For whatever reason it might be, Pittsburgh Steelers opponents have not exactly favored in the direction of cornerback Joe Haden this season, and when they have, they have not been particularly successful.
After adjusting in-game on the fly over the course of the first few weeks, the former Cleveland Browns Pro Bowler had settled into his role as the Steelers’ left outside cornerback and had been playing at a level deserving of the contract that the organization handed out to him in August. He had been making that kind of difference.
Even in the game against the Lions, in which the defense gave up by far its highest yardage total of the season, I believed that Haden had done well, and offered my evidence in a film study that I posted after the game. I don’t believe he has allowed a touchdown this season.
Of course, the Steelers will have to find a way to make do without him for likely several weeks as he looks to return from a minor fracture in his leg that should not require surgery to heal. In his place will be Coty Sensabaugh, who had some issues replacing Haden right off the bat, but who will be going up against his former team, for whom he started, in the Titans in two days.
As for Haden, Pro Football Focus at least had taken notice of him, writing that he “has enjoyed something of a comeback year in 2017”, in which he has posted the 33rd-highest cornerback grade on the season to date.
In their charting, he has given up a reception on just once every 16.3 snaps in coverage, which impressively saw him ranked tied for 11th in the league, with Washington’s Josh Norman, which would seem to be a good name to be associated with when it comes to coverage.
Many reporters who have spoken to Haden this year have repeatedly come back with tales of a man who seems to be very happy with where he is, and who has been engaging with the media. This is by no means something that has proven to be common with free agents brought in—short of Arthur Moats—as others, such as Mike Mitchell and DeAngelo Williams, have been said to be hard to deal with.
Perhaps it is because his team is just one win away from securing the first non-losing season of his entire football career. The Steelers’ current 7-2 record is comfortably the best any team he has ever been on as a professional. Just prior to this game, he likened the environment to being back in Florida, where he and Maurkice Pouncey won a national championship in college.
I make not qualifiers in saying that I was among those who were skeptical about the efficacy of the Haden signing, although some of that skepticism dissipated after the contract numbers came out and proved to be more team-friendly than anticipated.
But the way he has played, there seems to be no reason why he wouldn’t earn his full value. Which hopefully the defense won’t have to learn the hard way in his absence. Let’s hope for a William–Gay-steps-in-for-an-injured-Bryant–McFadden-in-2008 performance from Sensabaugh.