Was Steelers CB Ike Taylor snubbed from the 2012 Pro Bowl? Perhaps. Arguments can be made either way.
Whether the cause was valid candidates bumping him out, or the continued inclusion of a future Hall of Fame player, Taylor has played at a high level this season, and will likely finish the regular season with another strong game against Cleveland.
It's odd to consider pass coverage a key to the Steelers Week 17 game at Cleveland. But in a game where one team needs to win and the other has been eliminated from post-season contention, things get a bit, well, odd.
Misdirection, reverses, double moves...all of these plays put a huge amount of pressure on a cornerback. They are often aimed at producing big yardage down the field. If the cornerback fails to diagnose a gadget play immediately, it's extremely difficult to recover.
Taylor can expect at least some trickery from Cleveland today.
The Browns are at a disadvantage against Pittsburgh in their receiving group and their quarterback. With starter Colt McCoy on the shelf, QB Seneca Wallace is essentially auditioning for a job at some point in the future. WRs Greg Little, Mohammad Massaquoi and Jordan Norwood are all young players, looking to provide film on why they should stay in the league.
Let's not forget Josh Cribbs.
Taylor can defend any of these receivers in man coverage anywhere on the field. The issue with Taylor is his confidence. St. Louis threw to WR Brandon Lloyd on 12 of its 24 pass attempts. Lloyd had three catches.
Taylor locked down the Rams' best receiving option, and played with great confidence.
On the flip side, in Week 7 at Arizona, Taylor committed several penalties and played without the swag that makes Taylor one of the better corners in the game. His confidence seems to rise or shrink incredibly in the first few plays of the game.
Taylor had perhaps his toughest assignment of the season in Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald. With huge size and great speed, he's Secretariat in Red. Taylor aimed to play Fitzgerald very physically, and he managed this plan well on Arizona's first drive.
On the Cardinals third drive, however, Taylor got a little out of control.
QB Kevin Kolb is under center from his 10-yard line. Fitzgerald is split wide left, with Taylor showing man coverage. Fitzgerald hadn't been targeted yet at this point in the game, but Kolb gets the snap and doesn't look anywhere else. Taylor's only real sin on the play is he fails to get a decent jam at the line of scrimmage, and is off-balance enough for Fitzgerald to push Taylor away from the sideline.
It's not a particularly great throw, but a decent one, and certainly one in which Fitzgerald can simply out-muscle the defender. That gives him enough room to use his size to go over Taylor, who recovered nicely on a shorter throw. There's really not much more Taylor can do to stop the catch, which is why it's critically important to get that jam at the line of scrimmage.
After the completion on Taylor, the Cardinals begin picking on him. Literally. The next play, they run Fitzgerald deep again, and he again escapes Taylor's jam at the line. Kolb throws to FB Anthony Sherman instead, picking up a 15-yard gain. After that, Fitzgerald is flagged for offensive pass interference when he ran into LB Lawrence Timmons.
The play after that, The Cardinals look for Taylor again, this time on the short left side of the field. Taylor has been beaten off the line of scrimmage three straight plays, and he adjusts by dropping two steps off the press coverage distance he had been playing.
Fitzgerald runs a curl route 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Taylor's adjustment is a good decision, and he has excellent positioning, but he fails to turn back to the ball. Cornerbacks are taught to read the face and body language of the receiver to know when the ball is on the way.
Taylor misses this, and because he doesn't turn around soon enough, he draws the penalty, and an opportunity for an interception. It's really not a smart pass by Kolb, but Taylor looks flustered, and their decision to pick on him led to a 31-yard completion and a 15-yard penalty.
Clearly, Taylor will not be covering a receiver with Fitzgerald's abilities or size. But penalties can negate the lack of playmakers on the Browns roster. If Taylor can stay disciplined, he should be able to once again shut down the No. 1 option of his opponent.