Steelers cornerbacks McCain, Blake prove mettle against Flacco, Ravens
Cornerbacks Brice McCain and Antwon Blake were working hard to define their roles on the Steelers defense when the season began.
McCain left Houston, where he was one of the lowest-rated corners in the NFL. Blake was typecast as a special teamer.
But an injury to veteran Ike Taylor and the demotion of Cortez Allen thrust both into different roles.
They contributed greatly in a 43-23 win over AFC North rival Baltimore on Sunday night at Heinz Field.
“Blake and I have been playing this game for a long time, so it doesn’t surprise us,” said McCain, who returned an interception for a touchdown at Jacksonville in Week 5. “We’re humble about where we are right now, and we’ll keep balling.”
McCain and Blake clamped down on Baltimore’s deep threats, Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith. Their aggressive coverage forced quarterback Joe Flacco to hold onto the ball, which enabled the Steelers to record four sacks.
“They are the killer DBs,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “We didn’t do a good job of hitting Flacco the last time we played, but the coverage bought us some time. When he wanted to go deep, we were there hitting him in the face.”
As the Steelers prepare to face Michael Vick and the New York Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau feels good about his secondary depth even though Taylor remains out and strong safety Troy Polamalu suffered a leg injury against the Ravens.
McCain and Blake teamed with cornerback William Gay to frustrate Flacco and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. The Steelers have four interceptions during their three-game winning streak after getting only three during a 3-3 start.
“We want to be fundamentally sound,” said Blake, who recorded his first career interception against Indianapolis. “When we lose leaders like Ike and Troy, everyone else’s play has to rise up. We just wanted to put the team on our back. We didn’t want to let the team down. We’ve been ready to do whatever has been asked of us. The biggest thing for me was to relax and let my instincts take over.”
The Steelers didn’t shut down Smith Sr. and Smith completely, but the cornerbacks contained them after Smith beat McCain for a 35-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. The Ravens’ big-play receivers caught 9 of 15 passes thrown their way for 99 yards.
“I gave up one early, which caught me off guard and woke me up,” McCain said.
“We know that we can win or lose games,” Gay said. “We put that pressure on ourselves because we know we are the last line of defense.”
The Steelers rushed Flacco with at least five defenders on 26 of 45 pass attempts. They hurried him into errant throws, including linebacker Jason Worilds’ second-quarter interception that set up Ben Roethlisberger’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant.
“Flacco was rattled,” McCain said. “We put the heat on him. We’re getting better every week, and we’re clicking as a group.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach himat [email protected].