Coming their way
Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis is one of the most targeted cornerbacks in the NFL this year. A list of the most-targeted corners in the league and the stats against them:
Rank, player, team TA REC TD
1. Sean Smith, Miami 106 58 6
T2. Keenan Lewis, Steelers 100 51 3
T2. Cortland Finnegan, St. Louis 100 73 0
4. Cary Williams, Baltimore 99 65 6
5. DeAngelo Hall, Washington 97 67 3
Keenan Lewis was quick to answer the question.
Will a game-changing performance against one of the top receivers in the league in Cincinnati’s A.J. Green on Sunday at Heinz Field propel Lewis to another level that could result in a hefty contract at the end of the year?
“I am not going to take it like that,” Lewis said. “I am going to take it one game at a time and see where I go from there.”
But make no mistake, when you match up one-on-one all over the field with arguably the best receiver in the NFL in a game with your playoff hopes on the line, it could go a long way in securing Lewis, a free-agent-to-be, a nice contract in the offseason.
“He knows what is at stake,” teammate and childhood friend Mike Wallace said. “This can be a very, very big thing for him. If he goes and has a good game, it could put him where he wants to be.”
And that would be among some of the most sought-after free agent corners in the league during this offseason, a list that includes big names such as Brent Grimes, Tracy Porter, Quentin Jammer, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Sheldon Brown and Terence Newman.
“This is a great opportunity to just let other people around the league see what you are worth and see your talents and see what you can bring to the table,” injured cornerback Ike Taylor said.
Lewis has made great strides in just his fourth year in the league. He went from a situational defensive back a year ago, to being the guy the opposition targets this year because Taylor was having a Pro Bowl season on the other side, to being the guy who follows the top receiver all over the field because of Taylor’s injury.
Lewis got a taste of that last week when he was matched up on Dallas’ Dez Bryant and allowed four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown while being thrown at eight times.
“I’ve known K-Lew my entire life, and I don’t feel that he is out of his element,” Wallace said. “But this is definitely a good spot to see where he is at and to see how far he has come.”
He’s made big progress since last season, and it’s come at the best time — a contract year.
Lewis signed a one-year low-level restricted free tender worth $1.26 million in the offseason and was a question mark of even holding down that position through training camp.
But Lewis, despite nagging shoulder and hip injuries throughout the season, missed 13 snaps all season with eight of those coming last week despite being the second most thrown-at cornerback in the league (100). He’s allowed 51 catches for 587 yards and three touchdowns and has held receivers to three or fewer catches in 10 of his 14 starts.
“It is just another challenge for him,” Taylor said. “He has been holding his own with the challenges and what he’s been able to do. If he feels like he is that kind of corner, he is going to get that kind of challenge.”
Green is second in the league with 11 touchdowns with 10 of those coming in a nine-game span. His 85 catches are sixth in the league.
“It is just a natural growth process for Keenan,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “The better he plays, the better chance our defense has to keep them low on the scoreboard.”
The Steelers were able to hold him to a season-low one catch and five targets during their first meeting because of the play of Taylor.
“We are going to sit down this week and draw up a game plan,” Lewis said.
And what that game plan might entail? “I can’t tell you all that,” Taylor said.
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org