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Is Joe Haeg the backup offensive lineman the Steelers need in 2022?

Playing snaps at four of the five offensive line positions in 2021 was not likely the plan for the Steelers going into the season.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are chugging on through the 2022 offseason. Looking at a number of players and positions as the roster has fluctuated, sometimes it’s players the Steelers have on their roster taking a step that can really add to the coming season. While players who are in a starting role are important, so are those who serve as backups. When it comes to the offensive line, Joe Haeg filled in at a majority of the positions in 2021. But did he give the results one would hope when called upon? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

After joining the Steelers for the 2021 NFL season, Joe Haeg appeared in 12 games with two starts during the regular season. In those games, Haeg played 307 offensive snaps along with 33 special team snaps. He also had 13 snaps in the Steelers Wild Card matchup.

What is interesting about Haeg is the breakdown of where he played with those snaps. In Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals Haeg played 33 snaps at right tackle and followed it up with a start in Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers with 60 snaps at right tackle.

Haeg’s next action came in Week 6 against the Seattle Seahawks where he played 16 snaps at left tackle. While this is expected from the player designated the “swing tackle,” where things got interesting was in Week 10 when he came in to play 36 snaps at right guard. The following week, Haeg was called on to play 43 snaps at left guard. Going back to the right side in Week 16 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Haeg saw 28 snaps.

In Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns, Haeg played 15 snaps where 14 were at right guard and one was at right tackle. For Week 18 against a Baltimore Ravens, Haeg started in place of the injured Dan Moore Jr. where he saw 73 snaps at left tackle and was called for his only penalty of the season. In the Steelers Wild Card matchup, Haeg played 13 snaps all at right tackle.

As for how Haeg performed during the season, the stats according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) was he surrendered three sacks on the season, two of which came in Week 11 against the Chargers when he saw his only action of the season at left guard. The other sack came in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals while at right tackle. As for the PFF grades, Haeg finished the season with a 67.2 overall grade which was the best among Steelers tackles and fourth among the offensive line behind B.J. Finney (71.4), J.C. Hassenauer (68.3), and Trai Turner (68.1). Haeg had a pass blocking score of 74.1 with a run blocking score of 57.4. The pass blocking score was second among the Steelers offensive lineman only behind Kevin Dotson (78.4).

After diving in some of the numbers, let’s check the film to see how Haeg played at the various positions across the offensive line in 2021.

The Film Line:

Jope Haeg played all over the Steelers offensive line and that holds a lot of value for a roster. The fact that he played all of those positions pretty well is what we want to explore today, as well as look at some of the characteristics that show up consistently on film no matter where he is playing.

Steelers vs. Bengals, 3rd quarter, 0:33.

Joe Haeg (#71) is the right tackle.

Watch Joe Hague’s right arm. He gets it outside of the defender to start the play, and is moving the defender out of the play. The defender is able to recover, gain the outside and close the hole. That loss of control of the block was the difference between a run lane for Najee Harris to gain yards through and what you see in the clip. This was the first game Haeg played real snaps for the Steelers in 2021, so we’ll cut him some slack for that loss.

Steelers vs. Bengals, 4th quarter, 15:00.

Joe Haeg (#71) is the right tackle, to the top of the screen.

This play shows a really strong trend in Joe Haeg’s blocking. You can see him steer the edge rusher into the middle, flattening the rush in front of the quarterback rather than trying to drive him outside and past the quarterback. That is often determined by the defensive lineman’s rush decision, but also by the lineman’s leverage in his drop. What stands out on film is how good Joe Haeg is when he is able to steer defenders to his left arm like he does here. When the defender attacks that right arm, Haeg is not as successful.

Steelers vs. Bengals, 4th quarter, 3:55.

Joe Haeg (#71) is the right tackle (left side of the screen).

Haeg gives up a sack here but watch his left arm, when the defender is attacking his left side Haeg does a great job of getting his right arm on the defender and steering them. Here he is unable to push the rusher any deeper, and when his long right arm isn’t enough, his quarterback ends up on the ground for a sack.

This is a problem at right tackle where Haeg is more prone to losing on these edge rushes. He’s best at steering the rush inside, which isn’t usually where you want that defensive end going.

Steelers vs. Packers, 1st quarter, 12:21.

Joe Haeg (#71) is the right tackle.

We get a good look at Joe Haeg on combo blocks here, where he and Trai Turner get good push on the defensive lineman. But you can also see the point where that lineman splits the double team to end the run. This could be some miscommunication, because it looks like both Haeg and Turner are looking to get off the block to pick up second-level defenders, but it shows again that Haeg struggles when he doesn’t get squared up with his target.

Every blocker is going to struggle when they don’t get squared up, but with Haeg he seems to struggle more while also not being the best at getting squared up.

Again, I need to bring up that these clips are from early in the season when he was first called on to come in and play, and they are all at right tackle, which on film does not seem to be his best position.

Steelers vs. Lions, 3rd quarter, 4:32.

Joe Haeg (#71) is the right guard.

One of the most forgotten about facts from the Debacle against Detroit (Double Yoi!) was the Steelers losing both of their starting guards and the drop off in offense that came with it. B.J. Finney was inactive for Week 10, so when Trai Turner joined Kevin Dotson on the injury list it was Joe Haeg coming in at right guard. He didn’t play badly, and he does a great job on this pull finding the linebacker and he dominates the block.

You can also watch #60 J.C. Hassenauer at left guard and see that while Hassenauer turned into a fine backup center in 2021, he was a glaring weakness when playing guard. The Steelers rely on their guards to be the bullies on the line, and Hassenauer just isn’t big enough to be that guy.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 2nd quarter, 3:35.

Joe Haeg (#71) is the left guard (to the right of the center on screen)

Haeg would replace Hassenauer at left guard in Week 11 because the run game was terrible with J.C. Hassenauer in that spot. The alignment at guard makes it easier for Haeg to square up into the defender’s chest and he does a great job one-on-one on this play. It also is another example of Haeg getting his right arm outside and his left in the defender’s chest. That’s Joe Haeg’s comfort zone, that’s when he wins the most. It’s not unprecedented, most lineman are right-handed, but it shows up constantly with Haeg.

Steelers vs. Chargers, 2nd quarter, 1:15.

Joe Haeg (#71) is the left guard, to the right of the center on screen.

This is a nice recovery on a play Haeg lost most of the rep. Haeg keeps enough control of the defender to buy time for his quarterback to throw a touchdown and Ben Roethlisberger ends the play standing upright.

The Point:

Joe Haeg played everywhere but center on the offensive line for the Steelers, and he was pretty solid in all of the roles. In my (Geoffrey’s) opinion his worst spot was at right tackle, but even then he was solid enough to be the #3 guy. I also think he was better across the board on the less traditional assignments, on the “Matt Canada” plays that didn’t ask him to just drop and block an edge rusher. That may mean he’ll be an even better fit for the team in 2022 if he is called on to play. Whether or not the Steelers will look for Haeg to have to play at four different spots on the offensive line in 2022 is a whole different story.