Steelers CB Ike Taylor to miss 3rd straight game


Steelers CB Ike Taylor to miss 3rd straight game

PITTSBURGH (AP) The boot is off Ike Taylor's fractured ankle.

It's still too soon, however, for the Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback to slip his cleats back on.

Taylor will miss his third straight game on Sunday when the Steelers (7-7) try to revive their postseason hopes against Cincinnati (8-6) in a game that will likely define the season of both teams.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday he's encouraged by Taylor's progress but that Pittsburgh's secondary will have to find a way to defend Cincinnati's deep group of receivers without its best cornerback.

The Steelers won't have one of their fastest cornerbacks either after fill-in DeMarcus Van Dyke was placed on the injured reserve after injuring his shoulder in Sunday's 27-24 overtime loss in Dallas. Pittsburgh signed veteran free agent Justin King to provide depth, but it will be largely up to Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen and Josh Victorian to slow down Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and second-year receiver A.J. Green.

Victorian, a practice squad player, was pressed into service against the Cowboys and endured a difficult afternoon. Then again, he was hardly alone as Dallas quarterback Tony Romo lit up the Steelers for 341 yards passing and two scores in a rare off day for the league's top pass defense.

Tomlin praised Victorian's effort but knows things are unlikely to get easier while facing one of the best young offenses in the NFL.

``We are going to have our hands full,'' Tomlin said.

The Steelers won the first meeting with the Bengals 24-17 on Oct. 21, holding Dalton to 14 of 28 passing for a season-low 105 yards. The victory kickstarted a four-game winning streak that appeared to put to rest any concerns about Pittsburgh's slow 2-3 start.

A shoulder injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a handful of critical mistakes have pushed the Steelers to the fringe of the playoff race. Pittsburgh has dropped four of five - including two straight since Roethlisberger's return - but have a direct path to the postseason. Wins over the Bengals and Cleveland (5-9) and the Steelers will play into January.

Even if, at the moment, it hardly feels like it.

Pittsburgh appeared to stir the echoes of 2005 after winning in Baltimore on Dec. 2. The players talked openly about going on a playoff run the way they did seven years ago, when the Steelers squeaked into the playoffs then won three games on the road en route to the franchise's fifth Super Bowl title.

The last two weeks, however, look a lot more like 2009. The Steelers were 6-2 at the season's midway point then collapsed down the stretch, enduring a five-game skid to miss the playoffs entirely.

Things aren't quite that bleak at the moment, and Tomlin did his best to quell any sense of unrest by Roethlisberger, who took blame for the loss in Dallas but also acknowledged some frustration about the successful but infrequent no-huddle offense.

Roethlisberger loves the no-huddle and pointed to how well the Steelers moved the ball against the Cowboys as proof it works. Tomlin downplayed the idea Roethlisberger was taking a shot at offensive coordinator Todd Haley in his comments.

``He's on board with what we're doing,'' Tomlin said of his quarterback.

Maybe, but the Steelers have gotten away from the formula that worked so well for them earlier in the year.

The short passing game that thrived in September and October has disappeared in November and December. Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich have completed just 55 percent (124 of 224) of passes during the team's last six games, down from nearly 70 percent (201 of 288) during the first half of the season.

The lack of any semblance of a running threat hasn't helped. Tomlin dropped the running back-by-committee approach three weeks ago, awarding the starting job to Jonathan Dwyer. The spark Dwyer provided earlier in the season hasn't materialized, though. Dwyer has just 101 yards over the three starts, but Tomlin doesn't appear to be in any hurry to change things up.

The Steelers reinstated running back Rashard Mendenhall from a one-game suspension on Monday for conduct detrimental to the team, but Tomlin said he's ``happy'' with the current situation and will let Mendenhall - who hasn't suited up since a loss to Cleveland on Nov. 25 - practice before determining whether he'll be involved.

Mendenhall isn't the only veteran who has spent most of the last month watching. The Steelers brought back wide receiver Plaxico Burress last month to give Roethlisberger a big target. Burress has just one catch in the two games he's been active.

Injuries in the secondary and along the offensive line have limited Pittsburgh's flexibility to incorporate Burress. And Tomlin is reluctant to give any specifics on when or even if Burress will play over the final two weeks.

``We'd like to include him in the plan,'' Tomlin said. ``Obviously, he has a skill set that we could utilize but all of those things are kind of interwoven as we put together and formulate a game plan.''


