Monday, February 19, 2007

Here's a Concept We All Support

In a column titled "Taylor Hopes Tomlin turns him into a Pro Bowler", John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tells us that Ike Taylor is optimistic about the affects that the Steelers new head coach will have on his performance. According to Mr. Harris (because there are precious few quotes/comments from Mr. Taylor himself) " [f]ollowing a couple of positive conversations with Tomlin, Taylor said he had never felt better about himself."

Then there is this (emphasis added): "For the first time since cracking the starting lineup, Taylor gave up some big plays in the passing game. But, truth be told, the Steelers' lack of a consistent pass rush left Taylor -- the team's top cover corner -- alone on an island far too often."

I am very interested to know whether that diagnosis of the cause of Mr. Taylor's struggles is Mr. Harris' alone; or if, perhaps, Mr. Taylor offered that explanation himself. Indeed, while no one could argue that 2006 was the best year for the Steelers' defense, the claim that the pass rush was responsible for Mr. Taylor's struggles is dubious at best.

Since the year 2000 the Steelers' defense has accumulated 306 sacks, with 105 of those coming during the 2001 and 2002 seasons (55 in 2001 and 50 in 2002). That makes for an average of 43.7, with the median number of 41. In other words, as it regards sacks of the opposing quarterbacks, in 2006 the Steelers' defense was just about where you would expect them to be. Additionally, the line of thinking expressed in Mr. Harris' column ignores the symbiotic relationship between pass coverage and sacks. Certainly, if the quarterback is sacked then the secondary doesn't have to cover the receiver for as long a time; however, if the secondary locks down the receivers then the likelihood that the quarterback will be sacked also rises.

Ike Taylor is a talented and hard-working player -- the whole point of Mr. Harris' article is to discuss the intensive training regimen that Mr. Taylor undergoes each offseason -- and though it pains me to do so, the "blame" for Mr. Taylor's struggles last season lies squarely on his very capable shoulders. He was beaten, at times soundly and repeatedly, by skilled wide receivers. Sure, an extra 10-13 sacks a season would make things much easier on the secondary; but that kind of help just isn't likely to happen any time soon.

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