Cook: Steelers have Taylor-made shutdown cornerback
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Learned something new about Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor Wednesday. He's not the least bit superstitious. He showed up for his Super Bowl XVL media obligations wearing a Pirates cap. I had to ask him: "Isn't that risking bad karma right before the big game?"
"Superstitions aren't going to decide anything Sunday," Taylor said.
If the Steelers suddenly start playing like the Pirates, they'll get beat, 45-0, by the Green Bay Packers.
Not to be cynical.
Taylor has enough game -- and enough faith in his game -- to think nothing bad will happen to him. Other than the quarterbacks, he could play the biggest role on his sport's biggest stage. He's expected to cover Green Bay's top receiver -- Greg Jennings -- on a night the Packers are expected to turn quarterback Aaron Rodgers loose and let him throw the pig all over Cowboys Stadium out of four- or five-wide receiver sets.
That is quite a challenge for Taylor. "Jennings is a beast," he said. "He reminds me of [former Steelers receiver] Santonio Holmes. At the crucial times in the game, he's their guy." Jennings had eight catches for 130 yards against the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game, eight catches for 101 yards against the Atlanta Falcons the week before. "He's been pretty much unstoppable in the postseason," Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said.
"I'm up for it," Taylor said. "I always get the other team's best receiver. I'm used to it. Look at my tape. Look at anyone else's tape. I'm just as good if not better than anyone you pick."
I'm in no mood to argue with Taylor this morning. I thought he had an awesome season. You wouldn't want to know where the Steelers would be without him. It wouldn't be in Texas, getting ready for another Super Bowl.
That's why, if you like the Steelers, you should be more than a little concerned that the team will lose Taylor after the season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
I believe the Steelers will try hard to do a new deal with Taylor, especially considering they have so little at cornerback behind him. Coach Mike Tomlin was asked to define the "Steeler Way" this week and said, "We believe in building through the draft ... Equally important, we believe in paying our own players -- those who are deserving ... " Taylor qualifies. Frankly, I'm surprised the team didn't reach out to him harder before this season.
For his part, Taylor said he "would love to retire as a Steeler." That sounds nice, but you know how it often goes when a player gets to free agency. Another team makes him an offer he can't refuse. "You only get one shot at this kind of money," Taylor conceded. "It's like hitting the lotto."
I have to admit here that I had a hard time not looking at that Pirates cap as Taylor talked. But I was able to concentrate enough to hear him make a strong case for himself.
"I'm one of three cornerbacks in the league who travel," Taylor said, referencing that he and the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are the only corners to go from one side of the field to the other following a certain receiver.
"They always ask me to guard the best guy. A lot of corners don't want that responsibility ... I run, hit and tackle. A lot of corners ole their tackles. If you don't tackle in this defense, you don't play corner ... The only knock against me is I don't get the picks. 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."
It's instructive that Taylor brought up the interceptions. They've been a sore subject with him for a long time. He had two this season, has 11 in 125 career regular-season games and three more in 14 postseason games. He easily could have 40 or even 50 if he didn't drop the ball so much.
"Defensive backs would be wide receivers if they could catch," a wise man named Terry Bradshaw once said.
Taylor appears to have come to grips -- pardon the poor pun -- with his bad hands. He's right about that shutdown corner business, you know? He's usually in good position against the NFL's top receivers. Interceptions would be nice, but it's more important to keep the other guy from catching the ball.
"Other than catching picks, I feel like I'm a lockdown cornerback for sure," Taylor said, nodding.
About this time, a Steelers staffer made Taylor exchange his cap for a Super Bowl-approved model. I don't think she's superstitious, either. But you can't blame her for not taking chances.
First Published February 3, 2011 12:00 am