Jets' Edwards tall order for Steelers

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It is unclear which Steelers cornerback will draw the assignment of covering New York Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards in the AFC championship game.

Starter Bryant McFadden likely would get the duty, but he is listed as questionable for the game because of an abdominal injury he sustained against the Baltimore Ravens last week.

If McFadden can't play, third cornerback William Gay would be in line for the job, and he believes it will be one of the toughest assignments for a cornerback Sunday.

Edwards is a sometimes brash and emotional player who, Steelers cornerbacks said, doesn't get enough credit for being one of the best receivers in the game. He has often been overshadowed by his counterpart on the other side of the Jets formation, Santanio Holmes.

But Edwards is a big-time receiver, as evidenced by his statistics: He had 53 receptions this season and led the Jets in receiving yards (904), yards per catch (17.1) and touchdown receptions (7). He also had 4 touchdown receptions this year of 40 yards or more. His size (6 feet 3, 213 pounds), strength and speed makes him a tough matchup.

"I think he was a great player in Cleveland," Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said of Edwards, who played for the Browns from 2005 until his trade to the Jets midway through the '09 season.

"He has grown as he has gotten more experience, but he's as good as anyone we face. He can get down the field deep, he forces you to try and be physical with him, but he's so big it isn't easy all the time. He is physical, he brings that to the table.

"I feel he is more focused, and this may be one of his best seasons. He is low key and he is probably not getting the recognition, but, if you watch him on tape, he is playing really good football," said Taylor, who likely will draw the assignment of covering Holmes.

Gay, who plays in the nickel position near the slot receiver but would move to the outside if McFadden is not able to go full speed, said he isn't sure why people don't give the Jets passing game more respect. Gay said the combination of Edwards and Holmes is as good as any tandem of receivers in the league.

He said some people may look at the Jets' strength on offense as their running game, but he's not sure that is the case.

"I know this: That is not how we look at it," Gay said of his secondary teammates. "They can throw the ball as well as anyone. They not only have Edwards and Santonio, they have a great tight end and then a great slot receiver in Jerricho Cotchery as well. But Braylon is tough, he is always going to be someone we have to be aware of where he is at on the field.

"His size is what makes him an even tougher matchup because he can go up and get the ball and make plays because he has good hands."

His best pro season was his third (2007), when he was with Cleveland. He caught 80 passes for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns. He hasn't duplicated those numbers since, but Taylor insists he is a better player because he understands the position better.

Edwards, who has caught six passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' two playoff games, had a big game in the 22-17 Week 15 victory at Heinz Field. He caught eight passes for 100 yards and has had other big games against the Steelers.

In 2006, he had seven catches for 137 yards in a 24-20 Steelers win against the Browns and followed that with four catches for 86 yards a couple of weeks later in a 27-7 Steelers win.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said familiarity with Edwards and Holmes -- a former Steeler -- helps with preparation for the Jets because the Steelers know some of their tendencies.

But he stressed that Edwards and Holmes are only two of the playmakers who make the Jets offense go.

"I thought he was a great player in Cleveland, he has always been a great player," LeBeau said. "It has been a plus for us to have played against him ever since came in the league because we know how good he is, and maybe some other teams don't. But he has a great size advantage on anybody on him and he has plenty of speed and great athleticism. He is a great receiver.

"Santonio was here, so we know him and we know how good he is, and they have a slot receiver [Cotchery] who has played pretty well the past few games. So you are looking at a team with a lot of good players. And then their tight end [Dustin Keller], he may be the best receiver they've got. I say maybe, but they have four or five guys who can really do the job."

NOTE -- Coach Mike Tomlin said cornerback Bryant McFadden (abdominal/groin strain) and safety Will Allen (knee sprain) will be listed as questionable for the game. Wide receiver/special-teams ace Arnaz Battle (illness) is probable and safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles tendon) will play.

Paul Zeise: or 412-263-1720.


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