When the Pittsburgh Steelers picked up Joe Haden from the Cleveland Browns, it was as if Christmas came early. The team bet on Haden’s past two injury-plagued seasons being nothing but a coincidence, and the gamble paid off.
With Haden in the lineup, along with Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell, the Pittsburgh secondary was one of the best in the NFL. Without him, let’s just say the group has resembled Swiss cheese more than a Steel Curtain.
This isn’t all just Haden though. Mike Mitchell, the vocal leader in the secondary, has been in and out of the lineup while Haden has been out, and when relying on players like Coty Sensabaugh, Cameron Sutton and Robert Golden, “The Standard is the Standard” mantra can only get you so far.
The Steelers need Haden back to complete their secondary, but will he play? This from Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network when she was asked about the status of Haden on her verified Twitter account:
I asked him if he was close as he walked out of the locker room last night. He said he hoped so, and that he'd get a better gauge this week. https://t.co/yEmWzXfA0Y— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) December 12, 2017
Haden had hinted at the possibility of testing his leg during practice leading up to the game this Sunday at Heinz Field, and having him available could completely change the Steelers’ defensive scheme and philosophy against Tom Brady and company.
Haden and Burns are both capable of playing man-zone schemes which have them play an aggressive style at the line of scrimmage to jam receivers and not allow a clean release, something which has proven successful vs. the Patriots’ offense. But if Haden isn’t completely healthy and capable of running with receivers, the team would be better off with Cameron Sutton in the lineup.
Expect Mike Tomlin to address Haden’s status at his Tuesday press conference, and the hope is he’s at least capable of returning to the practice field. As great as it would be to see Haden back on the field, though, the team will likely be patient with his injury with the playoffs—not just Week 15—in mind for their veteran cornerback.