NOTES: The Steelers placed LG Willie Colon on injured reserve with a knee injury, marking the third straight season Colon has ended the year on IR. The move freed up a spot for Mendenhall on the 53-man roster ... Tomlin plans to keep using Antonio Brown as a punt returner. Brown fumbled in the fourth quarter in Dallas, giving the Cowboys a chance to tie the game late ... RT Mike Adams (ankle) has been cleared to return to football activities.


Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP


Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

What are Bradley Beal's chances of earning All-NBA?

USA Today Sports Images

What are Bradley Beal's chances of earning All-NBA?

Bradley Beal has been indispensable for the Wizards this season with John Wall having missed 33 of their 70 games, or nearly half of their schedule so far. Beal's numbers are up in several categories from last season and he earned his first All-Star selection as a result.

Becoming an NBA All-Star is very difficult. Usually, about six guards per conference are picked each year. Being All-NBA is even more exclusive, as only six guards are selected from the entire league.

Wall has done it before and Beal may be in position to accomplish the feat himself this season. As of now, Beal could be considered on the bubble for third-team All-NBA.


It is an extremely competitive race and there are several locks to earn the honors. At this point, guys like James Harden and Russell Westbrook should get in easily. But after that, the next four spots are hard to sort out.

Based on his numbers, Damian Lillard of the Blazers should be a shoe-in. He is the best player on the third-place team in the Western Conference and is second among all NBA guards in points per game (26.6). He is also averaging 6.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds. He has already been All-NBA twice in his career and should get his third nod after this season.

DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors is probably the next-most likely to get in. He has led the top team in the Eastern Conference, was an All-Star starter in February and got his first All-NBA selection last year.

After those is where it gets interesting. The reason why is injuries. Stephen Curry in any other year would be a guarantee for All-NBA, but as of now he has played just 50 games. Consider that the NBA requires a player to appear in 58 games or more, or 70 percent of his team's games, to qualify for statistical leaderboards. 


Curry has returned to practice, but due to health and possibly rest down the stretch of the season, there is a chance he doesn't hit the 58-game threshold. That may present an interesting question for the voters.

Kyrie Irving of the Celtics is also hurt. He has played in 60 games with 11 left on Boston's schedule. The same goes for Jimmy Butler of the Timberwolves. He is rehabbing a torn meniscus and currently has only played 56 games. 

Chris Paul of the Rockets has appeared in 53 games due to injuries. Though his numbers could put him in the All-NBA conversation, Devin Booker of the Suns has played in just 54 games.

If injuries do preclude Curry in particular from getting in, then the door could be open the door for Beal. He would then have to beat out guys like Victor Oladipo of the Pacers, Irving, Butler and others.

Setting aside the most likely three to get All-NBA - Harden, Westbrook and Lillard - and Curry, let's take a look at how Beal stacks up statistically to the rest of the pack. 

Bradley Beal - 23.3 ppg, 4.7 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.2 spg, 46.3 FG%, 37.4 3PT%

DeMar DeRozan - 23.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.0 rpg, 1.1 spg, 46.1 FG%, 32.4 3PT%

Victor Oladipo - 23.3 ppg, 4.2 apg, 5.2 rpg, 2.3 spg, 47.1 FG%, 36.6 3PT%

Kyrie Irving - 24.4 ppg, 5.1 apg, 3.8 rpg, 1.8 spg, 49.1 FG%, 40.8 3PT%

Jimmy Butler - 22.2 ppg, 5.0 apg, 5.4 rpg, 1.9 spg, 47.3 FG%, 35.6 3PT%

Devin Booker - 24.9 ppg, 4.7 apg, 4.5 rpg, 0.9 spg, 43.2 FG%, 38.3 3PT%

Chris Paul - 18.8 ppg, 7.9 apg, 5.6 rpg, 1.7 spg, 45.9 FG%, 38.5 3PT%


As you see, not a whole lot is separating those guys. It may come down to team performance and other factors.

Working in Beal's favor is that he's been the most durable of the bunch. He has played in every one of the Wizards' games this season.

Beal has also helped keep his team in contention despite Wall's absence. The Wizards are on pace for 47 wins, not far off their 49 victories last year, and Beal has been the biggest reason.

But Irving's case is helped similarly by all the injuries in Boston, including to Gordan Hayward. He has been the best player on the second-best team in the Eastern Conference.

