Sometimes when watching the Steelers, I can’t help but think about No. 21. No, not Robert Golden, who now wears No. 20, but Joe Haden. Haden, who was acquired by the Steelers from the Cleveland Browns prior to their Week-1 game against the Browns, has been a pleasant surprise for this top-ranked Pittsburgh secondary.
No, Haden hasn’t put up huge numbers and hasn’t even had an interception yet. But he has visibly been a steadying force in the secondary. Think back to the first game of the 2016 season. Remember the secondary guys running around trying to get organized before every snap? You don’t see that anymore, and the communication of the front seven to the back four is near seamless.
A large part of that success is due to Haden.
Even more than the plays made or not made is the joy Haden must feel going to work everyday. The Browns, the team who drafted him out of Florida, have yet to win a game in 2017, and he’s now on a 4-2 team currently second in the AFC rankings. He went from a rebuilding team to a contending team, and I personally can’t be happier to be covering Haden as a member of the Black-and-gold.
Time to check in on the Steelers news outside the walls of BTSC...
He's arguably the highest-profile free agent the Steelers have signed over the past decade. With that in mind, quick, did you notice Joe Haden on Sunday?
No? Or at least, not extensively?
You're not alone. And that's a good thing. In fact, it's just the way Haden likes it.
“Sometimes as a corner,” Haden told me in the visitor's locker room Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium, “if people don't talk about me, it's pretty much good news.”
Six games into his Steelers tenure, Haden has been reliable and almost indispensable part of a secondary that has the Steelers ranked as the NFL's No. 1 pass defense and No. 3 defense overall. And Haden has played 98.4 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
The Steelers have limited opposing wide receivers to 50 catches through six games this season (by comparison, Antonio Brown has 48 all by himself). The Steelers’ opponents are averaging 5.7 yards per reception, a 72.2 passer rating and have scored four receiving touchdowns. The Steelers' secondary ranks second, fifth and second in the league, respectively, in those categories.
Some of these superlatives are the result of circumstance (through six weeks, the Steelers have had their share of good fortune regarding opposing receivers and quarterbacks being injured, or facing teams that aren't strong with the pass, or facing quarterbacks who either were or are backups). But Sunday's win helped legitimize the pass defense. It shut down what had been one of the NFL's best and most efficient passing attacks.
Haden, of course, is a big part of that secondary. He was the highest-profile addition since last season, and he and Artie Burns are the two defensive backs who have played the most (neither leaves the field, except rarely).
“I’m feeling good, I’m just trying to make sure I’m doing my part for this defense,” Haden said.
The lone nitpick? No splash plays. Haden doesn't yet have an interception (nor a sack, for that matter).
But that, in some ways and in part, is the product of design. At 28 and perhaps not as explosive as he once was, Haden is embracing more of a “tackle the catch” philosophy that the Steelers have long adhered to in the secondary.
“I'm not trying to go out of my way to make a play, feeling like I’ve got to make a splash play,” Haden said. “I’m feeling like if it comes my way, I'm making sure I hold things down, making sure nobody gets over the top.”
It's more of an anonymous lifestyle these days for an NFL cornerback who formerly had earned a reputation as a “shutdown” corner, No. 1 guy and a flashy, former first-round pick and Pro Bowler.
One of the more gregarious Steelers players, Arthur Moats, was pragmatic about his consecutive-games-played streak coming to an end.
“All streaks become broken one day,” the linebacker said Monday. “It was a nice streak. A dope streak, and now I have to speak about it in the past tense. It was a dope streak.”
Moats played in 69 consecutive games (including all 53 since he joined the Steelers in 2014), tied for the fifth-longest among active linebackers in the NFL and second-longest on the Steelers.
But with the team relatively healthy (just one player out injured) and in search of a spark from veteran James Harrison for Sunday's game at Kansas City, Moats was an odd man out. He was a healthy inactive.
“It wasn't because of an injury, so at least there is consolation in that,” Moats said.
With five accomplished outside linebackers on the roster, if all stay healthy, it might last the rest of the season that either Moats or Harrison are inactive.
“It is what it is,” Moats said. “That's the business.”
As he spoke, young teammate Bud Dupree inquired and expressed awe at Moats' streak and remorse that it ended. The two shared a laugh, especially when reminded that, if Moats begins a new streak this week, he wouldn't match his previous one until late in the 2021 season when he would be 33 years old.
“I'm hoping that my younger compadres can one day beat that streak,” Moats said.
“At the end of the day, it's a testament to being available. Availability is sometimes better than ability. And that's kind of how I live.”
The Steelers' first of two third-round picks, cornerback Cameron Sutton, said the Steelers' medical and personnel brass were going to meet to discuss whether the rookie cornerback would return to practice this week, when he’s first eligible.
On injured reserve because of a hamstring injury, Sutton — by IR rules — cannot play the first eight weeks. However, players on IR are allowed a 14-day window to practice before they play. In theory, Sutton could practice this week.
Sutton said he’s healthy enough but he might wait before participating because the Steelers' bye-week comes after their Week-8 game, meaning the 14 days might not be best utilized.
“I'll just do what I'm told,” Sutton said. “I'll be ready to go when they tell me to.”
After throwing five interceptions against the Jaguars, Ben Roethlisberger had nowhere else to go but up from his Week-5 performance. He did improve in Week 6, throwing 17 completions on 25 attempts for 252 yards, one touchdown and one interception which, unfortunately, counts against him even though it wasn’t his fault.
We look at how he was able to put together a better week in the Steelers’ 19-13 win over the Chiefs:
The Steelers’ offense displayed a balanced attack early in the game, calling 20 running plays and 16 passing plays during the first half. The Chiefs’ defense surrendered more than 100 yards to Le’Veon Bell in both games between these two teams last season, so seeing Todd Haley rely on that aspect of the offense made sense.
Roethlisberger had 11 completions on 15 passes in the first half, and one of those four passes was the bad-luck interception when Antonio Brown cut his route short.
Where Roethlisberger improved most was in his decision-making, as he was able to manipulate the Chiefs’ defense with his eyes and target the softer parts of their coverage schemes.