This is a new feature for Steel City Blitz where our staff members will all give their takes on specific things related to the Steelers. Since we’ve been huge advocates for Brandon Boykin getting on the field defensively, that’s where we will begin.
The Question: What did you think of Brandon Boykin’s performance against the Colts?
Marc: My feeling is that Boykin was a significant step up in terms of coverage skills. He moves much more fluidly than Antwon Blake and for a man guy, he has pretty good zone discipline. The rotation system was obvious. On running downs and in base formation, Blake was typically in the game. When the Colts were in passing situations or deployed three or more receivers, Boykin entered.
I do see the concerns of the coaching staff related to Boykin’s ability to stop the run. He is visibly smaller than Blake and his build makes it easy for receivers to lock on him in terms of blocking. I also noticed some tentativeness in terms of sticking his nose into a pile. What the Steelers’ have to be careful of is teams going to the run in three and four wide sets in an effort to expose Boykin’s run-stopping ability.
Either way, he proved he belongs on the field defensively and I would be surprised if he returned to the bench.
Chris: I agree on the sentiment that Boykin is going to struggle against the run. I saw a few plays where I thought, okay, that’s why the coaching staff doesn’t like him. He’s probably much more finesse than the Steelers like, but I’ll take it.
My favorite play of the game was not his interception, but covering receiver Griff Whalen on an out route, from the slot. Boykin was step for step with Whalen, and I’m not sure if he actually made contact with the ball but he disrupted the receiver enough to cause an incompletion. His man coverage ability is something no other cornerback on this roster possesses. I’d love another shot at the Patriots and let Boykin follow Julian Edelman around the field. I think Boykin would struggle with larger targets like AJ Green, but believe he can be a real asset to the defense by truly locking down smaller receivers.
Ben: I thought Boykin acquitted himself well especially by way of comparison to the coverage abilities of Antwon Blake, who may be even worse in coverage than I had realized. Although there were some other realizations that I had not expected. No one is ever going to mistake Boykin for Mel Blount or Rod Woodson. I’ll elaborate.
Aside from the interception, Boykin also had two passes defensed. I thought he did well in coverage, as I mentioned, and in playing the ball, as in keeping the other team from catching it.
The most glaring impression though is the difference in coverage ability between Blake and Boykin. And by that I mean, it’s ridiculous how bad Blake is and it probably makes Boykin seem that much better. Boykin can play press because his change of direction skills are excellent, but he’s not a very physical guy and I did notice that he was not a good open field tackler on that evening, although it was a case of bad angles, not a lack of effort.
I have to give Will Gay credit for making the play on that pick, but one other thing occurred to me. I like Will Gay a lot better inside than I do out. He doesn’t get burned on double moves inside as often, like he did against Andre Johnson on Sunday. I think this has to do with more predictable routes being run inside, more slants, posts and crosses, rather than an in and go or hook and go.
Bearing that thought in mind, maybe the reasons that Boykin hasn’t been playing and may continue to have his snaps limited all center around Gay and not Blake. Maybe the priority was to put Gay in the slot. I thought that 2014 was a bit of a down year for Gay and maybe the coaches felt the same. It certainly occurs to me that playing Gay in the slot maximizes his abilities. I have to wonder if, for the Steelers coaching staff, this wasn’t a question of Boykin or Blake, but of Boykin or Gay. Maybe they believe they lose something, likely tackling or edge support, when Gay subs for Blake on the outside. Given Blake’s numerous tackling gaffes the past month, they may have changed their minds.
Boykin played 40 snaps on defense Sunday to Blake’s 32. That was dictated by the situation a great deal though. When the Colts got into obvious passing situations because they were way behind, Boykin stayed on the field. When personnel deemed that they might run, Blake came in. Most of the game the Colts were playing from behind.
I noted something else about Boykin. He really is smaller than Blake. I didn’t believe that until this week. He has a narrower frame and is thinner through the legs. It’s also worth noting that Boykin had zero tackles and that I did see him miss at least one.
Tomlin’s comments Tuesday praising Blake’s special teams play and noting that he benefitted by some rest make me believe that his staff intends to use Blake and Boykin in the way that they were on Sunday going forward. Blake will play in run situations, Boykin will play nickel.
Carlos: Brandon Boykin definitely made his snaps count. He had about 40 defensive snaps against the Colts and he showed just how great he can be. He’s a smart player that wasn’t out of position all night. His run stopping abilities, like Marc pointed out, obviously aren’t at the level the team wants. He’ll have to work on that if he doesn’t want to return to the bench. His coverage skills looked the best out of the bunch and I, like the rest of the Steel City Blitz crew, pray that we continue to see more of him, especially in the next 2 games when the Steelers have their toughest assignments of the season.
Matt: When it comes to Brandon Boykin, the obvious fact is that the Steelers secondary is in desperate need of playmakers. Boykin is just such a playmaker. His coverage skills are better than anyone else in the secondary right now, that much is obvious. Regardless of the concerns that have been noted about him working on the outside WR’s, he’s still better than Antwon Blake. As Boykin sees the field more, he will become more comfortable with what’s happening in front of him in this style of defense, so I’m not too concerned about some tentativeness on his part right now.
photo courtesy sportspyder.com