Browns CB Haden no match for Steelers WR Brown
CLEVELAND – The Browns figured they could gather some momentum and set the tempo against the Steelers if cornerback Joe Haden could shut down wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Brown never gave Cleveland a chance to gather itself on a bone-chilling Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium. The NFL's leading receiver turned Haden inside out in helping lead the Steelers to an impressive 27-11 victory.
Haden influenced the game, but not the way he imagined. Brown so dominated him in the first half that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rarely looked elsewhere.
“We knew he was going to get the ball,” Haden said of Brown. “I was doing my job, but he did his job even better.”
Few cornerbacks have played as well as Haden all season. He was holding some of the league's top receivers — including Cincinnati's A.J. Green — to 30 receiving yards a game, but Brown racked up 83 yards on five catches in the first half.
“They definitely started strong, and we weren't able to stop them,” Haden said. “Things just went downhill.
“They were making plays and they were aggressive. There are no excuses because we have to step up and make stuff happen.”
Haden fared much better in the second half, partly because Roethlisberger only looked Brown's way twice.
Haden entered the game riding a wave of confidence, mostly because of a solid effort in a 41-20 loss to Cincinnati. He intercepted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton twice, returning one for a touchdown.
If this had been a chess match, Brown would have needed only a couple of moves to boast of check mate. Brown delivered his best move on a 41-yard touchdown catch with 2:33 left in the second quarter to give the Steelers a 10-3 lead.
“I turned back because I felt he was coming back, but he kept going,” Haden said. “I got my hand on the ball, but it just stuck there on his chest.
“As a defense, we have to do what we can do. Teams aren't running up and down the field on us, but they made a play on me today that made a difference in the game. I got beat by a good quarterback and a good receiver making a play.”
Haden's teammates touted him as a Pro Bowl selection all last week. But he often looked confused and was unable to handle Brown at the line of scrimmage. He couldn't knock Brown off his routes, giving Roethlisberger a clean target.
“I deal with the realization that I'm playing against the other team's best receiver every week,” said Haden, who swatted away a game-high three passes. “They are going to make big plays because they get paid big bucks, too. As a corner I know it's not going to go my way every game.”
With Brown winning the man-to-man battle with Haden, it enabled the Steelers to run the ball somewhat effectively (85 yards) against the eighth-ranked rush defense. Ultimately, Cleveland had to double Brown, which enabled wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to catch six passes for 52 yards; including a 4-yard touchdown pass that put the Steelers up 20-3 with 7:43 remaining in the third quarter.
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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