The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary isn't good. This is a known fact throughout the NFL, but what continue to baffle fans and media surrounding the team is the deployment of cornerbacks used on a weekly basis.
After some atrocious play by Antwon Blake midway through the season, Mike Tomlin addressed the situation with a defensive back rotation which saw Blake, Brandon Boykin and Ross Cockrell all rotating throughout the secondary. At first, the main issue was the lack of playing time for Boykin, but that has long been rectified as Boykin has been the team's primary slot cornerback for the past several games.
With Boykin clearly in the fold moving forward, there is still an aspect of the secondary which isn't being addressed, and, to the surprise of no one, it involves Antwon Blake. Blake continues to be picked on by opposing offenses, even ones quarterbacked by Austin Davis, and they are having success. Nothing illustrates this more than when Blake gave up a big pass play to Terrelle Pryor at the end of the first half in Week 17. The play led to a Cleveland Browns field goal as they went into the locker room.
Yes, I am talking about that Terrelle Pryor. The former quarterback for Ohio State, and the Oakland Raiders. He is now a wide receiver for the Browns, and out muscled Blake on this particular play. For whatever reason, Tomlin and Keith Butler decided to make a change in the second half by playing Ross Cockrell primarily on the outside, and things improved.
This is where the discrepancy comes into play. Boykin isn't a part of the issue anymore, now it becomes an issue of why Cockrell isn't playing over Blake. In Week 17, Blake played 47 of 83 defensive snaps, while Cockrell only 36 of 83. The play of the secondary looks markedly better when Cockrell, Boykin and William Gay are on the field, compared to when Cockrell is watching and Blake is inserted into the lineup.
Fans want answers to why the Steelers keep throwing Blake out there to literally be picked on time and time again, but at this point you can't expect answers to those questions. The Steelers seem determined to play Blake throughout this postseason run, and hopefully his presence on the field doesn't equate to another "one-and-done" playoffs for the black and gold.
The complete breakdown of snap totals for the Steelers is below, courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
(Editor's Note: As always, Jarvis Jones is listed as Jacoby Jones -- who was released from the team this week).
Steelers Snap Counts