Saturday, October 20, 2007
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It wasn't going to be a redemption game for cornerback Ike Taylor. At least, that's what Taylor said about facing Javon Walker and the Denver Broncos again.
Sure, he said, he remembers what happened the last time the Steelers played the Broncos, a game in which Walker tortured Taylor for three touchdowns in a 31-20 victory at Heinz Field.
And he is aware the Steelers have never again asked Taylor to shadow another team's top receiver after that game -- a tactic he executed with success before playing against Walker. And a role he embraced because of the demands -- and respect -- that go with the assignment.
"That's what you live for," Taylor said. "That's what you want. But, at the same time, you have to do what the coach wants."
No matter what, Taylor wasn't going to get another head-to-head assignment with Walker, the Broncos' top receiver, when the Steelers (4-1) play in Denver tomorrow night. Coach Mike Tomlin is not a big proponent of the tactic because he thinks it is difficult for the cornerback opposite Taylor to keep switching sides of the field, too.
Now, Taylor won't get any kind of matchup against Walker, any chance to perhaps redeem himself for what happened in November at Heinz Field.
Walker had arthroscopic surgery yesterday on his bothersome right knee, which caused him to miss the Broncos' previous two games, and is expected to be out for at least a couple weeks. It is another setback for the Broncos (2-3), who have been without veteran receiver Rod Smith all season and lost Pro Bowl center Tom Nalen to a season-ending injury in the previous game.
"You still got to go out and play," Taylor said yesterday. "It doesn't matter to me."
The game against Walker was a lightning rod for Taylor's season, a year that began with a lucrative contract extension ($22.5 million) and the trust of the coaching staff to follow receivers such as Miami's Chris Chambers, Cincinnati's Chad Johnson and Randy Moss of the Oakland Raiders.
But, in a Nov. 5 game against the Broncos, it all began to go sour for Taylor.
Walker caught six passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns and also scored on a 72-yard reverse. But what really upset former coach Bill Cowher was that Taylor lost concentration and allowed completions of 50 yards to receiver Brandon Marshall in the first quarter (when Walker was out of the game) and 61 yards to Walker in the fourth quarter, each on first down.
Two games later, Taylor was demoted and lost his starting spot.
Asked if he was being singled out and unfairly treated for some of the team's problems last season, Taylor said: "I wouldn't say it was unfair ... frustrating, maybe. But, at the same time, what can I do about it? It makes no sense me pouting about it. Just sit back and let everything play itself out and play football."
That was the message Tomlin delivered to Taylor when he met with him after becoming the new head coach. And that's what Taylor has done.
"That is one of the issues I wanted to address when I got the job, that I think he is a quality football player," Tomlin said. "I still think his best football is ahead of him. He has not ridden the emotional roller coaster this year. He prepares and he goes out and he performs."
Taylor is coming off his best performance of the year, a game in which he had four passes defensed and a game-turning interception against the Seattle Seahawks. Yes, he said, he relishes the opportunity to shadow the other team's top receiver again -- "There's nothing I can't do," Taylor said -- but he is also comfortable settling into his role as a cornerback on the league's No. 1 defense.
Taylor, who played only one season at cornerback in college, has two interceptions and is second on the team with 30 tackles, trailing only James Farrior. What's more, he is part of a secondary that has allowed just 163 yards per game -- second in the league -- and hasn't allowed a pass longer than 38 yards and just four of 30 yards or more.
"I finally feel like I'm settling in and playing the cornerback position in the NFL," Taylor said. "A lot of guys in the league, they've played corner since they were in high school. You're talking about 10 to 12 years up on me.
"Having the opportunity to come out and play in the NFL is huge, a big jump, just getting a feel for the game and the technique. I have all the skills, but Coach is always stressing that technique will get you over the hump. Technique always wins out."
So would a little retribution against Walker, even though it won't materialize.