Watch Tower: Joe Starkey Perpetuates the Ike Taylor vs. Keenan Lewis Myth

Old-school football purists took heart from Super Bowl XLVIII because it proved the dominating defense has a plays in today’s NFL. For Steelers fans that reality was sobering because it revealed just how far the Steelers defense has fallen. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Joe Starkey took the occasion to make a poignantly valid critique of the “Stained Curtain.”

Starkey’s conclusion is largely correct, but in reaching it he helps purvey a myth that is gaining currency within Steelers Nation and the Watch Tower takes a look….

Steelers Defense in Decline

Starkey minces no words:  The Steelers defense died in Super Bowl XLV at the hands of Aarron Rogers. He then cites steep declines in killer key defensive performance indicators sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, and rush defense.

  • Given stats, perhaps “Stained Curtain” is too tame a term to coin.

While it was less blunt, Steel Curtain Rising drew similar lessons from Super Bowl XLVIII (if you, my beloved reader, can entertain the legal fiction that Steel Curtain Rising and the Watch Tower are in fact separate).

  • But if the conclusion is not up to question, some of Starkey’s reasoning however is.

The core of the Watch Tower’s bone with Starkey lies in a key observation he makes regarding recent Steelers personnel decisions.

Colbert and Tomlin allowed cornerback Keenan Lewis to walk without an offer while retaining Ike Taylor and his exorbitant cap hits. [Emphasis Added.]

Before breaking down the nuances of Starkey’s statement, let’s be clear:  While it may not grow to Dan Marino proportions, doubtlessly decision to let Lewis leave will haunt the Steelers. Lewis was clearly  blooming into a top cornerback, and cornerback who should have stayed a Steeler.

  • That remains true even if Cortez Allen grows into the player the Steelers thought they had when they chose him over Lewis….

…Wait. Was the choice the Steelers made last year to take Allen over Lewis or was the choice about taking take Taylor over Lewis?

If you’re confused, you should be, because the story is changing before our very eyes, and that’s where the Watch Tower shines its lights.

In the Midst of Some Revisionist History?

A year ago, the talk out of the South Side was focused on the Steelers decision to opt for Cortez Allen over Keenan Lewis. In addition to bringing back William Gay, Kevin Colbert needed to make the football equivalent of a “Dollar Ball” type decision. (Now, how that process evolved and who drove it is another interesting question which the Watch Tower would like to look into.)

  • But that doesn’t change the fact that the alternative in play was Allen vs. Lewis, and not Lewis vs. Taylor as Starkey seems to imply now.

The Watch Tower makes the point of singling Starkey out here, because the Lewis vs. Taylor story is gaining ground on various sites and Twitter feeds within Steelers Nation.

Fans will be fans. Passions of the moment and short memories drive sports bar and golf course conversations never mind if the fact get warped – yours truly once heard a graying Steelers fan demand Joe Walton’s return while watching the Steelers offense struggle sans Barry Foster late in the 1993 season.

Fair enough. Let fans be fans. But journalists have a higher responsibility to the facts. It’s one thing to say the Steelers erred in not focusing on Taylor vs. Lewis, it’s another to imply they did indeed and made the wrong choice.

  • And if Starkey thought the Steelers should have pink slipped Taylor a year ago, he should have said it then.

A quick Google search using “Joe Starkey Ike Taylor” only brought up one article between January and April of 2013. In that missive, Starkey mentions Ike Taylors “9.5 million cap hit” but makes no suggestion that the Steelers should have cut him.

More broadly speaking, a cursory search of the terms “Ike Taylor Keenan Lewis” during the same period finds little real discussion in Steelers Nation over the possibility of cutting Taylor to keep Lewis.

The Watch Tower generally likes Starkey’s work, having praised him for sounding the alarm very early on Bob Ligashesky and Larry Zierlin and for having the guts to publicly question the press’ ability to assess any character changes made by Ben Roethlisberger.

But the Steelers thought process a year ago involved Lewis vs. Allen, and Starkey does the discourse in Steelers Nation no favors by implying otherwise.

Quick Word on Colbert and Tomlin’s Drafting

Starkey takes aim at Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s drafting record stating point blankly that they have “failed.” He backs up his claim by citing Ziggy Hood, Thaddus Gibson, Alameda Ta’Amu, and Crezdon Butler.

There’s no argument that those were missed picks, but picks like Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Cameron Heyward, William Gay, and Cortez Allen illustrate that Colbert’s cupboard for drafting defense is far from bare.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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