If you thought the Ravens had a quiet off-season with relatively little action, the Steelers were silent . Beside the draft, the only addition was backup running back DeAngelo Williams, a veteran with plenty of starting experience. The defense, and especially the secondary, considered the biggest weakness of the team, remained untouched outside of the jettisoning of slipping veterans like Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, the retirement of Jason Worlids, and exit of role players like Brice McCain. An already mediocre defense and secondary was left in the hands of unproven young players like safety Mike Mitchell, who had one good year before he came to Pittsburgh, safety Shamarko Thomas who has no starting experience, CB Cortez Allen who has yet to prove his extension was not a huge gaffe, and players with little or no playing time like Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, and Antwon Blake. The only stalwart was William Gay, himself a mediocre player for his first 6 seasons before putting together 2 very good seasons since his return from Arizona 2 years ago.
If those personnel issues weren't troublesome enough, Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau left for Tennessee after a decade with the Steelers. LeBeau's departure is a big cost to the Steelers, as he is one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time.
The result of these turbulent times is many questions for a Steelers defense, with even their head coach hesitant to put too much pressure on them. With raw young pieces like Stephen Tuitt, Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier and more expected to lead the defense, the expectations are not so high for this unit unless many players step up. But paired with possibly the best offense in the NFL, the defense does not need to be top 10 for this team to be at the top of the conference. Despite a tough 1st place schedule on top of playing the AFCW and NFCW, 2 of the hardest divisions outside of the AFCN, this Ravens fan expects the Steelers to be our top competition for 2015. Other contenders like the Colts and Patriots have major flaws too, and the Steelers are much better equipped to overcome those flaws.
Well now the Steelers have made their biggest move of the off-season, adding third year veteran cornerback Brandon Boykin in a trade with the Eagles.
The #Eagles have traded CB Brandon Boykin to the #Steelers for a conditional 5th round pick in 2016, they announce.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 1, 2015
This move bolsters an extremely weak corner group for Pittsburgh which was relying heavily on either a Cortez Allen rejuvenation after a horrid year, or one of the two rookie CBs to step up. As Ravens fans know from last year, bad safety play combined with mediocre corner play is a recipe for disaster, and the Steelers don't boast half the pass rush the Ravens fielded in 2014. But the addition of Boykin to their current group means all of a sudden they boast a solid tandem, with the question mark at corner now shifting to nickel corner, still a concern but not nearly as big.
Boykin is a clear upgrade, but the question is whether it is enough.
Pro FB Focus ranked Boykin No. 21 overall among all NFL CBs, 19 in pass coverage, higher than any #Steelers CB in 2014— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) August 2, 2015
However, the addition of Boykin does nothing to address one aspect of the Steelers secondary, one the Ravens should be able to exploit: Lack of size.
Our fellow SBNation blog, Behind the Steel Curtain, said it best.
Makes me laugh to myself when #Steelers fans praise the addition of 5'9" Boykin, yet criticized the Golson draft pick bec he is "too small"— BTSC Steelers (@btsteelcurtain) August 2, 2015
Brandon Boykin: 5"9
Senquez Golson: 5"9
William Gay: 5"10
Cortez Allen: 6"1
Doran Grant: 5"10
Antwon Blake: 5"9
With the Ravens boasting a huge receiving corps outside of 5"9 Steve Smith (albeit with his strong frame and mad hops), the Ravens are ripe to take advantage of this. The group consisting of 6"2 Kamar Aiken, 6"2 Breshad Perriman, 6"5 Marlon Brown, 6"6 Darren Waller, 6"4 Maxx Williams, and 6"6 Crockett Gillmore is formidable for any team, but a team with 5 of their top 6 corners 5"10 and under can be particularly susceptible to facing such big-bodied receivers.
This is definitely an upgrade for the Steelers despite a down year for Boykin, but I am glad the Ravens are seemingly positioned to take advantage of the lack of size. Either way, we are in for 2 or 3 awesome match-ups in the best rivalry in pro sports this year. I am ready for some football!