Steelers CB Taylor leading opportunistic defense
Ike Taylor stuck his hands out and reached for the ball.
Normally, it leads to an incompletion - and more than a little frustration for the Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback.
This time, it led to a touchdown.
Taylor's 50-yard interception return for a score highlighted Pittsburgh's 26-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, a play Taylor insists won't be an anomaly in his 10th season.
''I've been working on my hands,'' Taylor said.
He didn't really have a choice.
Taylor has been a fixture in the Steelers secondary over the last decade, his physical style of play making him one of the most intimidating - not to mention durable - cornerbacks in the league. Despite missing only three games in nine seasons, Taylor has just 13 career interceptions, the main reason he believes he's is still searching for his first Pro Bowl selection.
It's the only significant hole in a resume that includes a pair of Super Bowl rings, one Taylor would love to finally fill while serving as the anchor on a defense that expects to be one of the best in the NFL yet again.
''Yeah, you want to be recognized,'' Taylor said. ''Really, though, all I can do is what I can do.''
And what Taylor thinks he can do - finally - is hold onto the ball. His inability to come up with even the easiest of interceptions has become somewhat of a running joke in the locker room, where Taylor's teammates good-naturedly feigned surprise after just the second pick six of his career.
Though it's just the preseason, Taylor wasn't about to minimize the importance of the play. He didn't pick off just anybody, he was the first NFL player to intercept Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck. And he did it while covering five-time Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne.
Not exactly no-names.
Taylor's theft was textbook. He stuck with Wayne when the receiver cut toward the sideline then jumped in front Luck's underthrown pass before sprinting for the score.
''Coach Dick LeBeau always tells you to stay close to the receiver, and when the ball comes your way you have to catch the ball,'' Taylor said. ''I turned around and the ball was right there. I just had to make sure I caught it.''
Something Taylor and the rest of his teammates failed to do with any regularity in 2011. While the Steelers (No. 7 in the AP Pro32) finished first in the league in yards allowed, they were last in takeaways, producing 15 turnovers. Taylor had two of Pittsburgh's 11 interceptions, but the lasting image of the season may be a 29-23 overtime loss to Denver in the wild-card round, a game that ended with Taylor and safety Ryan Mundy fruitlessly chasing Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas into the end zone on an 80-yard catch-and-run.
The play stuck with Taylor during the offseason, though he insists ''last year is last year.''
And he might be right.
The Steelers picked off three passes total against the Colts, with Cortez Allen tracking down a deflected Luck throw in the second quarter and Josh Victorian adding a late interception against Colts backup Chandler Harnish.
Throw in Al Woods' pick in the preseason opener against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh's defense has looked like its usual aggressive self.
''We try to create as many turnovers as possible,'' Taylor said. ''This defense has been around for awhile. We have a good group of young guys too. We'll be fine.''
It's a good sign considering the Steelers are still searching for ways to get pressure on the quarterback. A series of injuries to the linebacking corps hasn't helped. James Harrison is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester are also nursing nagging injuries.
That's left the onus on LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and second-year man Chris Carter to get in the backfield. Woodley got to Luck once, but otherwise the top overall draft pick had time to set up and throw. With Luck getting into his comfort zone, the Colts were able to erase an early 14-point deficit and take a 17-14 halftime lead before the first-team offense called it a night.
''There were some mistakes we did that allowed their team to move the ball downfield on us,'' Woodley said. ''That's the things that we need to clean up.''
The Steelers will get another shot on Saturday in Buffalo, when the starters are expected to get their most extend playing time of the preseason.
''We have a lot of time left,'' Woodley said. ''We have two games left ... so we have a lot of time to put this team together.''