Secondary not as concerning for Steelers

December 18, 2012
Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis stretches before a game earlier this season. Lewis is expected to play Sunday. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – The Steelers won’t have cornerback Ike Taylor back for their critical game Sunday at Heinz Field against the Cincinnati Bengals, but head coach Mike Tomlin did get some good news Tuesday regarding his banged up secondary.

Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen are expected to return this week for the Steelers (7-7) against the Bengals (8-6).

“We anticipate having Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis, and they’re very capable professionals, guys who have played a lot of ball for us, guys who are capable of standing up and covering people regardless of circumstance,” said Tomlin. “Obviously, we’ll have a contingency plan if one or more of those guys are unavailable.”

The Steelers used every contingency plan available last weekend in Dallas, when they began the game without Taylor (ankle) and Allen, who had a groin injury. They then lost DeMarcus Van Dyke in the first quarter to a shoulder injury and Lewis to a hip injury in the fourth quarter.

The team’s depth at the position was so short, undrafted rookie safety Robert Golden, who played some cornerback in college, was pressed into duty covering Dallas’ slot receiver. As a result of all the injuries, the NFL’s top pass defense allowed its first 300-yard passing game in three seasons.

Van Dyke was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a dislocated shoulder, and the Steelers signed former Gateway High School and Penn State star Justin King, who was a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2008.

For now, the plan is to use Lewis and Allen against Cincinnati’s passing offense that includes receiver A.J. Green, who ranks eighth in the NFL with 85 receptions for 1,208 yards and 11 touchdowns. Green is fifth in the NFL in times targeted by passes with 144.

The Steelers used Taylor, who has missed the past two games with a hairline fracture in his ankle, in one-on-one coverage against Green in their last meeting, a 24-17 Pittsburgh victory Oct. 21. Taylor limited Green to one reception – a season low – but it went for an 8-yard touchdown.

In a win over Philadelphia last weekend, Green caught six passes and scored one touchdown, while no other Cincinnati receiver recorded a reception.

“He is big, fast and quick to speed,” said Tomlin of the 6-4 Green. “He plays to his size down the field. He plays the ball above eye level. That’s going to be a challenge for our defensive backs.”

With Taylor out, the Steelers could choose to use Lewis, who has had a breakout season in his first year as a starter, to follow Green all over the field. Lewis matched up primarily on Dallas’ 6-2, 220-pound Dez Bryant last week. Lewis helped limit Bryant to four receptions for 59 yards and a score.

As for Taylor, Tomlin said he is recovering well from his injury and no longer wears a protective walking boot.

“He’s been given permission to move out of (the boot) and start some other things,” Tomlin said. “It’s progressing nicely. I haven’t received an update officially for this week, but obviously he’s out. But I like the nature of the progress that he’s attaining.”

Odds and end zones

Rookie offensive tackle Mike Adams, who missed the past three games with an ankle injury, is expected to resume practicing today. … The Steelers placed guard Willie Colon (knee) on season-ending injured reserve, making room for running back Rashard Mendenhall on the roster. Mendenhall was suspended last week for conduct detrimental to the team. … Tomlin said he will likely stick with Jonathan Dwyer as his starting running back and Isaac Redman as the primary backup, but did not rule out finding a role for Mendenhall, who had been inactive in the two games prior to his suspension. … The Steelers did not commit a penalty against the Cowboys, the first time they have had a penalty-free game since Dec. 1, 1968 against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Steelers also lost that game.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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