Steelers' Joe Haden hopes to shadow another No. 1 receiver this week
Joe Haden doesn’t know whether he will shadow another No. 1 wide receiver this week, whether he will follow A.J. Green around the field or simply stay on the left side of the formation.
What the veteran cornerback does know is he doesn’t need bring up the subject to Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
“He knows where my head is at,” Haden said Wednesday. “He knows whenever he comes at me with it that I’m ready to accept any challenge.”
And his preference is?
“My choice, I’d do it every time,” Haden said.
After the way Haden blanketed Julio Jones, the NFL’s receiving yardage leader, in the Steelers’ 41-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, attaching him to the Cincinnati Bengals’ top receiving option would seem to be a no-brainer for the Steelers.
Haden, after all, thrives on matchups with tall, physical wide receivers. In his encounter with the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jones, Haden held him without a catch through three quarters before Jones finished with five receptions for 62 yards.
Green is 1 inch taller and 10 pounds lighter than Jones.
“Whatever coach wants to do,” Haden said. “Both are very talented, both are really, really tall guys. I would say Julio is a little more physical, but A.J has the speed, his route-running is very crisp, he is able to go up and get the ball. He’s not afraid to go across the middle. He’s an all-around great receiver.”
Green leads the Bengals with 409 receiving yards, five touchdown catches and 15.7 yards per catch. His 26 receptions are second on the team, with former Clairton and Pitt star Tyler Boyd catching 30 passes through five games.
“You know what A.J brings,” Haden said. “Boyd is a great receiver and is doing a whole lot for their offense, third downs and on intermediate routes. But A.J is the bomb that can go off over the top at really any time and go the distance.”
This year, Tomlin said the Bengals have lined up Green all over the field more than in recent seasons. Proof of that success comes in the form of a 4-1 record for the first-place Bengals, who are averaging more than 30 points a game.
“They just make it tough to minimize his impact on the game in terms of knowing where he’s going to be,” Tomlin said. “He’s not going to be on the strong side, he’s not going to be on the weak side, he’s not going to be on the one-receiver side, directionally right or left. They are going to thoughtfully move him around, as they should.”
When Green entered the NFL in 2011, one year after Haden was taken in the first round by the Cleveland Browns, they routinely matched up twice a season. But when Haden signed with the Steelers last season, he didn’t immediately get assigned to Green.
In the Week 7 game at Heinz Field, Green was held to three catches on six targets for 41 yards in the Steelers’ 29-14 victory. Haden stepped in front of one pass intended for Green for his first interception with the Steelers.
Haden, though, didn’t recall shadowing Green much that afternoon.
When the teams met again in December, Haden was still recovering from a fractured fibula that kept him sidelined for five games. Green took advantage of his absence, catching 7 of 16 targets for 77 yards and two touchdowns. After Green’s second touchdown in the first half gave the Bengals a 17-0 lead, cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who was starting in Haden’s place, was benched in favor of rookie Cameron Sutton.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is preparing for Green to see plenty of Haden on Sunday.
“He does a great job,” Lewis said of Haden. “When you play corner in the National Football League, you’ve got to be a guy who not only has the physical tools and talent, but the mental aptitude and he has shown that.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at email@example.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.