With kickoff just hours away, it looks like the Pittsburgh Steelers are still trying to figure out the right combination of players in the secondary. While the Patriots know all about losing two starters in the secondary (say hello to Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner), the Steelers will be trying to replace two 12-year veterans in Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor.
There is some stability with the 30-year-old William Gay starting at cornerback. Tom Brady targeted Gay 12 times in 2013 to the tune of 98 yards and a touchdown. In 2012, Gay was on a 1-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals, and Brady targeted Gay 13 times for an identical 98 yards. It's highly like that Brady will throw another 10+ passes in his direction later today.
Additionally, Mike Mitchell will be the Steelers starting free safety for the second straight season. Pro Football Focus ranked Mitchell as their 48th ranked safety, out of 59 qualifiers. Mitchell has been battling an ankle injury this preseason, after playing through a groin injury that required surgery in 2013.
There are/were two players that are/were expected to line up with Gay and Mitchell. These two players were listed at the top of the depth chart, but recent reports have shown that both players might have fallen before the season opener.
First, Cortez Allen is expected to start across from Gay at cornerback. Allen signed a 5-year, $26 million extension at the start of the 2014 season, but was benched and then broke his thumb. Allen was supposed to start in 2013, but was injured and lost his starting job to Gay for the first half of the year, before ultimately regaining his job.
Allen is potentially replaced by back-up Antwon Blake as the starting cornerback. The fact that the Steelers handed a lengthy extension to a player who can't hold down the starting role should be concerning for Pittsburgh. Brady should be licking his chops.
If Blake does get the start, look for William Gay to take some time off as Brady drives at the weakest point in the secondary.
Second, Shamarko Thomas was supposed to be the Steelers starting strong safety, but he's been replaced by veteran Will Allen. The 33-year-old Allen earned the spot because Thomas lost it with poor play in the preseason. Allen has started more than four games just once in the past eight years. He's primarily a special teams player.
Again, Brady should be excited at the prospects of the players lining up in the opposing secondary.
Gay, who Brady has historically picked on, is the best player in this group. That's all you need to know.