Will Allen has missed all but eight snaps over the past two weeks, and will be missing his second straight start tomorrow. Filling in for him in that span has been fourth-year safety Robert Golden, who is seeing by far the most extensive playing time in his career a year before he hits unrestricted free agency.
With Golden set to make his second career start for the Pittsburgh Steelers let’s revisit his performance from this past Sunday, making his debut in the starting lineup after being pegged as a career special teamer.
As the Cardinals drove down the field on their second possession of the game, they faced second and goal at the three. Carson Palmer targeted slot receiver Jaron Brown toward the back of the end zone, whom Golden was covering on the slot, but he and Ross Cockrell were in position to defend the pass, with the latter ultimately tipping the ball out of range.
With Allen missing, Mike Mitchell has played more at the line of scrimmage, with Golden more often playing deep safety, but the fourth-year man has the ability to play in the box as well, and to come up into the box from a deep set to defend the run. He showed that at the end of the first quarter, chasing Chris Johnson out of bounds after escaping for an 11-yard run up the left sideline.
A bit later, into the second quarter, it should be noted that Golden was among the chief offenders in allowing Larry Fitzgerald to redirect and take a short pass for 44 yards on a second and 21 play. Both he and Cockrell oversold to the inside, allowing Fitzgerald to run underneath and around them to catch the sideline for about an extra 30 yards.
Midway through the second quarter, Golden was in coverage over tight end Darren Fells, walking up to about six yards off the ball at the snap. The fellow 2012 undrafted free agent faked breaking inside before stemming his route to the corner, putting Golden in a trail position, but the safety did an excellent job of playing the receiver, timing his strip to prevent the tight end from securing the pass.
A few plays later, the young safety was playing in the box in run support, where he beat the block of Fitzgerald to meet Johnson in the hole, making the primary stop after a three-yard gain.
Toward the end of the drive, which nearly ended in a touchdown, Golden blitzed and chased Palmer out of the pocket, flushing him to the left, where he was hit and knocked to the ground. He did complete the pass in the end zone, but the receiver had only gotten open because of offensive pass interference, negating the play.
Mitchell and Golden continued to rotate playing in the box, with the free and strong positions becoming more and more interchangeable, especially as the personnel changes. Early in the second half, Golden snuck up two yards from the line of scrimmage over the right side C gap, but the call was for a zone run left. The safety did well to work inside the tight end’s block, flowing down the line to make the tackle after a four-yard gain.
In fact, Golden’s work against the run, particularly while playing in the box, was above the line consistently throughout the night, a bit later in the third making another run stop against Johnson after a two-yard gain playing from linebacker depth.
Toward the end of the third, he did give up a reception to tight end Troy Niklas working on a short seam route up the left hash marks for 13 yards. The young tight end deserves credit for getting his big body in front of the safety to prevent him from making a play on the inside slant.
In all, Golden certainly deserves credit for performing well in his first career start, above expectations, perhaps. The Cardinals had been a hot offense, and a hot team in general, heading into the week, but the Steelers defense ultimately held him in check when it mattered most, and Golden was a part of that, including shutting down the running game.