As he always does, cornerback Ike Taylor likely will follow his former teammate, Nate Washington, when the Steelers play the Tennessee Titans tonight in Nashville, Tenn. Following the opposing team's top receiver has become customary for Taylor.
But that also means Keenan Lewis, the other corner, gets matched regularly against the opponent's No. 2 receiver -- in this case, rookie Kendall Wright, who leads the Titans with 27 receptions; or former No. 1 pick Kenny Britt, who still is trying to round into form after an anterior cruciate ligament injury ended his season in the third week a year ago.
With so much attention always focused on Taylor's ability to shut down the top opposing receiving threat, it goes largely unnoticed that Lewis has done more than a solid job of containing -- sometimes even shutting down -- the No. 2 receiver.
"We joke about it sometimes and get on the guy if he got beat, but you take it seriously because you don't want to be that guy," Lewis said. "I don't want to be that guy ever again so I try to make sure I eliminate those types of plays and win my battles."
Against the New York Jets, Lewis held rookie Stephen Hill, who had two touchdown catches in his previous game, without a catch. In Denver, Lewis led the team with two pass break-ups and didn't allow Eric Decker a catch longer than 17 yards.
In a victory Sunday against Philadelphia, the Eagles' longest play was a 24-yard pass to DeSean Jackson, who was being shadowed all game by Taylor. The Eagles' No. 2 receiver, Jeremy Maclin, had a team-high five catches against Lewis but none longer than 11 yards.
"He's really in his growth cycle, and we're looking for him to continue to grow," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a Hall of Fame cornerback in his playing days, said of Lewis. "I thought he played well last year for us and so far he's doing OK. We're looking for all our young players to grow."
In the past 11 quarters, the Steelers have allowed just one pass longer than 18 yards -- and that was the 24-yarder to Jackson on the Eagles' final possession. That has allowed them to move up to No. 3 in the league in pass defense and inch closer to the No. 1 ranking they held last year.
Lewis said he is up to the challenge, just as he was in training camp when his biggest battle was having to hold off young cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown for the starting job.
"To be honest with you, I know this is contract year for me and I want to be the best I can be and make a living for my family," said Lewis, who is playing this season on a one-year tender for $1,260,000 . "I know those guys like to compete, too, so I know I was going to have to step my game up a notch. Being a fourth year player, they expect a lot from me. I'm getting better every game at it."Steelers
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @gerrydulac.