The Steelers cornerbacks were shut out in the latest ESPN Power Rankings that the panel of ESPN bloggers put out today and it is not too surprising. Not one of the Steelers corners is considered a shut-down corner type and that includes Ike Taylor. The Steelers defense under coordinator Dick LeBeau is one that is predicated on not giving up the big explosive play of 20 yards or more and is focused more on making teams be patient in their passing game and take what is given them underneath. The cornerbacks in the Steelers secondary are expected to quickly close on the receiver and wrap up the receiver quickly, especially in zone type coverages.
In the table below you will see that the Steelers pass defense as a whole did a great job of limiting the explosive play as they only allowed a league low 35 plays that went for 20 yards or more during the regular season. In addition, they only allowed 15 passing touchdown during the regular season for 3rd best in the league. Another hidden stat is the YPA (yards per attempt) stat. The Steelers pass defense only allowed 5.78 yards per attempt during the regular season, once again a league best. Now the cornerbacks do not get all the glory for these stats I admit, but they do get a good share of it. It was not like teams were not trying to throw against them either as during the regular season they faced an average of a little over 37 pass attempts a game. Only the Titans, Patriots and Ravens faced more average pass attempts a game in 2010. You could go even further and look at the first down percentage allowed through the air as it is just one more area that the Steelers pass defense excelled in.
Although the ESPN Power Rankings is based on individual performances, the sum of the parts remains the biggest factor. Also these rankings are blind to defensive scheme and it is obvious. Sure, Taylor, William Gay and Bryant McFadden had their moments in 2010, but overall they carried out what was expected of them in the Steelers secondary well. Can the secondary be improved? Sure, and it likely will be addressed early in the upcoming NFL draft. Teams will likely try to exploit the Steelers in the future much like the Patriots, Saints and Packers did last year with four receiver sets. Do not get lost in the individual rankings because as you see, it is the sum of the parts that makes the biggest difference. You could have one shut-down corner on your team, but that does not guarantee success as a team, especially in the Steelers defense. It certainly helps I agree, but it does not tell the whole story.
Sortable 2010 NFL Regular Season Defensive Passing Stats