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Smashing the misconceptions surrounding William Gay’s 2016 performance

Among Steelers fans there is a misconception surrounding William Gay. Most say he is washed up, but when you go back and look at the film, you can see he is still a valuable asset to the team.

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NFL: AFC Divisional-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

William Gay is washed up.”

“William Gay was beaten like a drum in 2016.”

“William Gay’s roster position is in jeopardy, and he could become a salary cap casualty due to his 2016 play.”

“Did you see William Gay get roasted all game long by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game?”

Two words for all of this: HORSE PUCKY!!!

Too many Pittsburgh Steeler fans listen to what “experts” spout off, or insiders say, instead of digging into the tape themselves.

Have no fear, I will not let the “experts” mislead you any further.

Father Time takes his toll on all of us in one form or another, but did Gay lose a step after the 2015 season which saw him give up zero TDs?

“Well, duh, it’s obvious to any fan he did. Artie Burns took his starting gig during the Nov. 6 Baltimore Ravens game, right?”

You, sir, are correct.

Well, sort of.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ “base” defense is the 3-4, which was utilized under 30% of the time in 2016. But to say the slot CB position, in which Gay was utilized for the remainder of the season, does not get substantially fewer reps than other defensive starters would be incorrect. After the Baltimore game, Gay played in 68.5% of the total snaps for the remainder of the season. The move to slot CB in the NFL is not like a QB being benched. The role has tremendous value.

Let’s get to the meat of this article and delve into some cold hard truths in regard to Big Play Willie Gay.

1. He’s the second-best slot CB in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Only Denver Broncos slot CB Chris Harris had a better grade. Gay gave up 226 yards, which is just 11 more yards than Harris gave up during 2016.

2. He gave up 0.61 yards per play while manning the slot in 2016. Terence Newman topped the list in the league last year at 0.57.

3. He was the 15th-best CB according to PFF, scoring a grade of 83.7 (best of his career). Many Steelers fans were clamoring to sign Captain Munnerlyn during the offseason. Munnerlyn ponied up an 83.8 rating.

4. He’s got an 83.7 passer rating out of the slot. For perspective, Pacman Jones, whom Ike Taylor listed as his seventh-best NFL CB, had a passer rating of 83.3.

5. He gave up 6.6 yards per reception. For comparison’s sake, Harris gave up just shy of 10 yards per reception.

6. Gay gave up just one reception every 10.9 coverage snaps from the slot.

The AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots is one where Steelers fans get the disdain for Gay’s play so very wrong. We all saw Gay giving up a TD to Julian Edelman, one of the best slot WRs in the NFL. When I watched it live, I was upset at Gay -- just like all the rest of you -- because of his poor defense. Gay was beaten so badly that he was 5 yards from the play. Then I went back and watched it again. After the play, Gay throws up his hands. I figured he was upset that he had no inside or underneath help.

But after watching it again, I realized Gay wasn't throwing his hands up in the air in frustration over getting zero help from his teammates. He threw his hands up in frustration for not getting any help from the refs.

To understand this, you need to see the play from a different angle, one you couldn't view during the game. You’ll be able to see the clear offensive pass interference that was not called. Edelman’s arm is fully extended and the interference was unbelievably missed. Michael Irvin would have been proud. But Steelers fans never got to see that angle during the game, so it just looked like Gay had messed up.

During the regular-season game against the Miami Dolphins, there was another play that the slot CB must always be wary of: the WR screen. Gay diagnosed the play almost immediately and evaded the block to shut down DeVante Parker after a minimal gain.

Pitt traveled to Kansas City for the divisional-round matchup with the Chiefs. Gay came up big on a bit of a trick play by the Chiefs. Alex Smith dumped off a quick shovel pass to Travis Kelce. Gay sniffed it out and knifed in to stop a possible TD, showing off his speed and veteran instincts.

One aspect that every slot CB has to participate in is run defense. Gay has never shied away from contact, never hesitated to stick his nose in to defend against the run. The following Gay does just that

These are just some examples of why I believe the premature demise of the Steelers’ 10-year vet is overblown and over hyped. Too many of the talking heads in the local Pittsburgh media criticized Gay unfairly for his play in 2016, possibly based on emotion, or their vision being blurred by not wanting to put the blame where it belonged -- on the young players.

I implore each and every one of you to look at the game tapes for yourselves and make your own decision about Gay, and don’t let others’ misconceptions cloud your own judgement. Take a few minutes to actually scrutinize the tape, and you’ll see that Gay is still the best CB Pittsburgh has — and why.