On 1,004 snaps, he was targeted 96 times by opposing quarterbacks, with just 40 receptions and two touchdowns against him. He intercepted two passes, defended nine more and quarterbacks targeting him had a combined passer rating of just 54.8. Through the first five games, Taylor gave up three receptions on 24 targets and no touchdowns and was penalized just once.
This year, things are far different for Taylor. He's now ranked 162nd out of 166 cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus' metrics, has given up 24 catches out of 42 targets, including four touchdowns, hasn't pulled down a single interception and opposing quarterbacks have a 118.5 passer rating when throwing his way. He also has seven penalties to his name, by far the most flags handed out to any single Steelers player.
So what has changed? Is it simply that Taylor, at age 32, has simply lost his edge by getting a year older? Quarterbacks are clearly picking on him more than they did last year—in fact, only six corners have been thrown on more—so is this the reason why he's faltered, or are they targeting him because he's so weak?
Like last year, Taylor is the Steelers' most-targeted cornerback. He was thrown to 96 times last year, an average of six passes per game, and this year through five, he's averaging 8.56 targets. Keenan Lewis comes in second with 7.3, while last year, it was William Gay, with five.
However, opposing quarterbacks aren't throwing against the Steelers more often than they did last year. This season, the Steelers are seeing an average of 32.2 pass attempts to 2011's 32.4. They are, however, throwing towards the corners more than last season as well as taking more deep shots.
Further, with Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley sidelined with injuries at one point or another over the course of the past five weeks, safeties and their other linebackers have been needed more in run support and in short-yardage coverage, leaving the corners to fend for themselves deep in single-man or zone coverage.
This has left Taylor, particularly, exposed. He's not as fast as he used to be, and receivers are better at getting separation. He knows it—that's why he's already been flagged for so many penalties. He's acting out of desperation because he cannot otherwise consistently cover receivers.
It's not those 2.5 extra targets per game that's caused Taylor to give up two more touchdowns through the first five weeks than he gave up all of last year. It's his inability to stop receivers after they've caught the ball and his inability to keep pace with them in the end zone that has resulted in him becoming so easy to score on (only one corner, Aaron Williams of the Buffalo Bills, has given up more touchdowns).
The Steelers need to give Taylor more support deep, and he needs to compensate for his lack of speed by having better awareness of the ball. Clearly, what's hurting Taylor, and thus, the Steelers, is his quickly decreasing ability to stick with and play close to receivers and prevent completions.
They need to figure out new ways to minimize his negative impact and allow him to maximize his strengths, like his physicality and experience, or else he's on pace to follow up his strong 2011 with one of the weakest seasons for a Steelers cornerback in years.