Capitals

Steelers rallying around embattled CB Ike Taylor

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Steelers rallying around embattled CB Ike Taylor

PITTSBURGH (AP) Ike Taylor's skin - the figurative kind - has grown thick over a decade developing a reputation as one of the NFL's better cover guys.

The veteran Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback is relying on that mental toughness to get him through the most difficult stretch of his career.

Following a brutal night in which the most experienced member of Pittsburgh's secondary was beaten relentlessly in a stunning 26-23 loss to Tennessee last week - surrendering the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter chief among his missteps - Taylor understands teams no longer fear throwing his way.

``They're going to try me,'' Taylor said. ``Why wouldn't you? I've got 10 years of tape. I know going into the game that's going to happen.''

Only it seems to be happening with more regularity for Taylor. Typically charged with covering an opponent's No. 1 receiver, Taylor has found himself on the wrong end of pass completions in critical situations through the season's first month for the Steelers (2-3), who play at Cincinnati (3-3) on Sunday night.

Even Taylor allows his performance isn't quite up to the level. Then again, neither is the rest of the defense for a team that hasn't gotten off to its usual fast start under coach Mike Tomlin.

Pittsburgh is fifth in the league in yards allowed and fifth against the pass. Good numbers, yes, but it's the ones on the scoreboard at the end of games that are causing some early season angst.

The Steelers are allowing 23 points a game - more than a touchdown than the 14.2 they surrendered a year ago - and opponents have already thrown for nine scores, putting Pittsburgh on pace to give up the most passing touchdowns in team history.

``It's all correctable,'' Taylor said.

It's a refrain the team has issued repeatedly since a season-opening 31-19 loss at Denver, when Peyton Manning engineered a second-half comeback in his first game in more than a year. It resurfaced two weeks later when Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders put up 34 points to cap another late rally.

And it's back yet again after the Titans rolled up 113 yards and 10 points on its final two possessions, including a 4-yard pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Kenny Britt in which Taylor couldn't close in time to knock the ball out of Britt's hands.

It was the final gash in one of the roughest games of Taylor's otherwise solid career. He was flagged for pass interference twice and defensive holding once in addition to grasping at air rather than a receiver in critical situations.

His teammates have rallied to Taylor's defense while at the same time insisting the last thing he needs is a pep talk.

``There were tons of plays that a lot of us didn't make,'' safety Ryan Clark said. ``What you don't do is create a problem. You don't start to panic and try to give him all these solutions and `Oh, I'm in your corner and I want to help you.' This is not a situation to where he is putting the team in position to lose.''

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau believes there is plenty of heat to go around. The Steelers aren't putting much pressure on the quarterback - they're averaging a so-so 2.2 sacks per game - and have spent the first portion of the year dealing with injuries to safety Troy Polamalu and linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley among others.

Given time to work, Manning, Palmer and Hasselbeck were all able to play like guys in the middle of their prime, not ones well on the other side of their careers.

``It's not the line, it's not the linebacker, it's not the defensive backs and it's not the defensive plays that are called, but it's a combination thereof,'' LeBeau said. ``All these players are one-play games and we have to be the ones that make the play at the end of the game to make things swing our way.''

It's something Taylor flourished at last fall when he put together a Pro Bowl-caliber season, one that ended with him chasing Denver's Demaryius Thomas into the end zone on the first play of overtime as the Broncos pulled off a stunning 29-23 wild card victory.

Taylor insisted all summer the play didn't haunt him, that he was over it. Still, he allows the 80-yard catch-and-run may have shown he was vulnerable.

``Every season ain't going to be the same season,'' Taylor said. ``What I have is 11 more games left.''

True, though the Steelers need to get better quickly if they want to emerge from the murky waters of the AFC. On Sunday they face one of the top quarterback-receiver combinations in the league in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.

It will be Taylor's primary responsibility to keep the 6-foot-4 Green in check. LeBeau doesn't expect Taylor to win every battle, just enough of them.

``It's not a question of if they catch one on you here and there but when and how you respond,'' LeBeau said. ``Ike's a veteran corner and he'll respond and he'll come out fighting.''

NOTES: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger left practice early Thursday after rolling his right ankle but said afterward he was ``fine.'' ... Polamalu (calf), running backs Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Isaac Redman (ankle), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) did not practice ... Center Maurkice Pouncey returned to practice and is optimistic his right knee will be good enough to play ... Linebacker Lawrence Timmons also practiced on Thursday. He sat out Wednesday with a previously undisclosed foot problem.

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Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

The odds have never gone the way of the Washington Capitals.

After years of being the common pick to finally break through and win the Stanley Cup, this was most definitely not the year.

Yet, here we are with the Capitals as one of the final two teams standing.

For their upcoming Stanley Cup Final, the Caps are the underdogs against the Las Vegas Golden Knights.  The opening line from OddsShark has the Golden Knights as -135 money line favorites to win the Stanley Cup. The Capitals were listed as +115 underdogs.

Vegas (the betting entity, not the team) has not exactly been the most reliable this year though. After all, the Golden Knights were 100/1 odds to win the whole thing. Now they are four games away.

In their past two series, Washington was not the favorites. The Capitals have not been favorites since the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

For years in the Alex Ovechkin era, they have been the favorites to not only go on to play for the Stanley Cup but winning it.

In 2018 they started the season tied for the fifth best odds to win the Cup (14/1), one of their lowest opening marks in the past decade. For the full perspective, Washington was tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs and behind the Dallas Stars at the start of the season.

Without question this underdog role has fit them quite well, they shouldn’t want anything to change heading into the biggest postseason series in 20 years for Washington D.C.

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ty Lawson

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ty Lawson

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Ty Lawson's season...

Player: Ty Lawson

Position: Point guard

Age: 30

2017-18 salary: $11.9K

2017-18 stats: 6 G, 19.2 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.5 bpg, 34.6 FG%, 62.5 3P%, 1.000 FT%, 44.2 eFG%, 114 ORtg, 115 DRtg (all in playoffs)

Best game: 4/17 at Raptors (Game 2) - 14 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds, 4-for-10 FG, 4-for-5 3PT

Season review: The Wizards made a surprise move the day after the regular season finished by signing Ty Lawson, giving them a fifth point guard for the playoffs. Not only did Lawson join the team last-minute, he actually got minutes in the postseason, immediately slotting in as their primary backup point guard.

Very quickly Lawson showed what the Wizards saw in him. He added a spark off the bench, particularly on offense. He showed no restraint in looking for his own shot and in Game 2 against the Raptors hit 4-of-5 from long range.

Lawson proved he still has the quickness that made him an above average NBA point guard in his prime. There were questions about his athleticism given he is 30 years old and spent most of the season in China, but Lawson was still noticeably faster than his contemporaries on the Wizards' bench.

Whether Lawson proved enough to stick around in the NBA is the real question. He only played six games for the Wizards and, though he impressed to a certain degree, teams had given up on him just a year before. 

The Wizards have five open roster spots entering this offseason and have only two point guards in the mix. They will be in the market for more backup help, though it is unclear at this point if they are interested in bringing Lawson back. They have two draft picks and the ability to add players via trades, as they have several times in recent years to address backup point guard.

Working in Lawson's favor to potentially stick around is that the Wizards do not have much money to spend. They are in the luxury tax and will likely need some cheap options to fill out the final spots on their roster. Lawson certainly would not cost much.

Potential to improve: Shooting, scoring, consistency

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

Ian Mahinmi, C

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