Joe Haden is apparently not missing Thursday night’s game against his former team.
Hours before the Steelers tee it off against the Browns in Cleveland, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Haden will play despite being ruled as questionable with an illness. Fowler added that Haden “doesn’t want to miss” playing against the Browns, the team that Haden spent seven seasons with before being released — and quickly signed by the Steelers — just before the start of the 2017 season.
Haden was asked about his former team during Browns receiver Jarvis Landry’s charity softball game this past summer. The Browns, after acquiring Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt this offseason, were a popular pick to win their first division title since 1989. Things haven’t quite panned out so far, as the Browns are 3-6 entering Thursday night’s game. The Steelers, however, are 5-4 after a 1-4 start.
“You could put their talent against anybody’s talent in the division,” Haden said about a month before the start of training camp. “But at the end of the day that’s not who wins it all the time. You’ve got to be a team; offense, defense, special teams. But just being in that conversation, knowing that you have the athletes and now it’s just performing and gelling together as a team.”
Haden also talked about the prospect of going up against Beckham, who has just 44 receptions for 632 yards and one touchdown to his name during the first nine games of the season. Haden will likely cover Beckham on Thursday night, while fellow cornerback Steven Nelson, one of the Steelers’ two significant free agent signings this offseason, is left to cover Landry, who leads the Browns with 45 receptions and 652 receiving yards.
“It’s friendly competition, for sure,” Haden said of Beckham, “but at the end of the day when we line up, I’m gonna hope we win and he’s gonna hope they win.”
Thursday night’s game is significant for both teams. With a win, the Browns — who snapped their four-game losing streak by beating visiting Bills on Sunday — would be able to keep their playoff hopes alive at 4-6. Conversely, a loss would widen the gap between the Browns and the rest of the field of AFC playoff contenders. That field includes the Steelers, who would be the AFC’s sixth and final playoff team if the postseason started today. Pittsburgh’s next three games are against Ohio foes, with the Steelers heading south to take on the Bengals next Sunday before hosting the Browns in Week 13. Pittsburgh is 17-0-1 in their last 18 games against Ohio teams.
Only one of the games was with Mason Rudolph under center. On Thursday night, Rudolph, the 78th overall pick in the 2018 draft, will look to win his first career start against Baker Mayfield, the first overall pick in the ’18 draft. While Rudolph shied away from making any headline-worthy comments with regard to going up against Mayfield, Pittsburgh receiver James Washington, Rudolph’s former college teammate at Oklahoma, provided one.
“I feel he would want to beat him,” Washington told Jim Wexell of 247Sports. “It’s there, for sure. But the bigger point is winning this game, period. I mean, who doesn’t want to beat those guys?”