Pittsburgh Steelers CB Joe Haden successful in rivalry with Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green

By Jim Wexell, The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 23, 2017 at 12:09 AM
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PITTSBURGH -- A.J. Green came out of the Bengals' 29-14 loss to the Steelers with season lows of three catches for 41 yards.

Little wonder that long-time rival Joe Haden was on the other side of the ball.

The two have been going at it since they played college ball for Georgia and Florida, when Haden returned a Matthew Stafford pass 88 yards for a Florida touchdown. The two players continued their rivalry when Haden played for the Cleveland Browns. He even returned another pass to Green for a touchdown.

Haden got another interception Sunday on the only pass thrown Green's way with Haden in coverage.

"It was," Haden said. "He wasn't lining up on my side very often. He was lining up on the left side of their defense."

The interception occurred in the middle of the third quarter with the Steelers leading 23-14. The Bengals had a second-and-2 at their 33 when Andy Dalton's pass deflected off Green's hands and Haden swooped in for the interception. It led to another Chris Boswell field goal.

"I wouldn't call it mastery," Haden said. "That one was just good fortune, just being alert. He tipped it up and I was right there."

It was the first interception for Haden with the Steelers.

"I needed to get that first pick," he said. "Picks can start coming in bunches. Never press for it. Never try to go outside of the defense to make a play. But if you're playing your technique, doing your thing, staying on top of coverage, good things will happen."

"We didn't play up to where we needed to today," said Green. "They did a great job taking me away."

The renegade blues

In the fourth quarter of every game at Heinz Field, a video featuring Steelers defensive hits is played on the Jumbotron accompanied by the Styx song "Renegade."

The Bengals played it at practice during the week, but it apparently didn't prepare them for the feeding frenzy that followed.

With 11:05 left in the fourth quarter, and the Bengals' offense waiting through a TV timeout, the song was played to the excitement of 65,363 fans. The Steelers' defense was revved up as well. Defensive lineman Tyson Alualu sacked Dalton on first down for an 11-yard loss, Dalton threw incomplete on second down, and was sacked by linebacker Bud Dupree for a 13-yard loss on third down.

The Steelers took the punt and drove for a field goal that gave them an insurmountable 15-point lead.

"Being on the other side of it, I know how it gets the crowd hyped," Haden said. "It gets me hyped, too, even when I was playing against the Steelers. To be able to be a part of it, with the crowd into it and everything, it was exceptional."

"I'm getting the vibe," said another Steelers newcomer, rookie linebacker T.J. Watt. "When you see that screen go black, you know it's coming. It gets you amped up. And especially when you're getting after the quarterback and you know they're passing, it definitely adds an element to the game."

The Steelers' defense turned up the pressure in the second half, when the unit recorded all four of its sacks. Watt and defensive end Cameron Heyward each had sacks to tie linebacker Vince Williams at four for the team's lead this season. Dupree and Alualu also had sacks for the Steelers. Haden and cornerback Will Gay had second-half interceptions.

"The second half was a blast," said Watt. "We knew we were nipping at his heels all game long, and to finally start getting a piece of him and watching everybody get a piece, with the interceptions and the sacks, it was a fricking blast."

Rob G. goes deep

There's Johnny U. And now there's Rob G.

Rob Golden, the Steelers' reserve safety and personal protector on the punt team, completed a 44-yard bomb to Darrius Heyward-Bey on a fourth-and-7 fake punt from the Steelers' 40-yard line with 6:53 left and the Bengals still within reach at 26-14.

Golden saw Heyward-Bey uncovered and made the call. Center Kameron Canaday snapped it short and Golden passed the ball into the hands of Heyward-Bey, one of the team's punt gunners.

It was the second fake punt/pass completion of Golden's career. The other one went for 25 yards in a 2014 win at Cleveland.

"I was a high school quarterback," said Golden. "I think I was decent, but I had some good athletes around me."

Why the risk at that point?

"We wanted to secure the victory," he said. "It's something we work on every week probably for the last three, four years. For us to get out there and be able to execute it at that level, it was clutch."

The play set up a field goal for a 15-point lead with 5:17 left.

The JuJu Games

Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, at 20, is the youngest player in the NFL, and his veteran teammates enjoy his youthful enthusiasm. On his last touchdown, he celebrated with a tribute to his favorite cartoon, Dragon Ball Z.

Prior to Sunday's game, running back Le'Veon Bell had a better idea.

"I came to JuJu with it about 10 minutes before the game," said Bell. "I said, 'Hey JuJu, if one of us scores, let's play hide-and-seek.' He was on it. We didn't even practice it or nothing. It just kind of happened."

Smith-Schuster was wide open at the 10-yard line and easily made his way into the end zone to complete a 31-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger that put the Steelers ahead by 14-7 in the second quarter. To celebrate, Smith-Schuster pretended to count while Bell hid behind the goal post.

But there was a more important aspect to Smith-Schuster's third career touchdown.

"We've been working on that play since camp," Smith-Schuster said. "It paid off. The safety bit down, took the out route, and I came wide open. It was a great play."

It was also his first experience with the Bengals, perhaps the Steelers' most hated rival.

"I give respect to that Bengals defense," Smith-Schuster said. "That was the most physical game I ever played in. You could see on film me and 36 (Shawn Williams) were going at it; both safeties, corners. Even on my touchdown, (linebacker Vontaze) Burfict got a piece of me."

Protection on the run

Bell went into the game admitting he would protect himself from any dirty hits from the Bengals.

That can't be an easy task amid 38 touches.

"He did it though," said Steelers guard Ramon Foster. "When you're done with your assignment, go down. That's what he did today. He didn't try to go for the extra yards. If there was a pile around, you could see him under the pile bringing his legs in, getting his feet from out of the dirt. It's easier than you think if you're conscious about it. He frustrates defenses. I think throughout the entire year he has to protect himself because they get mad if they miss a tackle, and it's an embarrassment because it's on TV and guys try to get the payback."

Tuitt to do it Sunday

Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt said his back tightened up in the middle of the week and forced him to miss three practices and then the game. But he expects to be back Sunday in Detroit.

"It'll be all good," said Tuitt. "It got a little tight when I was in the weight room. I twisted something and we figured it would be a week-type of thing, just to get over the hump. I'm going to be back this week."

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