Even if the numbers this season might not always bear it out, the wide receiver duo that the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to face tomorrow night against the Cleveland Browns are about as talented a pair that you will find in the NFL. Cleveland reunited Pro Bowl former LSU teammates Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. this offseason, and while they haven’t exploded like so many expected them to with Baker Mayfield in his second season, they continue to make the occasional incredible play, and have to be consistently accounted for.
Fortunately, the Steelers believe that they finally have the sort of talent in the secondary, and specifically at the cornerback position, to be able to combat a pair of wide receivers like that. By and large, but Joe Haden and Steven Nelson have played at a high level for them this year, and this will be a good challenge for them.
During his media availability yesterday, Keith Butler was asked about the approach to defend a wide receiver combination like the Browns have. “Shoot, we’ve got to be acrobatic to cover those suckers”, he said. “That’s how you combat it. You combat it with time, eliminating the time you’ve got to get the ball down the field, and athletic guys covering them, and that’s what we have right now”.
Haden and Nelson only have one interception between them, but they have gotten their hands on a lot of footballs, and prevented a lot of catches. They have prevented the deep balls from being caught as well, and by and large, we haven’t been hearing their name too often for anything negative.
“They both have been playing well for us, to be honest with you”, Butler said of his starting tandem, “but rush and coverage go together, and if we can keep heat on the quarterback and get into position to make them throw the ball, and know when they’re going to throw the ball, I think it’s going to be key for us being successful on defense”.
While he was asked about the importance of them being able to play the run as well, I thought it was pretty telling that Butler continued to emphasize that he was glad to have them specifically for their coverage ability.
With the Steelers playing more man coverage, as well, the cornerbacks also spend more time with their backs to the ball, their eyes on a man and not in the backfield, so their role in the run game can often be reduced, anyway, which has to be compensated for in other ways.
Nevertheless, it’s clear what these guys are here for: stopping wide receivers from making catches. The fact that they have won their last four games is largely a testament to how well they’ve done preventing them from doing that.