Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden did a masterful job of traveling with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones this past Sunday afternoon on his way to holding him catchless through the first three quarters of the game. While Jones did ultimately end the game with 5 receptions for 62 yards, 4 of those came after the Steelers had built a 34-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
So, on the heels of Haden shadowing Jones around in Week 5, will he be asked to do the same with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green this coming Sunday? While Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin obviously wasn’t going to tip how his defense will handle Green in coverage this coming Sunday when he talked to the media on Tuesday, it didn’t stop him from getting questions about what all goes into the decision-making process of if a certain cornerback will be asked to shadow another team’s top wide receiver during a particular game.
“It’s always about the trickle-down effect when you’re talking about traveling with someone,” Tomlin said during his Tuesday press conference. “Not only the physical challenges in terms of the personnel matchups, but when they’re moving people, who else are they moving and what does that do? So, that’s always an element of the equation. If we consider it this week, it will be an element of the equation. But it’s a multilayered discussion and it’s not just about the person that you’re working to neutralize.”
So, in essence, it’s not just a simple correlation between Jones and Green?
“No, it’s not, no,” Tomlin said.
During a Tuesday morning interview on DVE Radio, Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward was asked to give his thoughts on if he believes Haden should be allowed to shadow Green around this coming Sunday in Cincinnati.
“I’m not going to tip my hat or act like I know what’s going on, but I think it’d be wise to have Joe follow A.J.,” Heyward said. “Just because those are two good talents and Joe’s played A.J. so many times, he knows his favorite spots. And I think last time Joe and A.J. matched up here [in Pittsburgh], I think Joe followed him around and I think A.J. had like three catches and we kept him in check. We’re going to need some of that this week because they’re a good team.”
Heyward has a fairly good memory as Green ended that Week 7 game last season with just 3 receptions for 41 yards on 6 total targets. However, Haden did not follow Green around in that contest and according to our game charting, he played every snap on the left side.
In short, don’t be surprised if Haden isn’t asked to shadow Green on Sunday and I think Tomlin did a great job on Tuesday of explaining why that might not ultimately happen even though as I pointed out last year that he’s done a good job of covering him throughout his NFL career.
“Obviously you got to work your tail off to minimize Green’s impact on the game and notice I said minimize, because he’s going to impact the game, he always has and will,” Tomlin said. “He’s that talented of a player. They’re doing an awesome job of moving him around probably more than I’ve seen in recent years in terms of making him a tough guy to stay with and minimize, particularly situationally. He’s playing inside on possession downs more than I feel like I’m used to seeing.”
Tomlin also made sure to point out that it’s probably even tougher now to minimize Green because of the emergence of fellow Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
“All you got to do is watch the Atlanta game,” Tomlin said of Boyd. “I mean, boy, he, Boyd, dominated possession downs in the game. Not only third down, but I think he converted two critical fourth downs in the waning moments of that game. Not that I’m surprised by that, if you’re from Pittsburgh, you’ve seen a lot of Boyd over the years, even going back to high school football. I’m not surprised that he is really emerging, particularly as a dominant guy in that area of play.”
Against the Falcons in Week 4, Boyd caught 11 passes for 100 yards on 15 total targets and as Tomlin pointed out on Tuesday, 6 of those receptions came on either third or fourth downs and they moved the chains to boot. Green, on the other hand, caught 4 passes for 78 yards against the Falcons with his final grab being the game-winning score.