The Pittsburgh Steelers have many issues right now when it comes to playing defense. They are struggling to get pressure on the quarterback which has led to problems creating turnovers. There are injury issues with guys like Troy Polamalu and potentially LaMarr Woodley and/or James Harrison. The one area the Steelers probably never imagined they’d have an issue with was Ike Taylor.
Welcome to 2012….
To say Ike Taylor is struggling would be an understatement. Since his horrible game against Denver in the 2011 AFC Wild-Card game, it has become obvious that there is a problem. Cornerbacks have to have short memories and right now Taylor is acting more like an elephant who can’t forget. Rather than use his speed and fundamentals, Taylor has relied on his hands and he is getting caught holding or interfering at an alarming rate.
Taylor has gone from becoming the side of the field that no QB dared to throw, to the side that is routinely attacked. And he isn’t happy about it and he shouldn’t be. Taylor is not 100% to blame for his own faults though as the Steelers’ anemic pass rush has a lot to do with him being picked on as well, but not even they can save him from himself when he clutches and grabs and arm bars 30 yards down field.
Now Taylor must face a young guy in A.J. Green who is averaging seven receptions per game so far in 2012. At 6’4″ 211 lbs., Green is long and lean and very fast. He is also coming off a monster game in Cleveland where he had 135 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Taylor will have his hands full even more knowing the Bengals like to stretch the field with tight end Jermaine Gresham who will occupy a safety who might normally be helping Taylor over the top. Typically that guy is Polamalu, but now it looks like Will Allen who is a nice player but certainly is no Polamalu.
In his two games last year against the Steelers as a rookie, Green had one reception for 36 yards and a touchdown in a 24-17 loss and then had six receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown in a 35-7 loss at Heinz Field. He also had 15 yards rushing on one carry.
While much of what Taylor will be able to do will be predicated on the pass rush, he must also return to the fundamentals. He needs to stop guessing and start reacting to receivers. He is biting on double-moves quicker than a bass on a worm. And now he is calling out the Pittsburgh media. I don’t blame him it for it. He has given this team a decade of very good cornerback play, but this profession is about the ‘now,’ not the past. He should know that and should just keep his opinions to himself and do his talking on the field.
Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton will no doubt go after Taylor and I would not be surprised if it occurs within the first few plays. I don’t think it’ll be a hitch or an out route either. Look for Dalton to dial up Green deep and put Taylor on notice for the rest of the game. It’s what a good offensive coordinator would do when you have solid corner who is struggling.
Green will get his catches on Sunday but Taylor must do two things; 1. He must keep Green in front of him and tackle him immediately. Limiting his yards after catch can stop first downs and limit the Bengals’ offensive play-calling options. 2. Turning the mind games around and onto Dalton and Green would be a huge step for Ike in moving on. Make a pick or strip the ball, it really doesn’t matter, just make a play in order to weaken their confidence.
There is no doubt this is a ‘must-win’ for the Steelers and it really does begin with the defense and Ike Taylor can help dictate not only the game, but the rest of the season if he can limit Green to an average day at the office.