The ideal time for a team to employ one cornerback as a shadow of the opposition’s top wide receiver is when it is still trying to decide who the other cornerback ought to be opposite him. If you are not comfortable putting a player out there for every snap, then you probably don’t want him to go up against the best your opponent has to offer.
That is the position the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in right now, with Artie Burns still trying to regain his starting job full-time as he continues to be rotated out in favor of Coty Sensabaugh, though he has regained the ‘starting’ distinction and the lion’s share of the snaps.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin gave Joe Haden the opportunity to follow Julio Jones last week against the Atlanta Falcons. He came into the game leading the NFL in receiving yards. He failed to record a single reception through three quarters. By the time he made his move, the game was virtually out of reach.
Asked about the plan for this week against A.J. Green and the Cincinnati Bengals, he told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “my choice, I’d do it every time”. He added with respect to Tomlin, “he knows where my head is at. He knows whenever he comes at me with it that I’m ready to accept any challenge”.
As it just so happens, Green also happens to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and continues to have a very good season in 2018, second in the league with five touchdown receptions—tied with Antonio Brown, among others. The Steelers have utilized shadowing techniques in the past to defend him with some success.
It’s an assignment that Haden has drawn in the past, though while he was still with the Cleveland Browns. Green once wrote an article for The Players’ Tribune in which he detailed how and why the former Pro Bowler is one of the toughest cornerbacks he has ever had to go up against.
Haden himself has stated his preference for going up against bigger wide receiver rather than the short, shifty variety. He got burned by John Brown the week before with the Baltimore Ravens, yet was largely able to hold Jones in check.
Asked to compare Green and Jones, the cornerback offered, “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”.
The question that remains is how much he and Green will see of each other on Sunday. Tomlin tried to hedge as much as possible in his Tuesday comments about the possibility of doing it again, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t.