Steelers Vs. Broncos: Secondary, CB Ike Taylor Key For Pittsburgh At Denver

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 08: Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos catches a pass against Ike Taylor #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Steelers CB Ike Taylor walked away from the 2011 season far from the swag he often professes.

His words suggested slunk shoulders, even with his chin up. At the time he didn't know he'd have a chance to correct his "worst game as a pro" in Week 1 of the 2012 season.

He also didn't know the complete 180 the Broncos would take in terms of who was throwing to the receivers Taylor often defends so vigorously.

For a team to be successful against a quarterback like Peyton Manning, it must achieve outstanding execution from all 11 players on the field. All of those who will see the field in this game were a part of the Steelers - except S Robert Golden - during the Broncos 29-23 win that ended their 2011 season.

Taylor might be the one with the biggest ax to grind though.

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Taylor is the unquestioned alpha dog of the cornerback position within the team. He's been swaggin' since he joined the team in 2003, and he's had his share of off-games. His eagerness to chalk up a pick off Tim Tebow was apparent, and the Broncos used it to their advantage by slipping DeMaryius Thomas behind him as Tebow scrambled outside the pocket.

Tebow will probably never again throw for 316 yards. Thomas - as any receiver would - will be hard-pressed to ever reach 204 receiving yards again. Taylor, though, can expect to be challenged Sunday, and the same goes for his teammates in the secondary.

Manning has more 300 yard games than the city Denver has mountain bikes. While there is some wisdom to the notion the Broncos still may run the ball, considering the amount of success the Manning-less group had rushing last season . But Tebow was the difference between a decent running team and an outstanding one.

Assuming the Broncos won't subject Manning's surgically repaired neck to sprint options and quarterback draws, it's safe to bet vertical passing in the thin mountain air will be on display Sunday.

For as good as Manning is, he's going to make throws, whether he's fully recovered from his injury or not. It'd be smart of the Broncos to test Taylor early, to see if he has recovered mentally from Thomas's torment. There will be plenty of time to try to feel out first-year starter Keenan Lewis, or nickel back Cortez Allen. But they will want to see if Taylor is 2011 Wild Card Playoff Taylor, or the Taylor who has entrenched himself as the Steelers' best cornerback.

Even without FS Ryan Clark roaming the deep secondary (he will be replaced by FS Ryan Mundy), it's a calculated risk to aggressively attack a defense that does not surrender big plays often deep down the field. But as far as the secondary goes, Taylor will likely be the one to show the Broncos whether the film of last year's game they watched in preparation for Week 1 is a fluke.

In other words, will Ike be swaggin'?


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