The 2011 season left a bad taste in the Steelers mouths as they saw then Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow repeatedly beat the secondary with down the field throws during their overtime loss in Denver. Ike Taylor was burned several times during the game, resulting in an 80 yard touchdown Tebow threw to Demaryius Thomas in overtime of the Steelers Wild Card loss.
Ike Taylor has taken responsibility for the loss. Taylor has since apologized for playing what he called the “worst game at the wrong time.”
The New Orleans Time Picayune interviewed Taylor last Friday when he was back in Louisiana, hosting his ninth annual “Face Me Ike” football camp at Arden Cahill Academy in Gretna, where he grew up. “I remember it every day,” Taylor told Albert Buford of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. ”People remember you for things you do, and I don’t want to have that game be what people remember me for.” (Direct quotes via: http://www.nola.com/sports/index.ssf/2012/06/pittsburgh_steelers_cornerback.html)
Many do believe that Ike Taylor just had a bad day on that January night in Denver, but is this a sign of things to come for Pittsburgh? If you look at the numbers from last season, you would have to agree with Taylor, this was simply a bad day. The Pittsburgh Steelers were ranked first in the NFL in defending the pass. Take a look at their stats (via NFL.com):
The Steelers held their opponents to a 71.7 passer rating, 171.9 yards per game and a measly 54.5 completion percentage. The Steelers were excellent at defending the pass during a year where their defense ranked tops in the NFL once again. However, the Steelers must acknowledge that some of the staples in the secondary have logged many miles over the years. Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, and Ike Taylor have been around for all of the Steelers recent deep playoff runs. They are known for training extremely hard during the offseason with their respective speed and conditioning coaches around the country. This being said, it is time for some of the young players in the Steelers secondary to step up and take some of the burden off the veterans.
At safety, the Steelers will be strong as long as Polamalu and Clark stay healthy. We know that Clark will miss the season opener in Denver as he did in the January Wild Card game against the Broncos. Clark cannot play in high altitude because of the side effects his sickle cell trait may cause. Behind Polamalu and Clark is serviceable backup Ryan Mundy and newly added Rhodes Scholar, Myron Rolle. In my opinion, neither is a truly capable of becoming a starting caliber safety in the NFL. Safety could be a big weakness, if Polamalu or Clark were to go down with an injury. At cornerback, Bryant McFadden is gone and William Gay departed in free agency to join the Arizona Cardinals. Steelers’ fans grumbled for several years that Gay was not the answer at cornerback. The fans will always remember him getting burned at big times including last year in Pittsburgh where Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw the winning touchdown over Gay to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith in the corner of the end zone to beat the Steelers and take the AFC North title. Gay was torched in Super Bowl 45 by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and struggled mightily at many other points in his career. I believe that the Steelers will forget about him very quickly if young guns Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen can carry the torch at cornerback for the Steelers.
Lewis has already predicted a Pro Bowl for himself this season. Although the Steelers have not had a Pro Bowl cornerback since Rod Woodson went back in 1996, the young talent could flourish this season given the opportunity to produce. At minicamp, defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau spoke very highly of 2011 draft picks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown. Both of their rookie campaigns were cut short by injury, but Lebeau expects both to strongly compete with Lewis for the starting cornerback position opposite Ike Taylor.
The Steelers certainly have the numbers to prove that their secondary can be one of the best in the NFL. It will be interesting to see who steps up for them this season and produces at the cornerback position. As we have seen over the years when one of the starters, specifically, Troy Polamalu misses time, the Steelers suffer in the secondary. If they can stay relatively healthy and the young cornerbacks take the next step in their progression under Lebeau, the Steelers will be right back in the running for the number one pass defense and have a shot at making a deep run into the playoffs.
-Tony DelSignore Jr.
Follow me on Twitter (@TonyD_12)