“To be the man, you got to beat the man.” A phrase not only made famous by wrestling icon Ric Flair but also a very important quote relatable to new Pittsburgh Steelers’ cornerback Joe Haden. Due to past accolades and being signed to a contract that could pay him a total of $27 million, many are counting on Haden to be the man in the Steelers’ young secondary.
While Haden’s first test to be the man in Pittsburgh will come next Sunday against his former team – the Cleveland Browns, he has had his fair share of main event matchups over his career. One in particular that stands out is last season’s matchup against the New York Giants and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
One of the top receivers in the game today, Beckham was just the test Haden needed to see if the former Browns’ cornerback could still hang with the best of them. And while Beckham looked like the decisive winner on paper – finishing with six receptions for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns, the film shows that this was a much closer contest than it appeared.
The Giants go for the big blow early with a deep pass down the right sideline to Beckham but Haden is able to recover quickly and break it up. Great awareness and anticipation from the Pro Bowl corner to break up the pass from Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Beckham is able to get one back on Haden by converting an early third down in the first quarter. Facing third and five, Beckham uses a nifty outside release and works his way back to the play to convert. Haden is unfortunately stranded in no man’s land as Manning puts the ball in a place where only Beckham can make a play.
Beckham finally connects with the big blow here, turning a short pass into a 32-yard touchdown. Lined up on the left side of the offense, Beckham runs a drag route and uses his speed to outrace Haden towards the sideline. With a final chance to limit the damage, Haden falls flat on his attempt to bring down Beckham and is forced to watch the Giants receiver scamper towards the end zone.
Not ready to allow a second touchdown to Beckham, Haden sticks to the Giants receiver through traffic, forcing him into a very unlikely position to score. Beckham even gets away with a shove on Haden in the back corner of the end zone but is still unable to make the catch.
With the score tied, Beckham takes the last point in a winner takes all scenario. Lined up in the slot, Beckham uses a double move to work his way back to the middle of the field to make the catch. Though Haden is not a headless chicken in coverage, his speed and quickness is no match for Beckham.
While Beckham came out victorious, the performance between the two was not as separated as the box score would make it appear. A couple missed tackles is likely the difference between a breakout day by Beckham and a modest stat line.
Though the argument can be made that Haden’s 2016 season may be skewed due to two notable groin injuries, it will harder to give the new cornerback a hall pass again should he want to be the man in a young Steelers’ secondary. Fortunately, as the tape shows there are still glimpses of a dominant Haden waiting to be extracted.