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Steelers cornerback Lewis ready for attention

| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
The Steelers' Keenan Lewis defends on a second-quarter completion to the Ravens' Anquan Boldin on Sunday at Heinz Field. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

The Steelers defense did exactly what it needed against AFC North rival Baltimore on Sunday night at Heinz Field.

The Ravens were limited to 47 rushing yards — including 40 by Ray Rice, who saw little daylight on 20 attempts. Torrey Smith, quarterback Joe Flacco's deep threat, didn't corral a pass until midway through the fourth quarter.

Yet the Steelers are preparing to face Cleveland on Sunday knowing they wasted a superb defensive effort in a 13-10 defeat.

Cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis were at their best against a receiving corps that ignited a franchise-record 55-point explosion against Oakland. Taylor clamped down on Smith, and Lewis tormented Anquan Boldin, one of the league's best possession receivers on third down.

“I knew I had to hold my own,” said Lewis, who had teams highs in tackles (10) and passes defensed (two). “We had to challenge them on third down, because Boldin is a big, strong receiver who they like to force it to on third down.

“I knew I had to make those stops. We couldn't let him get anywhere near the football — just as we couldn't let Rice get going because he's the key to their offense.”

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco appeared to target Lewis, in part, because Taylor gave Smith little room to breathe in tight bump-and-run coverage. Boldin had a game-high eight receptions but averaged only 9.9 yards a catch.

“Keenan has taken it upon himself to improve every week,” safety Ryan Clark said. “He's taken these challenges personally, and that's what makes him play at his best.”

Lewis, though, was even more effective against the run. He and Taylor shut down the edge, mostly on stretch plays off right tackle — a ground strategy Cleveland used to protect rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden from Dallas' pass rush.

“You can't just be a cover corner in this league anymore,” Lewis said. “You've got to make those tackles. If I don't make those plays, teams will feel like they can come my way. We definitely have to get our respect.

“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game. We've got to let this go and worry about Cleveland, because that's a good football team. They are going to come after us with everything they have.”

The Steelers are confident Lewis can take whatever the Browns throw at him. The Browns' passing game has been largely inconsistent, but rookie running back Trent Richardson could be an even heavier load to handle than Rice.

Taylor and Lewis again will be challenged to stop the run. The Browns' passing game often revolves around Richardson and tight end Benjamin Watson.

“If your corners don't come up in the run game you can't win,” Clark said. “The way our corners are playing right now, I feel we can do anything.”

Still, Taylor and Lewis aren't satisfied. They have one interception between them, and an inability to force turnovers has haunted the defense the past two seasons.

“We needed to make a play to give our offense good position,” Clark said. “We never gave them a short field like their defense did for their offense. We lost the battle in that sense.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

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