PITTSBURGH – Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden has shut down some of the top wide receivers in the NFL this season, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson among them.
But Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown isn’t shying away from the probability that the Browns will anoint Haden with the task of following him all over the field when Pittsburgh (4-6) plays at Cleveland (4-6) Sunday.
“Hopefully,” said Brown when asked if he thought Haden would shadow him. “I don’t know. I hope so.”
Brown probably doesn’t have to hope too much. Haden has matched up against the opposing team’s best receiver pretty much since the day he joined the Browns as a No. 1 pick out of Florida in 2010.
Last week, he held Green to two receptions for seven yards and Johnson – the same guy who torched the Steelers for six catches and 179 yard and two touchdowns Sunday – managed just three catches for 25 yards working against Haden a few weeks ago.
Some might think Brown is being a bit foolish calling out a player who has been as good as Haden has this season.
“Joe Haden is a heck of a player, the best corner we’ve seen this season,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. “He’s the complete package, and it’s showing up against some of the big-time receivers that he’s faced. Just go as far back as last week. He rises up to challenge of playing against great receivers. AB has a great challenge ahead of him. He’s got to play his best game.”
But the NFL receptions leader with 74 catches for 952 yards and two touchdowns insists there’s a method to his madness.
“One-on-one (coverage) is better than two-on-one,” Brown said. “If you can study game plans and prepare for one guy, it’s a lot easier preparing for just him instead of other guys or zone matchups. I’m just looking forward for the opportunity. Whoever’s going to be out there, I’m just going to be on my screws, ready to play. It should be a great matchup.”
Brown has seen more than his share of double coverage as he continues to have a breakout year replacing Mike Wallace as the team’s No. 1 receiver.
“He’s a really good talent,” said Haden, who leads the Browns with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups.
“He is fast, quick and has really good hands. He runs really good routes. He is different than the other receivers I’ve gone up against because he is a lot smaller and a lot quicker. That’s the one thing he does really well, just being really quick and running really good routes.”
The matchup will be one of the keys to Sunday’s game. Cleveland believes Brown might be a more difficult matchup than Green or Johnson, whose size is their main attribute.
“I can think of a number of guys who weren’t always the biggest guys who were able to be very productive in this league,” said Cleveland head coach Rob Chudzinski. “He’s an outstanding player. He can run routes, he’s very versatile and he’ll run after the catch. He’s explosive and catches the ball so well. All those things are really what receivers need to have, and he has them.”
Brown knows what Haden has done and who he has helped slow this season. But he’s not shying away from being the next player in the Cleveland corner’s sights.
As the 195th pick in the draft the same year the Browns took Haden with the seventh-overall selection, Brown is accustomed to overcoming obstacles.
“I look forward to challenges,” said Brown. “What a great opportunity that lies before me this week.”
Odds and end zones
Tight end Matt Spaeth, who is on injured reserve with a designation to return, practiced for the first time Thursday since suffering a foot injury in the preseason. The Steelers have 21 days to activate Spaeth or place him on season-ending injured reserve. … After practicing Wednesday, linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) joined defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and safety Shamarko Thomas as the Steelers who did not practice Thursday.