Taylor makes presence felt in Steelers' victory

PITTSBURGH -- Not long after he arrived here, first-year Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did something his predecessor rarely tried.

He pumped up the confidence of Ike Taylor, the talented but inconsistent fifth-year cornerback who had been benched by then-Steelers coach Bill Cowher at one juncture of the 2006 season, and essentially made him a personal reclamation project.

And in Sunday's 21-0 shutout of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon, Tomlin's con(fidence) job on Taylor paid off big-time.

Like several of his teammates, Taylor stepped up in a big way for a Pittsburgh defense that entered the game without a pair of Pro Bowl performers, nose tackle Casey Hampton and strong safety Troy Polamalu. The former Louisiana-Lafayette standout finished with five tackles, one interception and four passes defensed.

And his pickoff of a Matt Hasselbeck pass in the end zone on the final play of the first half was clearly a momentum builder for the Steelers and a letdown for the Seahawks.

"Big play," said Pittsburgh inside linebacker James Farrior, who also had a huge game, with five tackles and two sacks. "Really big play. I mean, we had just taken the lead, and to have allowed them to score like that in the last two minutes, after we had dominated their offense the way we had, it would have felt pretty [bad], you know?"

There were times last season when Taylor, certainly the player with the best pure coverage skills in the secondary, definitely felt pretty rotten. Coming off a terrific 2005 campaign in which he had 20 passes defensed and a key interception in the Steelers' victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, Taylor was rewarded the week before the 2006 season opener with a five-year, $22.5 million contract extension.

But his play was so sporadic early in the season that Cowher demoted Taylor, relegating him to nickel duties. After starting 15 games in the Super Bowl season, Taylor dropped to 11 starts in '06. Then again, dropping things is not all that unusual for Taylor, who arguably has some of the worst hands of any cornerback in the league.

In fact, his end zone interception Sunday came after he had dropped two potential pickoffs earlier in the contest.

But Tomlin, who earned his stripes in the league as a secondary coach, has publicly lauded Taylor for his cover skills, and he did so again after Sunday's victory.

Said Tomlin: "He is a very good football player who has the potential to become a great football player if he remains hungry and continues to work."

Taylor, 27, said after the Steelers' first shutout at Heinz Field that Tomlin's expectations for him -- and, perhaps more importantly, Tomlin's unabashed belief in him -- have prompted him to work as hard as he ever has in his career.

"I'm determined to prove him right," Taylor said.

It certainly seems the Pittsburgh defense is just as determined to prove that owner Dan Rooney made a wide move in hiring Tomlin, who has been in the league only since 2001, as Cowher's successor.

The unit has surrendered only 47 points in five games, and that average of 9.4 points per game is the best in the league.

Pittsburgh limited Seattle to only eight first downs, 144 yards and an average of 3.1 yards per play. Of the Seahawks' 10 possessions, nine ended in punts, and Seattle managed more than one first down on just one possession. The Seahawks ran just 11 plays on the Steelers' side of the 50-yard line, none in the second half, when their offense generated just 33 yards on 13 snaps.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.