On The Steelers: Jets vs. Steelers / Cornerbacks suffer by the comparisons
January 21, 2011 5:00 AM
Cornerback Ike Taylor gets himself ready before the Steelers' practice at their South Side facility Thursday. Taylor and the rest of the secondary will be challenged by the Jets' corps of receivers Sunday.
On this side, representing the cornerback position for the New York Jets: Three-time Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis, one-time Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie, rookie Kyle Wilson -- all first-round draft picks -- and Drew Coleman.
On this side, representing the Steelers at cornerback: Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, William Gay and Anthony Madison. Not a first-rounder nor Pro Bowler among them.
Sunday night in Heinz Field, it will be the diamonds vs. the rough at cornerback in the AFC championship game, the cornerback crème de la crème vs. the Rodney Dangerfields of the position.
Yet, somehow, there are people who do not feel all is lost at that position for the Steelers, even if those who say that work for the Steelers.
Taylor, for one, has been considered a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback around these parts for years. He often draws the other teams' best receivers as his assignment, and his work in their 2005 Super Bowl run was superb, although his play this season may have been his best.
The problem for Taylor has been interceptions, or the lack of them. Taylor has two this season and 10 in his eight-year career. He plays the ball nearly as well as any cornerback but rarely comes down with it.
Still, he does his primary job well, and that is to keep the ball away from the receiver. He covered Santonio Holmes Dec. 19 and the former Steelers Super Bowl MVP had only 40 yards on six catches.
"We didn't win, so I didn't do well enough," Taylor said.
Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace put Taylor in the same league as any Jets cornerback.
"I think he's one of the best. He's going to get overlooked, I guess, because he doesn't have as many interceptions as everybody else, but I think he does just as good of a job as any of those guys in one-on-one situations. We put him on the best player every week, and I don't ever really hear too much about him. I think he's doing a really good job out there."
Taylor would love to draw Holmes again Sunday.
"I'm asking for that," Taylor said. " 'Tone, he's that fourth-quarter, last-drive guy. He's that big-play guy. He's that guy who can turn a slant into a game-winning touchdown. He's that guy, pretty much.
"I feel like if he's that guy, I want to be on that guy. I know what 'Tone brings to the table, 'Tone knows what I bring to the table, so it'll be a good matchup."
The problem for the Steelers might occur in the other matchups. Bryant McFadden has not practiced this week since leaving his second game in a row early with an abdominal strain. He said he was OK until he had to cover an "out" pattern, and that's when the injury became aggravated.
William Gay has performed better as a nickel back and filling in for McFadden on the left side than he was as a fulltime starter last season. Madison was brought back more for his special-teams play than his work at cornerback.
Even if Taylor shuts out Holmes -- provided that is his assignment -- someone must cover Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, other productive wide receivers. That does not take into account their leading receiver, tight end Dustin Keller, nor LaDainian Tomlinson, among the best receiving backs in NFL history.
"What do we want to do this week? I got options," Taylor said as to what Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer must be thinking. "I can line up in four or five wide, I can use my tight end as a receiver. I got two monsters at running back. Whatever I feel like doing this week I can do it."
LeBeau wants to return
Dick LeBeau, 73, wants to return to coach, squashing any speculation that he might retire as the Steelers' defensive coordinator after the season. And he answered the question as to whether he will continue as only LeBeau can.
"I have a standard retort to that. I'm not even the oldest coach in the state of Pennsylvania. There's a guy up here at Penn State, he's 10 years older than me, so I feel like a baby. First of all, someone's got to want you to coach. We've been blessed from that standpoint. We'll see how that goes. I don't think these guys had too bad a year defensively and we've still got some defense to play. If somebody wants me to work, I think maybe we can still get them in and out of the huddle a couple of times."
"But we're sure not looking too far down the road. As a friend of mine once said, we're not buying any green bananas, baby."
Listen for the whistle
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians did not provide any extra awareness drills this week so his players might react to a loose football better than they did in the first quarter of their playoff game Saturday with the Baltimore Ravens.
Terrell Suggs hit Ben Roethlisberger as he was about to pass, and the ball popped loose and rolled dead before one player, Ravens defensive lineman Corry Redding, picked it up and ran 13 yards for a touchdown.
Said Arians, "Just listen for the whistle, you know? It's kind of a freaky play -- 21 guys stopped, so did he. I still think the whistle blew, but that's neither here nor there."
There is a chance all the injured Steelers will practice today and be available to play Sunday, except for defensive end Aaron Smith. Coach Mike Tomlin said that he anticipated that McFadden, safety Will Allen (knee) and safety Troy Polamalu will practice for the first time this week today. Arnaz Battle (illness) also is likely to be ready to play Sunday.