Just how important is Ike Taylor?
In case you haven't been following this little mini-drama, Taylor may be gone to the lucrative winds of free agency if the Steelers don't re-sign him soon. It's been bandied about by many around here that Taylor is important, but not that vital to the Steelers' success.
To that I have four words to say: the Chad Scott era.
The luckiest break the Steelers have gotten in recent memory was the 2004 season's injury to Scott, which forced Taylor out of the doghouse and up the cornerback depth chart. With Scott playing in only seven games that year, the Steelers went 15-1 and shut down every offense they came across, until meeting that year's champions, the New England Patriots.
Doesn't anybody with a press pass remember the execrable 2003 season? Or the horror of autumn 2002, when teams mercilessly threw against the Steelers secondary? Coming off a 13-3 season, the Steelers hoped to get to the Super Bowl, until Pats receivers embarrassed them in the opener. The following week, the Raiders did the same thing, only more so. I wonder if the lack of a true shutdown corner had anything to do with those games? (Of course, having Tim Lewis as the DC didn't help much, either.)
After several years of abominable secondary play, the Steelers addressed what was a clear and present need in the secondary by: first, drafting Troy Polamalu and Taylor in 2003; second, finally moving Deshea Townsend up on the depth chart; and third, parting ways with Lewis.
Consider the numbers. With Scott in the line-up in 2003, teams completed nearly 61 percent of their passes against the Steelers. In 2004, with Taylor taking over, they completed under 56 percent of their passes. The following year, opposing teams completed 57.4 percent of their attempts.
And to crunch some more numbers, Scott played in 15 games in 2002, with 14 (official) passes defensed, averaging a little less than one pass defensed per game. In 2003, he played in 12 games and defensed 10 passes.
By contrast, last year, Taylor's first full year as a starting corner, he played in 16 games and defensed 23 passes.
But it's more than just numbers. With Taylor, Townsend and Bryant McFadden roaming the deep routes, I no longer get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time an opposing QB drops back. It's kinda like the feeling you get at family gatherings when your already tetched uncle has a few drinks too many and you just know that all hell's gonna break loose.
For some reason, everyone keeps asserting that re-signing Taylor will preclude the Steelers from re-signing Polamalu down the road. I'm calling a 15-yard penalty for false syllogism. A plus B equals bad coverage? I'm confused.
One way or the other, the Steelers will simply have to make room elsewhere under the cap. In this era of pass-happy offenses, good corners have never been more important. The Broncos traded Clinton Portis straight up to the Redskins in order to get Champ Bailey. That's how valuable a shut-down corner is. Which is why, if Taylor is available, some other team will be quick to sign him
Townsend's a wonderful corner, but he's been in the league nine years already. Who knows if he'll be around or as effective in 2007? The other alternative is Ricardo Colclough, whom I suspect the Steelers would already be using more if they were confident in him.
Taylor and McFadden could be a lethal corner combination down the road. Not to mention a defensive coordinator's dream. Please, Mr. Rooney, make Dick Lebeau's dream come true.
I think there's some money you can free up under the cap at running back to make it work.