- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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For years, cornerback Ike Taylor had been overshadowed by the bigger stars on the Steelers' defense. Now, Taylor is being singled out -- but for all the wrong reasons.
Last season, Taylor was one of the more underrated defenders in the NFL, giving up 40 receptions and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. Through five games this season, he has been among the worst cornerbacks in the league, allowing 24 catches and four touchdowns. That's a projected total of 76.8 receptions (nearly double his 2011 total) and 12.8 touchdowns allowed.
When asked on the CBS pre-game show Sunday about the Steelers' biggest problem on defense, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said: "I will say the number one player is Ike Taylor," Cowher said. "What Dick [LeBeau] will have to do is protect him with a safety over the top."
Taylor believes the media picks and chooses their statistics to make their points. He threw out numbers -- like the Steelers ranking fifth overall on defense and fourth against the pass -- as reasons why Pittsburgh isn't struggling as much as some people think.
"I always felt like, you know, if we're in the same city, regardless what's going on with the team, why can't we just be family?," Taylor told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Why can't we just point out the facts? Why does one individual have to be pointed out?"
But it's not just the media who is criticizing Taylor. "He needs to get back to playing good, sound football," Tomlin said.
What's wrong with Taylor? Here are three explanations why:
Lack of confidence: Taylor hasn't been the same since that disastrous playoff performance in Denver, where he allowed catches of 51 and 58 yards before giving up the 80-yard game-winner on the first play in overtime. It's tough to shake off getting stiff-armed in front of a national audience. A big part of playing cornerback is playing with confidence, and it seems like Taylor is guessing at times on the field. Maybe he's the Billy Cundiff of cornerbacks this year.
Declining speed: At the age of 32, Taylor is having trouble keeping up with wide receivers. He seems to know it, too. That's a reason why he is putting his hands on receivers more. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Taylor leads the NFL with four pass interference penalties. Teams have figured out Taylor's inability to stick with receivers. Taylor has been targeted 42 times this season, and only six defenders have been thrown at more. This number is more troubling when you consider teams are throwing at Taylor instead of a first-year starter at the other cornerback spot (Keenan Lewis).
Lack of support: It's easier to play cornerback for the Steelers when you have James Harrison rushing the quarterback and Troy Polamalu roaming the secondary. But Taylor hasn't had that luxury this season. Harrison and Polamalu have played two games each (and Polamalu only lasted one quarter in one of those games). Quarterbacks don't have much to fear with the Steelers' pass defense these days. Pittsburgh ranks 20th in sacks and 28th in interceptions. Taylor isn't the same cornerback from last season, but neither is the Steelers pass defense. The bad news for Taylor and the Steelers is they get A.J. Green, the NFL's leading receiver, on Sunday night.