“One catch, good job”
Those are the words Steven Nelson left on an Instagram post made by the NFL’s official account. The post was a video of Odell Beckham’s 42-yard catch that was made with Nelson in coverage. With the release of the All-22 footage, Nelson’s comment looks a lot less like post game banter and more like the truth.
Beckham landed a heavy blow early on Nelson, though as Alex Kozora noted yesterday, it was hardly the cornerback’s fault and instead a coverage breakdown that left Nelson stranded and on his own. While the Browns’ receiver may have won the first battle, Nelson surely won the war.
Following the 42-yard catch, Nelson held the former Pro Bowl receiver to just one reception on four targets for zero yards the rest of the way. It was a complete and utter lockdown on the left side of the field as the Steelers’ cornerback put the clamps on Beckham.
Beckham landed the first big blow but another look shows that Nelson did absolutely everything he was asked on this play. Slot cornerback Mike Hilton bites on the play action and fails to cover his man, causing Minkah Fitzpatrick to pick him up over the middle. Fitzpatrick should instead be providing over the top coverage on Beckham but due to Hilton’s coverage bust, he was forced to abandon his duties. Nelson is the only victim on this play as a coverage breakdown leads to Beckham recording his first and only big play of the day.
The Browns try to get the ball in Beckham’s hands again, this time via a screen pass. The goal here is for him to create yards after the catch with his quickness and elusiveness. That plan would work fine if a man named Steven Nelson was not standing in his way. The Steelers cornerback sniffs it out incredibly quickly, beats the Browns’ lead blocker and makes the tackle for no gain. This would be the last catch Nelson allowed Beckham to record on him.
Cleveland goes back to the drawing board and this time they opt to put Beckham in motion, hoping that Baker Mayfield will be able to hit him easily on an out route. Nelson helps put a foil in those plans again as he quickly breaks on the pattern and the pass bounces off the receiver’s hands. It is incredible to notice just how fast the Steelers’ cornerback breaks on this ball as he mirrors the out route to perfection. It should also be noted that Nelson nearly had an interception later in the game on the exact same route, only difference being that Jarvis Landry was the intended receiver.
Beckham is lined up at the top of the screen and while he is not targeted, I could not help but notice Nelson in coverage. The Steelers corner gives Beckham the sideline and when he decides to cut in towards the middle of the field, Nelson is stuck to his hip like glue. Cornerbacks have to be able to mirror receivers and stay on their hip and Nelson does that to a tee on the play above.
Looking for another knockout blow, Mayfield dials up another deep shot to Beckham with Nelson in coverage. Both Nelson and Joe Haden are playing their receivers to the inside, hoping to funnel them towards Fitzpatrick. With Fitzpatrick shaded more towards the right hashmark there is an opportunity to hit Beckham in stride. Mayfield’s throw is far from perfect and Nelson is there once again to defend the pass, though the ball lands a few yards away from them. This one would have been close with a better ball though score more points to Nelson for getting back into position in order to possibly make a play on the ball.
Beckham would get one more target on Nelson though once again an errand and off target throw from Mayfield left him no chance at making a play.
Nelson continued to do what he has done all season and that is lock down the left side of the field. His acquisition has proved to be one of the most valuable deals of the offseason as he has quietly transformed into the Steelers’ most consistent cornerback. While he may not be getting the interceptions some expect from a top cornerback, yards have been hard to come by on the left side as teams have opted not to target Nelson more often than not.
It was ironic that Beckham was caught on camera mocking Mike Tomlin with a yawning gesture of his own as that was a perfect representation of his performance last Thursday. Other than an early catch, Nelson made the former Pro Bowl receiver’s night a real snooze fest and not only is that exactly what the Steelers want from their highly paid cornerback but that is exactly what Nelson has been providing all season.