With the Steelers sitting at 6-5, and fighting for a playoff spot after their recent loss in Seattle, it has become quite evident that personal adjustments need to be made on defense. There is talk this week coming out of Pittsburgh, that cornerbacks Doran Grant and Brandon Boykin might get an opportunity to see what they can do for the defense, in response to the sub-par play of Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell. This is somewhat of a surprising development due to the Steelers history of sticking with players for too long after a decline in their performances. The recent salary cap issues, since 2008, are a direct result of the organization trying to go on another Super Bowl run with past their prime veterans whose best days were behind them.
Bill Cowher had a theory that he pretty much adhered to, that it’s better to part ways with a player a year too early than a year too late. After Super Bowl XLIII and XLV, the Steelers felt that they could get another run out of players like LaMarr Woodley, Casey Hampton, James Harrison, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu, so they signed these guys, who were all past the age of 30, to high dollar long term deals. The problems this created were two-fold. Young guys weren’t getting a real chance to see any action to help their development, and they failed miserably with most of their draft picks. If they did have a player who showed promise, the Steelers had to let him walk because they couldn’t afford to keep him, since it was more expensive to cut the older, declining high priced veteran. As a result, the entire defense got old at the same time, leaving them cap-strapped, with no young, viable replacements.
The Steelers are still feeling the effects of those choices today. When they were forced to let Keenan Lewis walk, because it would have been more expensive to cut Ike Taylor, they were all but forced to overpay to retain Cortez Allen out of necessity. Although Allen showed some promise early, in limited action, he has pretty much been a complete bust, starting only seven games since 2013. Between a complete loss of confidence and a series of injuries, Allen has likely played his last game for the Steelers. It’s yet another case of wasted money being given, out of necessity, as a result of choices made over five years ago. To the Steelers credit though, they have been able to remain competitive, while being cap-strapped, as they overhaul their defense.
In the environment of today’s NFL, it is all about instant gratification. Just being competitive isn’t nearly good enough. Any season ending with less than a Super Bowl title is never good enough, and it’s been that way for over a decade. It’s why the Steelers put themselves in salary cap hell for the last seven years. It’s why in today’s NFL, Chuck Noll would have been fired long before he built his first Super Bowl team. It is why Terry Bradshaw wouldn’t have lasted beyond his fourth season, because fan bases demand Super Bowl championships. It’s also why the coaching staff is irrationally blamed for the recent defensive failures, even though it’s not the coaching, it’s the lack of talent in the secondary.
The Steelers do not have a true number one cornerback. What they have are two second and third stringers that are filling the role of starting cornerbacks, when at best, they should normally be providing quality depth. The Steelers would be wise to give Grant and Boykin their opportunities to show what they can do against the Colts, because Blake and Cockrell’s performances have been trending down over the last three weeks. The big plays they have given up, helped knock the Steelers out of the top wild card spot, to a position where they have to fight to make the playoffs. If Grant and Boykin can help stabilize the secondary, and provide the reliable coverage that’s been lacking, the Steelers will be capable of making some noise in the postseason. Considering the state of the Steelers this season, and with all of the injuries that they have overcome, that should be upon as having a successful season.