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|11-05-2006, 12:13 AM||#1|
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Head to Head: Bailey vs. Ward
Head to Head: Broncos CB Champ Bailey vs. Steelers WR Hines Ward
A closer look at the game within the game
Sunday, November 05, 2006
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When he was a triple threat at the University of Georgia, cornerback Champ Bailey learned how to play wide receiver from the player he will try to stop today at Heinz Field.
Hines Ward doesn't know if that will give Bailey an edge when the Steelers and Denver Broncos meet in a rematch of the American Football Conference championship game. But he knows that is one of the reasons Bailey, who has been selected to six consecutive Pro Bowls, might be the best cornerback in the National Football League.
"He's like a receiver playing cornerback," Ward said. "They say the difference between cornerbacks and wide receivers is cornerbacks can't catch. But he can catch."
Bailey caught 47 passes for 744 yards as a junior in his final season at Georgia, but his primary responsibility with the Bulldogs was as a cornerback. He was so good he won the Bronko Nagurski Award as America's top defensive player.
Now he spends his time catching passes from opposing quarterbacks. Since the start of the 2005 season, Bailey has 13 interceptions -- 12 in the regular season, one postseason -- more than any other player in the league.
His "catching" mentor was Ward, who played two seasons with Bailey at Georgia.
"I'm like a big brother to him," Ward said. "He wanted to play both ways. He was always trying to learn to play wide receiver, so he kind of knows what we're thinking at times. It makes it even harder when the guy played the position before and me trying to teach him. But I've evolved, too, as a receiver."
The matchup between Ward, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver, and Bailey will likely serve to crystalize what will transpire at Heinz Field.
The Steelers are coming off an improbable defeat in Oakland in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a career-high four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. But the Broncos are coming off a defeat in which their defense allowed 34 points -- nearly as many as the first six games combined (44) -- and three touchdown passes by Peyton Manning.
And, yet, it will be the battle of the former Bulldogs that could ultimately decide this rematch.
Bailey might be the best cover corner in the league and has the strength to handle inside routes by Ward, who is probably the best all-around receiver in the league and certainly the most physical. Ward surprises corners with his speed and uncanny ability to gain seperation after a catch. He has 21 catches for 311 yards and four TDs the past three games
"Champ is a great cornerback, no question," Ward said. "But we can't really worry about Champ."
Bailey is so good that other teams tend to stay away from him and attack the Broncos' other cornerback, Darrent Williams. That's what Indianapolis did last week when Bailey lined up against Marvin Harrison -- Manning threw three touchdown passes to Reggie Wayne. He even threw a two-point conversion to Wayne. Bailey injured his lower leg in the game, but still the Colts went after Williams.
The Steelers, though, didn't back away from Bailey in last year's AFC Championship game. Cedrick Wilson ran a slant-and-go on him in the second quarter that resulted in a 12-yard TD that gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead.
"Champ is a good corner, but we're going to line up and play ball," Wilson said. "We're not going out and saying we got to throw away from him. Ben's going to go to the open guy."
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