Ike Taylor Knows Adversity And How To Overcome It

By Jeremy Hritz

Every NFL player has had a bad game. Some occur without any significant impact on the outcome, but if you are Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor in January’s Wild Card game against the Denver Broncos, your poor performance ultimately seals your team’s fate. There is no question that Taylor played one of the worst games of his career in Denver; however, he must show that his performance has not affected his mental game if the Steelers defense is going to play effectively against the pass in 2012.

The most recent Steelers season could not have ended any more devastatingly for Taylor as he made Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas look like All-Pros. On the final play of the game in overtime, Taylor played over top on Thomas in an inverted cover-2, yet the Broncos rookie broke inside to the middle of the field and torched Taylor for 80 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Aggravating the situation was Taylor’s attempt to tackle Thomas which was thwarted by a stiff arm. After the game, Taylor was dejected and refused to speak to the media, and soon after, Taylor issued an apology to Steelers fans on Twitter for his performance.

For the Steelers to be successful on defense, they will need Taylor to reassert himself as the consistent player that he has been throughout his career. For him to do this, he must demonstrate that his confidence has not been shaken by his overtime lapse.

If Taylor’s resume says anything, it is that he will rebound. In 2006, which was Taylor’s worst season, he was benched by then head coach Bill Cowher, after an abhorrent performance against who else, the Broncos. In that game, Javon Walker set the precedent for Thomas, as he abused Taylor for 134 yards, two touchdowns, and a 72 yard score on a reverse in which he missed the tackle (sound familiar?).

His response? It is well documented in the wins, two Super Bowl appearances and one victory, and top five rankings on defense, all of which would not have been possible without Taylor’s play.

Throughout his tenure with the Steelers, Taylor has been an above average player, but not an elite one. He has been criticized throughout his career for his lack of interceptions, something that he has made concerted efforts to improve. Yet despite only 13 career interceptions, his steady play has been close to Pro Bowl caliber, yet not close enough as he has never earned the honor in his nine-year career.

2012 will be an interesting year for Taylor for several reasons, the first being whether or not he will step up and assume a leadership role on the defense that lost James Farrior and Aaron Smith. With a wealth of experience, having been through the ups and downs of the game, Taylor is potentially a candidate to fill those vacancies. His guidance and insight will be crucial in developing youngsters Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, and in facilitating the transition of Keenan Lewis to a starting role.  Also worth paying close attention to is whether or not Taylor’s skills will begin to deteriorate at age 32. Hopefully, he can emulate Champ Bailey, who continues to play well with the Broncos at 34 years old.

But most interesting will be whether or not Taylor can rebound like he has in the past to move beyond his playoff meltdown. His comments this offseason about the play are revealing. In an interview with Albert Buford of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Taylor said “I remember it every day. People remember you for the things you do, and I don’t want to have that game be what people remember me for.” It sounds as if Taylor is determined to redress his play from the Wild Card game. If Taylor can use his nightmarish experience as a motivator to improve and can see the experience as part of process and not a damnation of his abilities, he will undoubtedly return to his consistent level of play with maybe even a greater hunger and focus.

  • Taylor played a bad game, one of his worst without a doubt, but I have yet to see Tomlin and Lebeau taken to task for their horrible play calling. They refused to respect Tebow’s ability to throw, which is somewhat understandable to start the game, but ever after Denver showed they were willing to attack that defense and Tebow had several big throws, they did nothing at all to adjust and still had 8 or 9 (I can’t remember) men in the box in the biggest play of the game.

  • DoctorNoah

    Agreed. Call it the Skill Player Fallacy: just as the cameras focus on players whose names and jersey numbers we know, and announcers talk about one-on-one matchups between a receiver and a corner or an OLB pass rusher and a tackle or even QB, the most important determinant of success is the play calling on the part of the coordinator and the overall game plan. Over and over, LeBeau put his corners and LB’s into difficult matchups with little or no real safety help, giving Polamalu the charge of stopping the run or pressuring Tebow. It was a play-calling and game plan nightmare for the Steelers, not a failure of Ike Taylor, who was hung out to dry. Yes, there are a few shutdown corners who could have made a play anyway, but the blame rests firmly on the shoulders of LeBeau and Tomlin for the Denver game. I wonder – had we been able to watch the All-22 film right then and there, would Ike have been pilloried like he was?

  • Yes, but only because most of the people really hammering Ike don’t understand those nuance’s anyway. Like I said, Ike played poorly, but he had no help at all. In many cases it was Ike and Gay left to their own devices.

  • DoctorNoah

    Agreed. A CB’s job is hard enough when you can barely look a receiver in the eye without drawing a flag. Ryan Clark was sorely missed in that game, but they would still have put him forward in the box in that inverted Cover-2. On the play in question the inside linebackers bit hard on the play action, leaving the inside seam wide open. As far as I remembered, the Steelers didn’t have the best pass defense in the NFL by running an inverted Cover-2. You can chalk it up to “execution” on the part of the Broncos, but the play calling put the secondary in an impossible position to make that play.

  • DoctorNoah

    For those who understand the nuances of this kind of coverage, two questions: shouldn’t Mundy have been covering that area of the field as a “robber”, and was it reasonably Ike’s responsibility to attempt to break inside of the receiver on a post or was he right in staying outside with the expectation that Mundy would be there to cover the exposed middle?

  • SteelSpine

    That’s a thorough & right-on assessment of Ike.

  • SteelSpine

    “not a failure of Ike Taylor, who was hung out to dry”? It’s the job of a CB to be hung out to dry on some plays or many plays is part of the job of any team’s #1 CB. Asking a CB to not get stiff-armed by a reciever, is not hanging him out to dry. Asking a CB whom is reportedly fastest player on your team to keep up with a reciever is part of the job of a #1 CB. Mundy was playing for Ryan Clark so that’s like playing with only 10 defenders. I think LeBeau is at fault in that one game for not adjusting enough during that game, but to not watch Ike’s own performance, would only be Ike’s publicist.

  • I wouldn’t say that Taylor is losing a step yet but Taylor had difficulty with a few quick receivers last season. He would resort to holding and grabbing as a way to control the receiver and often got away with it. One example was against Fitzgerald. Taylor is not all powerful and can be beaten by good receivers. But Taylor does a good job by being physical and disrupting.

    We have to credit Thomas with ability also. He’s no chump receiver. If he keeps playing the way has has, he’s going to be a very good receiver in the coming years.

  • One some plays yes, for an entire game? No. there are maybe three CBs in the league that can play an entire game on an island like that. We all know Ike isn’t one of them.