Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
It is no secret that cornerback Ike Taylor and the rest of Pittsburgh’s secondary have been absolutely abused through the air in recent weeks.
Calvin Johnson caught six passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns for the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field on November 17th. The following Sunday, Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns snared 14 balls for 237 yards and a touchdown. Then on Thanksgiving night, Torrey Smith led all of the Baltimore Ravens’ receivers with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
What has been evident to me over these three games is that Taylor is neither fast enough nor physical enough to cover opposing team’s “number one” pass catchers one-on-one anymore. Johnson, Gordon, and Smith all found a great deal of success at Taylor’s expense, and the veteran has the Miami Dolphins and Mike Wallace coming to town this weekend.
Unlike Taylor, Wallace has appeared to hit his stride from a productivity standpoint in recent weeks for the Dolphins. The former Steeler caught five passes for 127 yards and a touchdowns against Carolina on November 24th, and he snatched another seven balls for 82 yards and a touchdowns in yesterday’s win over the Jets.
Although Ryan Tannehill has developed a much better rapport with Brian Hartline during the last two seasons (136 catches, 1,887 yards, four touchdowns), the Steelers must still be wary of Miami’s biggest down-field threat on the offensive side of the ball in the form of Wallace. Plus, when one considers how prone they have been to giving up big plays, I see no reason why Tannehill shouldn’t challenge Pittsburgh’s secondary deep on Sunday.
Weather and pass protection permitting, Tannehill should have plenty of opportunities to challenge Pittsburgh’s calcifying secondary with deep balls. The Steelers’ defense has already allowed seven passing plays of over 50 yards this season, and the deep ball has particularly scorched them during their last three games.
What better way for Wallace to get revenge on his old team than by knocking them out of the playoffs with down-field strikes? You know, the same types of passing plays which Pittsburgh’s offense has sorely missed and ignored from a schematic perspective during the last two seasons.
Pitting Wallace against Taylor will be an enormous matchup advantage for the Dolphins, and Tannehill and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman would be wise to exploit it. I just hope for the Steelers’ sake that Taylor and the rest of the secondary can neutralize what should be a motivated Wallace. Otherwise, Pittsburgh’s postseason dreams could very well be destroyed by the end of Sunday’s game.
Like “NPC” on Facebook: Nice Pick, Cowher