. The defensive game plan against San Diego will likely involve preparing the cornerbacks to cover deep. The Chargers passing game isn't close to being among the best in the league (227 yards per game), but the combination of Malcom Floyd (15 yards per catch) and Denario Alexander (18 yards per catch) makes for one of the more potent deep threat tandems in the league.
How exactly the Steelers will use Allen and Keenan Lewis remains to be seen, but Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers applies a lot of high-to-low reads, which is similar to Flacco and the offense of the Ravens. Rivers hasn't had much success this year, and has thrown a considerably high amount of interceptions.
That's something the Steelers defense hasn't forced many of this season. They have seven total, with Taylor having the only one among cornerbacks.
Rivers is tied for third among NFL quarterbacks with 15 interceptions.
But he still has an outstanding arm, and with little to play for, the Chargers may employ a similar strategy as did the Ravens, and target Allen in the deep field early and often.
With a week to prepare, Allen will hit the field in a rare game without a Steelers starting cornerback named "Taylor." How he handles that responsibility will be a key factor in this game.