Head-to-head: Steelers CB Ike Taylor vs. Browns WR Josh Gordon
December 28, 2013 10:04 PM
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor will have his hands full today when he covers Browns receiver Josh Gordon.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In a three-week period earlier this season, the Steelers watched three opposing receivers -- Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Cleveland's Josh Gordon and Baltimore's Torrey Smith -- combine for 26 catches, 509 yards and four touchdowns.
The biggest game was turned in by Gordon, who had 14 catches, 237 yards and a touchdown -- the second-most receiving yards by an opponent in Steelers history.
In each of those games, cornerback Ike Taylor was assigned the responsibility of following those receivers. And while all those yards weren't Taylor's fault, the vast majority came with him in coverage.
Since that three-game aerial assault, the Steelers have not used Taylor to shadow the other team's top receiver. They have kept him largely on the right side of their defense with Cortez Allen on the left. Even when the Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals Dec. 15, Taylor did not follow A.J. Green as he is accustomed to doing.
In all likelihood, Taylor will stay on the right side again today against the Browns, no matter where Gordon goes.
"We just wanted to settle the defense down," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said about the move. "We didn't think we were playing anywhere near our capability and we thought that might help settle us down, and to some extent it has. So we've just stayed with that."
Despite missing the first two games of the season because of suspension, Gordon leads the NFL with 1,564 receiving yards and is eighth in the AFC with 80 catches. His per-catch average of 19.6 yards is also the best in the league.
Gordon has a chance to become the first Brown to lead the league in receiving yards. He has a 72-yard lead on Johnson (1,492) and 152-yard advantage on Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (1,412).
A week after his record-setting performance against the Steelers, he followed that with 10 catches and 261 receiving yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars -- becoming the first player in NFL history to have back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. In a four-game stretch, beginning with the Steelers, he totaled an NFL-record 774 receiving yards.
"It's been amazing, with all the changes at quarterback, multiple quarterbacks, and things that have gone on," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. "He's just gotten better every day, going back to the spring as a young player and a guy who hadn't played an awful lot of football and was really just learning the position. That 'want-to' has been there."
Gordon is something of a surprise, especially because he is only 22. He did not play for two years because he got kicked out of Baylor and Utah for failed drug tests. The Browns gave up a No. 2 pick in this year's draft to move up in the 2012 supplemental draft to take him despite his off-field issues.
After emerging as a needed playmaker for the Browns as a rookie, he began this season serving a two-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. His performance against the Steelers, and what he did a week later against the Jaguars, has elevated Gordon into one of the most dangerous receivers in the league.
"I just played my game pretty much; I don't think I did anything different as opposed to any other game," Gordon said about the first meeting with the Steelers. "We just had a lot more open opportunities and I took advantage of what I could and it turned out to be a pretty good game for me."
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