- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009

PITTSBURGH | Ike Taylor doesn’t get much attention for being the Pittsburgh Steelers’ primary defender against the opponent’s top receiver. Sometimes that’s good, because it means Taylor isn’t getting beaten for many touchdown catches.

Taylor will go against the NFL’s hottest receiver, Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona, in the Super Bowl. Given Fitzgerald’s outrageous postseason production, this appears to be a bad matchup for any cornerback.

“He has 419 yards in the postseason, and it isn’t over with,” Taylor said. “From what he’s displaying week in and week out, yeah, he’s one of the best in the world.”

Taylor isn’t as recognizable as All-Pros James Harrison or Troy Polamalu in Pittsburgh’s league-leading defense, but he has played well enough to be a Pro Bowl alternate. He has yielded only two touchdowns in coverage despite being matched against Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, Plaxico Burress, Andre Johnson, Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne, Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Santana Moss this season.

“That’s going to be a key matchup,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “If Ike can do a great job on him, our chances of winning increase.”

Taylor said he is proud that the Steelers led the NFL in pass defense in the regular season, allowing an average of 22 yards a game fewer than any other team. He wonders why the secondary doesn’t get as much attention as the rest of the defense.

“Regardless of what people don’t want to say, the recognition that we don’t get, we feel like we do a good job,” Taylor said. “We’re No. 1 in overall defense, No. 1 in pass defense, No. 2 in run defense, No. 1 in red zone defense. I really don’t know who’s been putting up those kind of numbers.”

The Steelers permitted only three teams to throw for 200 yards, and none reached 300. Two were held below 100 yards.

“Other teams tend to get more [publicity] than we do, but that comes with the territory,” Taylor said. “But we do have a pretty decent secondary. They’ve got a great receiving corps, with the head man in Kurt [Warner], and this is going to be one of our toughest challenges.”

Ask the Eagles, who watched Fitzgerald make nine catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday’s NFC championship game. The former Pitt star has eight TD catches in his past five games and 11 in his past eight, plus five consecutive 100-yard games.

Bryant McFadden, Pittsburgh’s other starting cornerback, said Harrison, Polamalu, Aaron Smith, James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley are as important to controlling Fitzgerald as the secondary is.

“The pass rushers, they’ve been our best friends all year,” McFadden said. “They’re going to elevate from being best friends to family members. These guys are going to be the key for us being successful.”

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt has a detailed knowledge of the Steelers’ defense after previously serving as their offensive coordinator. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin discounted that as a factor because teams and defenses evolve annually. Also, Steelers players are certain that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, especially with two weeks to prepare, will draw up some schemes that Warner and Fitzgerald haven’t seen on tape.

“One thing you have is faith that Coach LeBeau is going to find a way to cover all those guys,” safety Ryan Clark said of 1,000-yard receivers Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston.

Taylor played only one season on defense at Louisiana-Lafayette but has started most of the past four seasons in Pittsburgh. He was benched for more than a month by former coach Bill Cowher in 2006 but rebounded with two consecutive good seasons.

To motivate himself, Taylor keeps a clipping about athletes who have come back from adversity - the headline is “Bouncing Back” - in his locker.

“Ike’s the right guy for this,” Foote said.

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