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Old 11-11-2006, 01:09 PM   #1
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Default Steelers' defense rallies around Taylor

Steelers' defense stiffens as it rallies around Taylor
Saturday, November 11, 2006

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When they went after Ike Taylor, members of the secondary came to his defense. When missiles were directed at their fellow cornerback, they floated to his side and offered help. When he was isolated and unable to defend what was happening, they came to his rescue and batted away the criticism.

Too bad the Steelers' defense doesn't work that way.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, coach Bill Cowher will do tomorrow when the Steelers (2-6) try to stop a three-game losing streak against the New Orleans Saints (6-2) at Heinz Field.

It remains to be seen if he will carry through on his stated threat to make changes in the starting lineup after another embarrassing performance by the defending Super Bowl champion. In particular, it remains to be seen if Taylor, generally considered the team's best cornerback, will take his usual position against the Saints, a development that appears to change by the day. Or, if he will be replaced by Bryant McFadden at left cornerback.

If so, he will be the only starter to lose his job after the Steelers' 31-20 loss to the Denver Broncos, a demotion that apparently was necessitated by Taylor's performance against wide receiver Javon Walker in which he allowed two touchdown catches and gains of 38 and 61 yards.

It is a demotion his teammates don't think he deserves.

"You play 16 games, you're not going to be perfect every game," safety Ryan Clark said. "It was a tough day for all of us. He wasn't the only guy who didn't play as well as they should have. I myself didn't play as well as I should have or have been this season. A lot of us could have contributed to helping him out in that situation. There's no way he should be taking all the blame and having all this media attention.

"The guy plays well every week and has a couple bad plays. Those guys get paid well, too."

Even soft-spoken safety Troy Polamalu said, "It is unfair. We have to believe in everything coach does for a reason. It's not one man. It's the group."

Taylor said early in the week he was told he had lost his job and that he would have to "fight through it" to get it back. A day later, Cowher said not to read "too many things" into what might be happening on the practice field and that no decision has been made on whether Taylor or McFadden would start against the Saints.

Apparently, he is correct. Yesterday, the situation appeared to change once more, and now it appears Taylor might be right back where he has been for the past 28 games -- starting at left cornerback -- against the Saints. Taylor, though, said he has not been told anything.

"He says keep working," Taylor said about Cowher. "I don't feel bad about it. I never felt bad about it. The perception was all wrong."

To be sure, the entire issue appeared to be incongruous: Taylor is often asked to cover the other team's best receiver -- he already has shadowed Miami's Chris Chambers, Cincinnati's Chad Johnson and Oakland's Randy Moss with much success this season -- but was about to lose his job because a player such as Walker catches two touchdowns and runs 72 yards for another on a reverse.

Walker, acquired in a draft-day trade with the Green Bay Packers, is no slouch. No other AFC receiver, not even Marvin Harrison of Indianapolis, has averaged more yards receiving per game since 1994 than Walker (83.1).

"He's no slacker," Clark said. "He's been to the Pro Bowl. He signed a big contract. It's not like we went out there, and it was a guy you never heard of who just came out of high school.

"He's a good player. He did some things against the whole team. It wasn't just one cornerback or one player. On the reverse, we all had a chance to make the play, and nobody made the play.

"I think it's unfair Ike is receiving all that attention for something we all contributed to. Defense is an 11-man thing. Somebody scores a touchdown, all 11 men didn't do what they had to do."

Taylor gave up two 10-yard touchdowns to Walker, both on a fade pass where the cornerback essentially has to defend a jump-ball throw to the wide receiver in single coverage. It was the third time this season he was beaten on that type of pass -- Cincinnati's Chris Henry caught a similar 16-yard touchdown against him in Week 3 -- and the seventh time in the past five games the Steelers have failed to defend a jump-ball pass in the end zone.

The pass, though, is a byproduct of the way the Steelers play defense, the perfect weapon to exploit the amount of man-to-man coverage the Steelers use to execute their fire-zone blitzes properly.

But it is hard to fault the scheme of the defense because the Steelers annually rank among the best, if not the best, defenses in the league.

"I don't think you have to change it because, obviously, we've been successful before," Clark said.

"When we're playing a fire-zone, we're blitzing, and it's almost always we're in one-on-one technique," McFadden said. "It's just us and the receiver, and most teams we play know that.

"Most people know what we're in. When we go fire-zone, everybody knows we're blitzing and the corners are going to be out there one-on-one. It's a situation where technique has to really come into play."

Just depends who will be executing the technique.
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Old 11-11-2006, 01:10 PM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers' defense rallies around Taylor

Nice to see the guys having each others backs.
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