It’s almost hard to remember amidst everything that happened last night that the Pittsburgh Steelers were actually without half of their starting secondary—or actually two fifths, I suppose, since it has come to a point that it is unreasonable to regard the nickel cornerback anything less than a starter.
Remember, free safety Mike Mitchell had to sit this game out with an Achilles injury, and you can wager that his absence likely helped to contribute to some of those explosive plays down the middle of the field. It’s easy to dismiss his presence until you actually see the effects of his not being there.
Also temporarily vacating his starting position due to injury was cornerback Joe Haden, a late free-agent addition who was replaced in the starting lineup by a much earlier addition during the initial period of free agency, Coty Sensabaugh.
I can’t help but find myself wondering how this game might have gone differently if the Steelers had some lesser-quality cornerback to fill in reserve, because, upon initial impressions, Sensabaugh held his own—outside of one major exception that helped lead to a huge 75-yard touchdown pass to open the second half.
The former Titan recorded three tackles during the game, two of them being stops. One stop led to a third and long, following which the Steelers got their first interception of the game. It was Sensabaugh who got the second, jumping a route around midfield and taking off running, getting all the way down to the 20-yard line.
He did so picking off Marcus Mariota, his former teammate, from the latter’s rookie season, anyway. Sensabaugh was a Titans draft pick and even worked his way into the starting lineup by the end of his tenure there.
He signed a big-money contract in free agency with the Rams but was demoted after a couple of games and then eventually released. He ended up signing with the Giants and worked his way into the rotation for them by the end of the season.
After joining the Steelers on a modest contract, he talked about having grown from the experiences of the previous year, going from signing a strong contract to start for a team to being a street free agent. It tempered him and made him mentally stronger.
Toward the end of the preseason, it looked like he would compete with Ross Cockrell, last year’s starter, for the job at left cornerback. That plan changed after the Browns released Haden and the Steelers signed him, of course. But Cockrell was traded for a seventh-round pick, and Sensabaugh was kept.
He is at least for the present now the starter until further notice after Haden suffered a fibular fracture that will keep him out for several weeks. While he helped to give up a huge play in the game, I will say that his debut in the role could have gone a lot worse.