Wrestler Ric Flair has long said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will have the task of beating his man, who just happens to be one of the best cover guys currently in the league. That man is Browns cornerback Joe Haden.
Heading into this game, Haden has been targeted 63 times this season and has only given up 33 receptions (52.4%) for 308 yards. Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, he completely shut down wide receiver A.J. Green, who finished the game with just one catch for three yards. Haden also picked off quarterback Andy Dalton twice in the game.
In the game prior to that one, Haden held Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith to just two catches for 12 yards in the five times he was targeted while covering him. Oh, he also had an interception in that game as well.
Brown, who currently leads the league in receptions with 74, has an amazing completion rate this season of 73.3% and that is tops in the league among wide receivers who have been targeted 40 or more times, according to Pro Football Focus.
“(Brown) does stuff differently,” Haden said on Wednesday. “I’ve been going against a lot of bigger guys, but with him he’s really quick. He runs the best routes out of the people we are going against and he has really good hands.
“And with (quarterback Ben) Roethlisberger, when the first things are covered, Roethlisberger scrambles. He just takes off up field. So you have to make sure you stay locked in and plaster your receiver.”
15 of Brown’s 74 catches this season have gone for 20 yards or more, but the Browns have only allowed 25 explosive receptions all season with Haden only being responsible for four of them and a long of 28 yards.
Brown, however, has had success against Haden in previous meetings as he as has caught seven of eight passes thrown his way for 153 yards and a touchdown when covered by the Florida product. This time around, Brown will likely have Haden on him for the entire game, so we will know for sure who the man is when the final seconds tick off the clock Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
In order for the Steelers to win this game, Brown will indeed have to beat his man.