The Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary just hasn’t been the same since Joe Haden broke his fibula. Maybe it’s because the newly-minted Steelers defensive back is absent, or maybe it’s due to other factors, but the fact remains the team’s secondary has been an issue.
Big plays have now become the norm on a weekly basis, and this is alarming for a team preparing for its stretch run with hopes of grabbing the No. 1 seed in the AFC on their minds. The good news here is that Haden is slowly working his way back to the field.
Slowly, but surely.
“I'm working with the training staff, doing everything I can do to get back,” Haden said in his first interview since he was injured late in the first quarter Nov. 12 in Indianapolis. “I'm finally able to be off crutches. I was on them for two weeks, so I just know I'm making good progress.”
“I just can't do anything on the field,” he said.
The progress might be slow, and while many fans want to make sure Haden is back for the Week-15 game with the New England Patriots, Haden knows bigger games lie ahead, even beyond New England.
For a player who’s never even smelled a playoff game in the NFL, let alone played in one, Haden’s ultimate goal should to be back, and healthy, by the time the AFC Playoffs roll around. Any comeback sooner than that should be considered an added bonus.
As for his teammates, they like what they see from Haden and have hopes for his return being sooner, rather than later.
“Obviously, I know we're significantly better when I know he's in the lineup because I know the type of player he is,” free safety Mike Mitchell said. “He's moving around good and feeling good, so it brings my spirits up because I know he's getting healthy.”
Time to check in on other Steelers’ news outside the walls of BTSC:
Seven Steelers players lead at their positions in fan voting for the AFC Pro Bowl team, and 19 Steelers rank in the Top-5 at their positions.
Running back Le'Veon Bell, receiver Antonio Brown, tackle Alejandro Villanueva, guard David DeCastro, center Maurkice Pouncey and inside linebacker Ryan Shazier are at the top of their positional lists.
Twelve other Steelers are in the Top-5 at their positions: Fullback Roosevelt Nix and kicker Chris Boswell are second; quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, guard Ramon Foster, linebacker Vince Williams, safety Sean Davis and punter Jordan Berry are in third; safety Mike Mitchell and outside linebacker T.J. Watt are fourth; and defensive end Cameron Heyward, tight end Jesse James and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster are fifth.
Ryan Shazier said he read a Tribune-Review story last week that he played more than 99.7 percent of the Steelers' defensive snaps over the past 23 games. So what was he thinking when he briefly had to leave the game during the fourth quarter of Sunday's win against Green Bay?
“I don't believe in jinxes,” the inside linebacker said. “The good Lord has been watching over me all season and really taking care of me.”
Shazier limped off the field, and training staff examined and taped his right ankle. He returned to the game and was walking around the postgame locker room without a significant limp or a wrap on the ankle.
Asked how his ankle was, Shazier smiled and said, “What ankle?” and joked he came out of the game because he was tired.
After an injury-filled start to his career, Shazier has played every game since Nov. 6, 2016.
Cameron Sutton was added to the 53-man active roster on Nov. 20, and he was one of the 46 Steelers to be, in Tomlin parlance, “given a hat” for Sunday's game.
Sutton, however, didn’t get into the game and therefore has yet to make his NFL debut. The rookie third-round pick didn’t play on defense (he was, at best, the No. 5 cornerback on the depth chart against the Packers) nor on special teams, according to the NFL's official game book.
At one point, Sutton began to sprint out onto the field while the Steelers were subbing personnel. But Sutton made it only about halfway to the defensive huddle before he stopped quickly and jogged back.