The Pittsburgh Steelers' secondary has been considered the team's soft spot at times over the past five years. Despite the dominance of Troy Polamalu, when healthy, the unit as a whole generally receives as much criticism as Tim Tebow's mechanics.
During this year's assault on the AFC North, the Steelers' secondary has not been an issue, and not for the first time, Troy Polamalu isn't the best player in the group.
Ike Taylor has been the MVP of not only the Steelers' secondary, but arguably the whole team.
Polamalu is the perennial all-pro safety that rightfully receives more acclaim than any other player at his position. Taylor, however, is a relatively overlooked cornerback who is very rarely talked about with the best at his position.
Taylor is a rangy corner with great speed who has shut down players with Darrelle Revis levels of consistency this year. This is not something that the former Louisiana-Lafayette prospect has done every season, but that may not totally be his fault.
More than any other previous point during his nine year career, the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense is playing to Taylor's strengths.
While he has a knack for not coming up with the football, with 11 total interceptions in a nine year career, Taylor has the talent to be a dominant man-to-man cover corner.
The zone blitz scheme remains a staple of Dick LeBeau's defense, but this year the team has featured man, and more importantly press, coverage more than ever before due to the emergence of Keenan Lewis.
Lewis is an exciting prospect for the Steelers who looks like the closest thing the team has had to Taylor since, well, Taylor himself. Lewis' prime may be some distance into the future, but Taylor is currently embroiled in his own.
Despite being 31 years of age, the Steelers had no hesitation in re-signing him to a four year contract during the off-season.
Some fans questioned the decision, instead hoping for a younger addition from the open market, but Taylor has rewarded the Steelers with his outstanding play this year.
That outstanding play is what is continuing a Steelers' tradition as Taylor becomes another 30+ defender excelling for Dick LeBeau.
At 31 years of age, LeBeau has no qualms with using Taylor aggressively against opposing team's number one receivers. In the first game of this year, Taylor shut down Lee Evans of the Baltimore Ravens despite the Steelers' overall struggles in that game.
That level of play has continued into the team's bye week after AJ Green's impact was nullified for the Bengals until he matched up against the team's safeties for his long range touchdown.
Taylor hasn't given up any long range touchdowns this season. In fact, Taylor hasn't given up much this year at all.
If players like James Farrior and James Harrison are anything to go by, don't be expecting any let downs entering the second half of the season either.
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