Well, the Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly keeping us busy. Yesterday, it was Vance McDonald. Today, it’s Joe Haden. If you follow me on Twitter, you know my thoughts on him. I’m not over the moon about the player or the money. But like any player, there is good and bad, the truth always lying somewhere in the middle.
As we did with McDonald, let’s break down Haden from every angle we can and figure out how he’ll help the Steelers.
Joe Haden And The Speed Turn
Haden is a veteran who plays with excellent technique. For most corners, in press man coverage, you punch with the hand opposite the wide receivers stem. If the receiver stems to his right, the corner punches with the left (opposite) hand. This opens up the corners hips to turn and run.
When you punch with the wrong hand, you lose off the line and give up space. Cam Sutton in his debut is a perfect example of that. The receiver fools Sutton off the line with a slight outside release, getting Sutton to open up his hips the wrong way before cutting across his face. Sutton flips his hips with to keep his eyes to the receiver, He isn’t able to recover and contest the catch, only making the tackle after the Colts pick up a first down.
Another tool for more advanced corners is the speed turn. The speed turn lets the corner make a more fluid turn, briefly turning their back from the receiver to maintain speed, get back in phase (often to the upfield shoulder) and make a play on the ball.
Here’s Ryan Clark explaining it.
Here's a closed shoulder drill for middle of the field safeties. A qbs job is to manipulate the safety with his eyes in order to create space to fit the football where he wants to. Many times the DB finds himself w/ shoulders closed in the wrong direction. In those cases a speed turn is the most efficient way to reposition yourself for the break. #safetyU #thestable #tractioncse
It’s one of Haden’s go-to moves. He’s an aggressive corner in press coverage. That can get him into trouble. So Haden uses the speed turn to bail him out. See it at the bottom against Antonio Brown. Punches with the wrong hand, his left hand against an inside release, so Haden uses the speed turn to gain momentum and work to try and get in-phase.
Here’s the problem. It’s clear Haden has lost a lot of his speed. Some of that could be chalked up due to injury but even if so, that speed may not come back. His aggressiveness could become a bigger hindrance as that speed drifts away and it’s harder for him to recover.
Again, at the bottom, getting beat. Lets the WR stack him. Haden got toasted again and again last year. 60+ yard completion to Chris Hogan, 50 yard completion to Travis Benjamin, big gainer to OBJ, list goes on and on.
That’s the big thing with him. Aggressive man corners have to have the speed to recover when they guess wrong. And it’s fair to question if he still has that. When he’s lost that, he’s lost his game and his career.
Joe Haden The Tackler
Really good. Second best tackler on the team, only slightly behind William Gay, and Haden is the better athlete so he’s in position to make more plays. Haden is a balanced, aggressive tackler who will support the run.
Think you can tell a lot about a corner’s “want to” when taking on a pulling linemen. Haden attacks the tackle on this pin/pull scheme, cutting his legs. Not sitting back on his heels to get moved out of the way and pushed into others. Doesn’t make the tackle but helps make the play.
Joe Haden The Competitor
Where Haden’s skills haven’t eroded is his ability to play the ball. He can still close on the ball and play catch points. Good close and extension to knock the ball away.
Or here, in zone coverage but getting depth. Times his jump well, still a good leaper, and breaks the ball up. Drifts to #1 to break up this throw for OBJ.
Joe Haden’s Usage
It’s no secret Haden will start at LCB opposite Artie Burns. From there, it gets tougher. If any corner shadows, it’ll be Artie Burns. But what if that means Haden is going against the team’s X (typically faster) WR?
It might be better for Haden to go against the (typically) slower Z receiver. He’s better at catch points than Burns and there’s less of a chance he’ll get burned.
Another idea is to use press-bail technique. I’m nervous about Haden being in press on a team that wants their corners to be more aggressive and play closer to the LOS. Haden, frankly, is better as a zone corner these days and would’ve fit in well with the old Cover 3 model, or if the team is going to be as Cover 2 heavy as they were last season (my guess is that they won’t be).
Press-bail is a good marriage. Give the appearance of playing tight coverage, dissuade hot routes, but let Haden play with his eyes on the QB and getting some space at the LOS. Here’s Ross Cockrell in one of his best games last year, Cincinnati Week Two, bailing on the snap against AJ Green, keying the throw, and making a play on the ball.
Do also like Haden as a blitzer. Wrote the other day Keith Butler is blitzing his outside corners more often and Haden will succeed there.
My report on Haden, the good and bad.
Good: More quick than fast…still excellent change of direction ability…plays catch points well and finishes plays…times his jumps and still a good leaper…technician who can recover off the line versus average to below average speed receivers…willing tackler, desire and aggressive, finishes plays with strength…good effort player who has an impressive work ethic…mentally tough, has shadowed top receivers and moved around defenses…capable blitzer off the edge
Bad: Injuries have hampered speed…struggles against faster straight-line receivers, no longer has speed to catch up…may only regress…too easily stacked vertically by receivers and doesn’t have size to compete, can get boxed out….aggressive in press man and can guess wrong
Regardless of how I or anyone else feels about Haden, you have to give the Steelers credit for identifying a need and being aggressive. Something we don’t normally see from them, at least, not at this level.
Like I said earlier, if this was a more traditional, Cover 3, zone-heavy scheme, I’d like the fit more. While no, the Steelers won’t be in man-to-man nearly as much people think, it is sort of an odd fit to bring in a continually slower corner in a scheme that is putting priority on size and speed.
As a tackler and playmaker, he is better than Cockrell and Coty Sensabaugh. As a straight-line athlete, I’m not so sure. I think they’re close.
Still don’t love this move. It’s impossible for me to do so after ragging on Haden pretty heavily over the years. Not going to change my mind just because he now wears the uniform of the team I root for. But you can understand why he was brought in. And if he’s used correctly, the Steelers can mitigate his weaknesses.