The play that energized and excited cornerback Joe Haden as much if not more than any other during the Steelers’ 41-17 win over Atlanta was one on which Haden wasn’t asked to shadow Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones.
On third-and-9 from the Atlanta 22-yard line late in the third quarter, Jones motioned away from Haden, who had been following Jones to the left or right side of the field with regularity but not into the slot.
Jones ran an out-route and wound up being bracketed along the sideline by cornerback Mike Hilton and safety Sean Davis.
Quarterback Matt Ryan’s pass for Jones ended up high and incomplete.
Haden was as elated.
“There was a lot of communicating going on,” he explained. “(Jones) motioned down, so then me, Mike and ‘S.D.’ (Davis) were all working basically a technique together. It worked out the same way it worked out in practice, that’s why I was just happy that everybody was just talking, everybody had it covered. They tried to throw it over to what we expected to happen and it was incomplete.
“A film-study thing that happened in the game, something we studied, it made me happy.”
Haden said traveling with Jones was the second such assignment he’s undertaken with the Steelers, after having followed the Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins last Dec. 25 in Houston.
Should Haden be asked to work a similar brand of magic on the Bengals’ A.J. Green this Sunday in Cincinnati, it won’t be the first time.
Haden entered the NFL as a first-round pick of the Browns in 2010 and played in Cleveland until last season.
Green was drafted on the first round by the Bengals in 2011.
“We’ve had battles, plenty of battles,” Haden said. “They had me following him the same way I’d follow ‘A.B.’ (wide receiver Antonio Brown when the Browns played the Steelers).”
Haden, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, feels more at home in a matchup against a receiver the size of Jones (6-3, 220) or Green (6-4, 210) than he does ones similar to Brown (5-10, 181) in stature.
“The bigger guys, it’s easier to be able to get your hands on them,” Haden said. “The dudes that are more my size, (the Giants’) Odell (Beckham Jr.), ‘A.B,’ they’re a little quicker so you kinda miss them off the line.
“The bigger dudes, there’s just more frame you can get your hands on.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin has said such decisions depend on the “trickle-down effect” from week to week.
“It’s a multi-layered discussion and it’s not just about the person that you’re working to neutralize,” Tomlin maintained.
Haden will enthusiastically support whatever the gameplan dictates.
“I just want to do whatever the team wants me to do,” he said. “If they feel like that’s something that’s going to help us win, I’m ready to do it. Whatever ‘Coach T.’ tells us, I’m down. I don’t mind following at all, that’s something I look forward to doing. But if that’s something that he doesn’t have in the plan, then it is what it is.
“He knows where my head’s at. He knows whenever he comes to me he knows I’m ready to accept any challenge. My choice, I’d do it every time. But it’s on ‘Coach T.,’ whatever he wants to do.”
The Steelers prepare for the Week 6 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.