Steelers notebook: Benching could help cornerback Cortez Allen
October 17, 2014 12:00 AM
Browns' Jordan Cameron pulls in a pass for a touchdown against Steelers' Cortez Allen in the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland Sunday afternoon, October 12, 2014.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers signed cornerback Cortez Allen to a five-year, $25 million dollar contract on the eve of the season opener. Seven weeks later, they have benched him and will start free-agent signing Brice McCain Monday night against the Houston Texans.
McCain was signed to a one-year, $730,000 contract in the spring after spending his first five seasons with the Texans.
It’s the second time in as many seasons the Steelers have demoted Allen for ineffective play. He earned the starting job coming out of training camp last year and missed consecutive games after injuring his ankle in the opener. After he came back from the injury, he started against the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets before coming off the bench six of the next seven games. He then regained his starting job for the final four games.
The latest benching came after he was targeted by the Browns and gave up several big plays Sunday in the 31-10 loss at Cleveland.
“He’s still basically a young player,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “He’s at a difficult position. Sometimes, there are ups and downs out there. I have great confidence that he’ll fight himself through this and be a very strong player.”
LeBeau said Allen might be better for watching for a week or two. Allen isn’t the only cornerback LeBeau has benched in the middle of a season. He did the same to Ike Taylor in 2006, the season after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL with Taylor as a starter.
Taylor said he knows what Allen is going through.
“He’s like my little brother,” Taylor said. “It’s unfair sometimes, the situation. We feel like the shots being called aren’t good shots. But that comes with playing corner. Only the strong survive playing corner. You’re either going to fight your way out or you’re going to go in the tank. I tell him all the time to keep fighting. I’ve been through it. I’ve been through ups and downs.”
Taylor came back the next season in 2007 under first-year coach Mike Tomlin and regained his starting job. He held onto it until getting hurt earlier this season in Carolina.
“He has to write his own story,” Taylor said. “He’ll have a few downs. He’ll have a lot of highs. In order for him to appreciate it, he has to go through that bump in the road. He’ll get criticized. It will make his skin thicker.
“Before he knows it, nothing will bother him. And he’ll be the man everyone is talking about. He’ll get to that point.”
McCain ready for spotlight
McCain started 10 games for Houston, including four last season when he battled through foot and knee injuries. He finished the season lowest in the cornerback rankings done by Pro Football Focus, but viewed his arrival here as a new beginning.
“My whole life is a fresh start this year,” he said. “I got married. I’m healthy for the first time in two years. I’m on point mentally. I’m focused. It was a fresh start and I’m adding on to it.”
McCain has impressed the coaches in the short time he has been with the team. He took over the slot cornerback duties when Taylor was injured. Now he adds starting duties to his workload.
Against Houston, McCain will face a talented group of receivers that includes Andre Johnson, regarded as one of the best at his position for years. McCain looks forward to proving that his former employers were wrong to let him go.
“It’s big for me,” he said.
“This will give me more opportunities to help this team. I’m looking forward to it and I’m going to bust my butt all week to make sure I get that opportunity. It’s going to mean a lot going against my former team. These are guys I knew for five years.
“That means a lot to me to show that I can do it in front of my peers.”
It’s not just the red zone
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley acknowledged the team’s issues in the red zone, but he did some research Wednesday night that showed his offense has been unproductive in the fringe area outside the red zone, as well.
Haley said if his team eliminated untimely sacks, penalties, dropped passes and other assorted miscues, the Steelers would have scored 37 more points this season. He said those mistakes are hurting the offense just as much as the inefficiency in the red zone.
“We’d take those 37 points in a heartbeat,” he said. “We’d be averaging 26.5 points. The production would match the yardage output. It would match up, and we’d be up there where we need to be scoring points and we’d have at least one and maybe two more wins.
“We want to score in the red [zone], but we have to be a smart team in that fringe field-goal area, also. We can’t afford not to get those points and end up with zero, which has happened too many times.”
Haley also said he is calling about 73 percent of the offensive plays and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is responsible for the other 27 percent when he runs the no-huddle.
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