Can New Kicker Play Nickel Back?

Mark Kaboly speaks for SCI.net in wondering why the Steelers are more concerned with an up-and-down kicker than they are a mostly down cornerback.

Jeff Reed got cut. Now the Steelers are going to win the Super Bowl.

They have to be the odds-on favorite moving forward because of the move Mike Tomlin made earlier in the week to go in a different direction with his kicker.

Whew!

Finally, the Steelers have somebody who can kick off to the 3-yard line rather than the 5-yard line; finally they have somebody who can make a 26-yard field goal to cut a late third-quarter deficit to 11 points.

Yes, please excuse my sarcasm. In my opinion, Reed's release earlier in the week was not only a poor decision by the organization but also one that has masked a glaring problem with the team – William Gay.

Only in Pittsburgh is it an issue when the "idiot kicker" who misses a meaningless field goal in a blowout game then complains to the media.

The major issue for the Steelers is their nickel back and his recent play.

While Reed was getting chastised for having missing a field goal against the Patriots, Gay allowed rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski to catch not one, not two, but three touchdowns.

Go back a week earlier to the Cincinnati game when Terrell Owens hauled in a touchdown pass over Gay, and that's four touchdowns allowed in two games.

Call me crazy but that seems to be a little more than an issue than Reed missing a couple of field goals.

Opposing teams have sought out and picked on Gay all season long. They play multiple receivers much more than usual, thus forcing the Steelers into their nickel package to create a matchup in the slot against Gay.

That was the case against the Bengals when Owens beat Gay, but you can almost accept that because it was T.O. who did the beating and not some lumbering 21-year-old tight end.

What happened against the Patriots and Gronkowski was unacceptable, and then brushed to the side as not a really a big deal.

"He ran some great routes," Gay said. "Big ups to him but you let that go. You go and watch film and if you can't see that you have things to correct in practice then you put a smile back on your face."

Sure, Gronkowski is an up-and-comer and has close to 100 pounds and nearly a foot on Gay, but Gay got beat because the big tight end outran him and out-smarted him, not because he outmuscled him.

How embarrassing.

"He ran some great routes," Gay said. "Big ups to him. They came in and did an excellent job of Brady throwing the ball and executing the plan against us."

The plan was to go after Gay the past couple weeks and you better believe that plan will continue to be revisited as the season goes on.

The NFL is a copycat league, or so I'm told.

And the Raiders have a pretty darn good tight end in Zach Miller coming to town and a couple pretty speedy receivers they can put in the slot as well, so you better believe Gay is going to be a pretty big chunk of the Raiders' game plan.

My question is why hasn't Gay been cast off by the boss man the same way he did the kicker?

No, I'm not suggesting Gay get released. That would be almost as absurd as cutting Reed. But the guy needs to find himself on the bench sooner rather than later.

Gay showed last year when he was anointed the starting cornerback out of training camp that he couldn't handle it and now is showing that playing the nickel is becoming too daunting, too.

In this day and age in the NFL, or at least with the Steelers' defense, a third cornerback is just as important as a starter because he plays that much. And when he allows four touchdowns in two games, something needs to be addressed.

Sure, Gay does well when he is called on to blitz, but I think the Steelers have enough people to put pressure on the quarterback rather than to rely on a nickel back.

There's no accountability across the board and that might be a bigger problem than Gay's play. So much for all that talk about how if a player doesn't perform on the field, bad things will happen. If that were true, Gay would be looking for work.

"I wasn't consistent this week but we have another week to work it out," Gay said.

Not sure why, but he does and probably will continue to have chances.

You would think that more concerning to the coaching staff than anything else is how Gay has gotten beat.

Owens just put a sweet move on him and left him in the dust and that stuff just happens. But Gronkowski, that's different. His first touchdown, Gay was beat cleanly again off the line by a 6-7 tight end lined up in the slot. The second score, Gay had his eyes in the backfield and got sucked up by play-action. The final one, Gay couldn't keep up with Gronkowski's speed.

Again, very concerning to at least me, but apparently not Gay.

"Those are things that I can correct in practice and come back and execute," he said.

You would have to hope that the only reason Gay is still in the lineup is because the lack of depth behind him at that position.

Anthony Madison is Gay's backup at nickel back, and while Madison is a pretty good special teams player, he's not much of a cover corner. But he can't be play any worse than Gay, can he?

Then again, the new kicker should be able to make up for all of it.


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