Cook: Ike Taylor invaluable
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Ben Roethlisberger still is the man despite throwing that killer interception in overtime Sunday in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He's the one player the Steelers can't lose. Their season took a rotten turn when he went down with a shoulder/rib injury Nov. 12 against the Kansas City Chiefs and had to miss the next three games. They went 1-2 without him and still haven't recovered despite having him back the past two games, losses to the Cowboys and San Diego Chargers.
But there's a new No. 2 man on the Steelers' almost impossible-to-replace list. Ike Taylor has moved past Heath Miller, Maurkice Pouncey and Ryan Clark, who are having Pro Bowl-caliber seasons. He has moved past James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, once a fierce pass-rush combination but no more. He even has moved past 2011 team MVP Antonio Brown and the once-great Troy Polamalu.
Everybody knew Taylor had value to the Steelers, but this much? They weren't able to stop the pass without him the past two games when he couldn't play because of a fractured ankle. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw for three touchdowns. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw for 341 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions with a passer rating of 111.3.
It's frightening to think what Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton might do to the Steelers Sunday at Heinz Field if Taylor can't play in what could end up being a winner-take-all game as far as the NFL playoffs go.
"Ike is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL," Polamalu said. "We put him on the best receiver every week. That's big. He shuts them all down."
After the loss to the Cowboys, Taylor wouldn't speculate about his chances of playing against the Bengals. He said his ankle feels better -- he was told he would miss two to six weeks after he was hurt early in the game Dec. 2 against the Baltimore Ravens -- but that he must do what is right and fair for the team. If he can't play, he can't play. At this point, it seems unlikely that he will.
"I've got to be patient, but it's frustrating," Taylor said. "You never want this to happen, but injuries do happen. I've got to deal with it. It's all brand new to me."
The game against the Ravens was the 135th consecutive game in which Taylor played. He thinks he's not used to missing time? The Steelers aren't used to being without him. He never even missed a practice. They almost took him for granted. It's almost as if they weren't prepared for his injury.
Somehow, the Steelers were able to beat the Ravens without Taylor. Nickel back Cortez Allen stepped into Taylor's cornerback spot and Curtis Brown played nickel. Both earned praise from coach Mike Tomlin and their teammates.
But things didn't go well against the Chargers. Brown was awful and ended up being benched in the second half for Josh Victorian, who had just been signed from the practice squad. Allen went out late with a hip injury.
The secondary was just as vulnerable against the Cowboys. Allen missed the game, forcing Victorian to start at corner. Safety Robert Golden was asked to play nickel. The team had to go back to Brown at corner late in the game after starter Keenan Lewis left with a groin injury.
Romo made it a point after the game to say he took satisfaction from winning the chess match against Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "He's good. He's the best there is." Well, LeBeau is good. A Hall of Famer. But he's not a miracle worker.
Dalton and Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green must be counting minutes until Sunday. The Steelers could get Allen back but might be without Taylor and Lewis.
Good luck to LeBeau.
Good luck with that.
"Nobody is feeling sorry for us," Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said.
"Ike is a great player, but it's out of our hands," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "Guys go down in this business. It's a physical game. That's why you have to be a team. It's not just single guys who win for you. It's not just great players. It's a team. We've got to come together as a team."
That's true. No one will dispute the point. But the Steelers are so much better with Taylor, who never has been regarded as highly as he should be, here or nationally. Tomlin, LeBeau and Taylor's teammates will tell you it's flat wrong that he hasn't made a Pro Bowl.
"The only knock against me is I don't get picks," Taylor said not long ago. "I know that. But how do you define a shutdown corner? Isn't it keeping the guy from catching the football? I think I do that as well as anyone."
Go back to the Bengals' Green. He is a terrific receiver with 85 catches for 1,208 yards this season. His 11 touchdown receptions rank second behind Green Bay's James Jones (12) in the NFL.
Taylor held Green to one catch -- although it went for an 8-yard touchdown -- when the Steelers beat the Bengals, 24-17, Oct. 21 in Cincinnati.
"Look at my tape. Look at anyone else's tape," Taylor said. "I'm just as good, if not better, than anyone you pick."
Taylor had 135 games as proof. It's a shame it took two missed games to make his point.
After Big Ben, cornerback Ike Taylor is the most indispensible player on the team.
First Published December 18, 2012 12:00 am