As expected, were going to have to wait until Sunday to find out Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden will be glued to Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green just like he was to Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones this past Sunday. On Thursday, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked during his weekly press conference if Haden will be following Green around during Sunday’s game and he wouldn’t give a direct answer to that question.
“Two of the best guys in the league, yeah, it’s a challenge for us,” Butler said. “If he follows him, we’ll see. I’m not going to tell you here, you’re going to have to find out in the game like he does.”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said earlier in the week that a lot goes into deciding if Haden would follow Green around this coming Sunday and he also noted that the Bengals wide receiver is being moved around a lot more in offensive formations than he has in past seasons. In short, Green has lined up in the slot a fair amount of times so far this season.
On Thursday, Butler was asked if Haden could follow Green into the slot should the need arise on Sunday in Cincinnati.
“Oh yes, we have to do different things in terms of lining up,” Butler said. “Joe might not necessarily be on him all the time, but we’ll see.”
While Green’s 2018 season is off to another good start as he’s already caught 26 passes for 409 yards and 5 touchdowns entering Week 6, fellow Cincinnati wide receiver Tyler Boyd, a University of Pittsburgh product, currently leads the Bengals in total catches with 30. On Thursday, Butler was asked why he wouldn’t ask Haden to cover Boyd instead of Green.
“He’s one of the best receivers, Butler said of Boyd. “18 [Green] is not bad either. Both of those guys are good in what they are trying to do. If you double 18 then they go to Tyler, he’s getting a little bit more. He’s getting a little bit more targets on third down. A.J. is getting it all through first, second and third down so they have two good receivers and a good running back. They have a good running game. They are balanced and Andy [Dalton] is doing a good job of what they are asking him to do.”
Butler, however, sang the praises of Haden quite a bit on Thursday and talked about how he’s admired the veteran cornerback dating back to when he played at the University of Florida.
“No, Joe has always been a good football player, Butler said of Haden when asked if the cornerback is playing like a player past his prime. “We wanted him when he came out [of college]. We really liked him when he came out at the time and would’ve loved to have him. We didn’t have a high enough pick to get him. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t in the National Football League. If you have a good season, you’re not going to have a high draft pick. That is just the way the league is.
“So, we’ve had to do with what we had to do with by going to the playoffs and stuff like that. We don’t want to stop going to the playoffs, so we are going to continue to do that and we have to try to continue to find nuggets. They [Cleveland] wanted to let Joe go, and we were happy to take him.”
Last season, Haden played in the first of two games between the Steelers and Bengals but wasn’t asked to shadow Green during that contest at Heinz Field. Instead, Haden, who has played well against Green when asked to cover him one-on-one throughout his career, stayed on the left side of the defense in that Week 7 game. Haden did, however, record an interception in that game thanks to a poorly thrown football from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton deflecting off the hands of Green and into his own arms.
Personally, I’d like to see Haden shadow Green the entire game just as he did against Jones this past Sunday. I would much rather take Green away from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton as much in possible and thus make Cincinnati’s other wide receivers, Boyd, John Ross and Josh Malone, win the game. Ross, by the way, isn’t guaranteed to play on Sunday and Malone has just one reception on the season. Additionally, Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft is likely to sit out Sunday with an injury as well.