Head to Head: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Steelers CB Ike Taylor

A closer look at the game within the game

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TAMPA, Fla. -- What do Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald have to do to beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII and complete perhaps the most remarkable yet improbable playoff run in NFL history?

Just throw, baby.

A quick history lesson:

In the 2002 season opener, the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady attempted 43 passes in a 30-14 victory, at one point attempting 23 consecutive passes against the Steelers.

The following week, Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon began the game by throwing on 38 of the first 40 plays and finished with 64 pass attempts in a 30-17 victory, treating the run with the same disdain Al Davis has for NFL commissioners.

"That was a different regime," said inside linebacker James Farrior, who came to the Steelers that season in free agency. "That was when Tim Lewis was the defensive coordinator."

Perhaps.

Flash forward to last season and another game against the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., this one against a Steelers defense ranked No. 1 in all three categories and coached by Dick LeBeau. This time, Brady attempted 46 passes and threw four touchdowns, passing on 34 consecutive plays during one stretch.

All part of a plan by Patriots coach Bill Belichick to keep his team out of third-and-long situations.

"A lot of teams have tried to spread the field on us," LeBeau said.

"We have figured out ways to stop that," cornerback Deshea Townsend said.

If they have, and the numbers posted by the Steelers' defense this season have certainly suggested as much, the solution will be put to its hardest test today against the Cardinals, who have more than just the league's No. 2 passing attack.

They have Warner, a former Super Bowl MVP who has thrown eight touchdowns in the postseason. They have Fitzgerald, who has 23 catches, a postseason-record 419 receiving yards and several highlight-clip touchdown catches in three playoff games. And they also have Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, who, like Fitzgerald, had more than 1,000 receiving yards in the regular season. Mostly, though, they have Fitzgerald, who runs like a gazelle, positions like a tight end and has the body control of a gymnast.

"I mean, the guy has 419 yards and five touchdowns this postseason so you have to respect what he is doing," said cornerback Ike Taylor, one of the players who will share the burden of containing the former Pitt receiver. "He's playing on another level. It's nothing new. It's just that it's the postseason and everyone is taking notice."

Too bad not many people notice what the Steelers' secondary has been doing, Taylor said.

The Steelers allowed fewer 20-yard (23) and 40-yard passes (2) than any team in the league during the regular season.

The Steelers have contained every one of the top receivers they have faced this season. In each instance, Taylor had the assignment of following those receivers. His role was supplemented with rotating coverage from one of the safeties, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, to take away the deep pass. He is expected to do the same with Fitzgerald because he is the cornerback with the best height and speed to match against Arizona's 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver.

"As a corner, that's what you want," Taylor said. "That's what you want, to have your back against the wall. It's always a man-to-man thing with me. I like being on an island."


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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