Pittsburgh Steelers: Bryant McFadden Could Give the Steelers an Edge in Denver

Cian FaheyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23:  Bryant McFadden #20 of the Pittsburgh Steelers pumps up the defense prior to the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have injury concerns on both sides of the football as they head to Denver to face the Broncos and Tim Tebow.

Rashard Mendenhall's absence has been well publicized, while Ben Roethlisberger's struggles with his ankle have been well documented lately as well. There may be more pivotal worries on defense though, as some lesser known, but nonetheless key, players will potentially miss out.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' secondary has been outstanding this year under the tutelage of Carnell Lake, but enters the Wild Card Round potentially missing many faces.

Ryan Clark, the team's starting safety who would have been the perfect safety to play Tim Tebow, has already been ruled out because of his previous experience in the altitude of Mile High stadium. Without Clark, the team will turn to Ryan Mundy who is a reliable cover safety.

The other player who is definitely out plays a lesser role on the defense, but has been a key special teams player—rookie Curtis Brown. Brown has been placed on IR and won't return this year.

Along with Brown and Clark, the Steelers are nursing injuries to Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis. Lewis and Allen have been vital cogs in the Steelers' secondary's ascension to the top of the rankings in the NFL.

Both players were knocked out of the game against the Cleveland Browns and the uncertainty around their status this weekend has led to the return of Anthony Madison, although that may just be for special teams purposes.

Keenan Lewis has played significant time for the Steelers as the team's nickel back, but Allen probably wouldn't have featured much against the Denver Broncos as the team's dime. The Steelers will likely be in their base defense more often than ever to shut down Denver's running game.

Should Lewis and Allen miss out, Bryant McFadden would be installed as the team's nickel defender.

McFadden is a former starter who, when healthy, is a perfect fit in the Steelers' zone defense. Prior to leaving for Arizona in 2009 and while he was healthy during the beginning of last season, McFadden was a playmaker for the Steelers.

It may not show up on the stat sheet—nine career interceptions and four forced fumbles—but McFadden was an impact corner during his first stint with the Steelers. He is the biggest hitter of the Steelers' cornerbacks and only Ike Taylor can even consider competing with him as a tackler.

For this reason, McFadden's involvement in this game could be a positive for Mike Tomlin's men.

Provided the Steelers place Ike Taylor on Eric Decker, with William Gay plus safety help on Demaryius Thomas, McFadden would actually be a better option in the slot opposed to when Gay moves inside for Lewis on the outside.

The reality is, the Steelers won't leave their base defense more than 20 percent of the plays. This means that the role of the nickel corner won't be monumental, featuring only in obvious passing situations. However, many teams look to run on the Steelers in obvious passing situations because of how difficult it is to run against the base defense.

With an extra cornerback coming in for a defensive lineman, the Broncos will like Tim Tebow's chances of running over said player. If that said player is Bryant McFadden, those chances dwindle opposed to William Gay or Keenan Lewis.

This year, the team has played a lot more man coverage because of the skill sets of Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen. Man coverage is what the Broncos want with Tim Tebow at quarterback.

It is more difficult to play the run if your cornerbacks are in man coverage, and it also doesn't force Tebow to read the defense as often.

In zone coverage, the Steelers will be able to force more mistakes from Tebow in the passing game, not to mention take away the team's tall receivers advantage over the Steelers' corners. Zone coverage will also allow the Steelers' secondary to react more quickly to the team's running attack.

Facing off against Tim Tebow, it is just as important for your team's cornerbacks to tackle consistently against the running game as well as cover receivers.

Arguably, it may be more important.


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