Oladipo has led the Pacers to an impressive season despite not having another All-Star in the lineup. DeRozan, Beal, Irving and Butler have better supporting casts.


Say injuries do work against Curry, Paul, Irving and Booker. And assume DeRozan is safely in as the fourth guy behind Harden, Westbrook and Lillard. That could mean Beal gets in alongside Oladipo.

If Curry, Paul or Irving get in despite missing double-digit games, that would probably bump Beal out of the mix. Oladipo has slightly better numbers and has drawn lots of acclaim for being the best player on a surprise Pacers team and he's no guarantee himself.

Beal has 12 games left to prove his case and clearly a lot of factors are in play, but the idea of him making All-NBA for the first time is not out of the question.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Redskins Draft Countdown: Could Da'Ron Payne be the final piece to the D-line puzzle?

Redskins Draft Countdown: Could Da'Ron Payne be the final piece to the D-line puzzle?

Redskins draft countdown

Da’Ron Payne

Defensive tackle

Stuff the run in the middle of the line? Check. Get outside to stop stretch plays? Check. Get after the passer? Check. Yes, Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne checks all the boxes the Redskins are looking for on the D-line.

He can be the immovable object, taking on double and triple teams, and he also can chase down the quarterback. At 311 pounds he could be the Redskins’ nose tackle in base and move outside in nickel.

Height: 6-2
Weight: 311
40-yard dash: 4.95

Projected draft round: 1

What they’re saying

Payne possesses one of the most impressive combinations of strength and athleticism that we've seen from an interior lineman. He will be the premier run-stuffer in this draft, but he may have enough in the pass rushing toolbox to project as a better pro than college pass rusher. Payne is a game-ready starter who immediately upgrades a defense's ability to slow the run.

Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

How he fits the Redskins: This just in—the Redskins need a nose tackle. Of course, if you’re reading this you know that, and you’ve known it has been the case ever since the Redskins went to the 3-4 defense in 2010.

In very closely related news, they need to play better against the run, too. You probably noticed that they were dead last in the league in rushing defense last year. And that the NFC East has two very strong rushing teams in the Eagles and Cowboys and a Giants team that could well take Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the draft. If they don’t fix their rushing defense they could literally get run over.

Payne could help them a lot. He can take on double and triple teams and clog up running lanes in the middle. If they try to go around him, he has the quickness to penetrate and disrupt outside runs.

And a defensive lineman taken in the top half of the first round should be able to provide some pass rush pressure. As noted by Zierlein, Payne has the potential to do that. He’ll never be a double-digit sack guy, but if he can kick in four to six per year and get some pressure up the middle, that would be fine.

Film review: vs. Tennessee, vs Georgia (national title game)

Like most players, Payne can’t get much in the way of a pass rush when he is double and triple teamed. But when they tried to block him one on one he consistently got pressure. Payne didn’t get many sacks, but he did make a difference. Against Georgia, one pressure resulted in an interception and another forced a third-down incompletion.

Payne is very difficult to move off the spot in the running game, even when the offense tries to do it with two or even three players. Running backs did not get by him on a regular basis. In the second half in particular, Georgia tried to move the ball with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, both of whom are likely to get selected in the top 100 in the draft next month. But they kept running into a mass of humanity in the middle of the line with Payne in the middle of it.

He played well during the Tennessee game during the regular season, but he didn’t have a lot of impact. The only time his name was called was when he was hit with a roughing the passer call.

Potential issues: At 311 pounds, Payne may not be the ideal size to fill the chronic hole at nose tackle. It should be noted, however, that defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has said that the Redskins aren’t necessarily looking for the 350-pound nose tackle and that a relatively smaller player can get the job done. Ziggy Hood played the nose at 305 pounds last year. The Redskins finished last against the run, although that’s not necessarily cause and effect.

Bottom line: The Redskins went 20 years without taking an interior defensive lineman in the first round before taking Jonathan Allen last year. Nobody could legitimately complain if they doubled up on first-round D-linemen after so many years of neglect.

Payne should be there when the 13th pick goes on the clock. Unless the Redskins address the nose tackle spot in free agency Payne will be under strong consideration. The defensive line improved last year with the additions of Allen in the draft, Stacy McGee as a free agent and the second-year emergence of Matt Ioannidis. Payne could be the final piece of what could be a dominant defensive line.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.