There was a time, as recently as 2011, when the Steelers secondary was a big question mark. Between injuries to Troy Polamalu, fines to Ryan Clark, inconsistent play from William Gay and 3 question marks backing them up, things were dicey at best on any given week.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens repeatedly made both Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis the targets of their aerial attack on Sunday evening. When Ike Taylor left on the first defensive series with an ankle/lower leg injury, the Ravens had to be licking their chops at the chance to put speedster Torrey Smith and big target Anquan Boldin out in their routes.
The Ravens immediately went to work on Allen as he was matched up primarily on Boldin. Allen was able to hold his own for the most part in the first half, getting in front of passes or just keeping himself in the play by batting the ball down from behind. Then pass interference, a couple catches including 1 for a touchdown by Boldin a short time later started to make you think things could unravel.
Ken Laird reported that Lewis went over and talked to his teammate to make sure he was able to shake it off and move on: “Definitely I went and talked to him. I said, ‘play your game’. I feel like he’s a starter on any team in this league. Even our team, our coach says we don’t have starters. We’re all starters. We knew he was going to settle down and that’s what he did, played a heck of a game. We had to get physical [against Boldin], that’s what he game is involved around, being physical. He tries to push DBs around, we watch it on film. A lot of DBs let him go with it, but we knew it was going to be a dog-fight. We’ve got to box 12-rounds, that’s what we did.”
Keenan Lewis; it seems like so long ago that he blew up in Kansas City and ended up in Mike Tomlin’s dog house. Times have changed and many feel his coverage abilities are on par, or close to it, to that of Ike Taylor. Lewis has good football instincts, the closing speed to recover when beat, and the ability to time his jumps perfectly to deflect passes away.
Lewis spent a good portion of the night locked up on Torrey Smith or Jacoby Jones and repeatedly rose to the challenge; not allowing either player to get in his head. Smith had 3 catches for 33 yds and Jones just 1 for 5 yds.
He’ll get beat from time to time, sure, but this kid will certainly be looking for a well-deserved payday come 2013 and the Steelers would be wise to lock him up long term.
There is no one better to coach this young group than former Steeler Carnell Lake.
Lake played every position during his time with the Steelers, so who better to teach not only technique but versatility than the man who did it all? He’s young enough, 45, to relate to the players at their level but still have the experience to back up what he preaches. He may not have the experience of a Ray Horton, former Secondary Coach for Pittsburgh now with Arizona, but he’s got a bright future in coaching indeed.
Overall the Steelers Secondary gave up just 188 yds through the air to Baltimore and 1 Touchdown. That’s a pretty good night for anyone but for the leagues #1 ranked defense in the biggest game of the season to date, it was required.