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fordfixer
10-05-2008, 12:23 AM
Opponents reluctant to challenge Taylor
By John Harris
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, October 5, 2008
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 91733.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_591733.html)



The play that worked to perfection against the Steelers' hard-to-fool defense in a recent loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was successful because of the element of surprise.

As right cornerback Ike Taylor defended rookie speedster DeSean Jackson on a post route, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb slipped a short pass to running back Correll Buckhalter on the side of the field vacated by Taylor.

After speeding around right outside linebacker James Harrison, Buckhalter had clear sailing until he reached the goal line, where he vaulted over Taylor to complete a 20-yard touchdown.

Not only was Philadelphia's perfect play during a 15-6 Steelers' loss the only touchdown of the game, it showed the lengths that teams will go to attempt to take Taylor, a starter on the NFL's No. 2 ranked defense, out of a particular play. The Steelers visit Jacksonville tonight in a nationally televised game on NBC.

"Get him out of the way, and throw in his zone," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "Ike is a great corner. Teams are maybe going to try to get him out of the game and try to keep the ball away from him. I guess that's a tribute to how good he is."

This season, teams have been trying to avoid Taylor by throwing fewer passes to his side of the field.

In the Baltimore game this past Monday night, receiver Derrick Mason had eight receptions for 137 yards against the Steelers. However, only two of Mason's catches came against Taylor, for a total of 19 yards. Most of Mason's catches came against cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend.

A pair of long passes thrown to Mason on Taylor's side of the field were broken up by safety Troy Polamalu. Taylor ran with Mason before releasing him to Polamalu downfield.

"That was Cover 2," Taylor said of the zone defense in which the cornerbacks get safety help deep. "Troy made two plays with me in the deep hash that game."

Added Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau: "We played mostly zone (against Baltimore). We've always been kind of a zone team."

One of Mason's receptions against Taylor resulted in a difficult 13-yard grab that was originally ruled incomplete but was reversed by replay.

"If it's man, it's man. If it's zone, it's zone," said Taylor, a four-year starter. "It depends on coach LeBeau and what he calls. Coach LeBeau can pretty much call anything. Our coaching staff feels like if they've got to make those throws, they're not going to make them all the time. If they've got to make those throws every time, we'll take our chances."

Philadelphia took a chance on first-and-10 in the red zone against the Steelers' defense in the second quarter of last month's game.

Rushing only two down linemen, the Steelers sent linebackers Harrison and Lawrence Timmons back into coverage while linebackers Farrior and LaMarr Woodley and a defensive back blitzed.

While McNabb looked off the Steelers' secondary downfield, Buckhalter slipped into the flat. Looking quickly to his left, McNabb passed the ball to Buckhalter in stride.

Buckhalter turned the corner against Harrison and ran untouched until he encountered Taylor, who doubled back after leaving Jackson in the middle of the field. Taylor, however, couldn't prevent the score.

Regarding teams picking their spots to challenge the Steelers' secondary, Taylor said: "Either they try it early or they try it after they feel like they have a good feel for the defense. It's definitely a chess match."

Through the Steelers' first four games, opposing receivers have caught 15 of 29 passes in Taylor's area for a total of 153 yards. Nine of those incompletions were on third-down plays.

On 14 other occasions, Taylor jammed receivers, forcing them to change their routes.

"If I'm a smart quarterback and a smart offensive coordinator, Ike Taylor is the third (Steelers) cornerback I'm going to think about throwing to," said Dave-Te' Thomas of the NFL Scouting Service, a scouting information bureau for 27 teams. "He is very physical at re-routing receivers."

Thomas said one of Taylor's key assets is his ability to keep receivers out of his area.

"(Houston's) Andre Johnson had 10 receptions against the Steelers, but he only had three receptions against Taylor," Thomas said. "(Cleveland's) Braylon Edwards only had two receptions for 25 yards against Taylor. Three times he jammed Edwards at the line of scrimmage. On seven pass plays against Philadelphia, he re-routed receivers a total of four times, and they completed three passes against him for 33 yards."

Taylor's teammates are beginning to notice the attention -- or lack of attention -- he is receiving from opponents.

"I might have seen a couple of passes thrown on Ike's side," Farrior said. "Teams have a lot of respect for him."

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.