With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots and the Chiefs, the latter of whom they have already beaten.
The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.
Player: Joe Haden, CB
I’ll just put it this way: could you imagine what this defense would have looked like through the first half of the season with Ross Cockrell still starting opposite of Artie Burns? It would have been good for Burns, who would no doubt have seen fewer targets, but they definitely would not have one of the top passing defenses in the league.
I say this as somebody who was in Cockrell’s corner through to the end—to a degree. The truth is that he really struggled quite a bit during the preseason to such a degree that could not be ignored. He played much better overall during the 2016 season.
But this isn’t about Cockrell. It’s about Haden, who has exceeded the expectations of many, including my own. If I was optimistic at all in the immediate aftermath of his initial signing, it was cautious optimism. He seemed to be damaged goods, but he has not played like it.
I think playing in the Steelers’ scheme has helped him as well, though not as much as simply being healthy again. Just off the top of my head, I’m not sure if he has even missed a snap outside of the goal line package. I don’t think he, nor Burns, have.
Now, he has not been a lockdown or shutdown cornerback by any means, but the Steelers don’t need him to be. He does enough as it is and sticks to receivers pretty well, which has helped the rush get to the quarterback more frequently this year, especially on four-man rushes.
Now there is still improvement for him as we turn to the second half of the season, and it is not unreasonable to hope for it. He didn’t have much time at all after being signed to digest the defense before he was running it.
Haden has missed some tackles that you would like to see cleaned up. I would also like to see him get the opportunity to make more plays on the ball. But for the most part he hasn’t been targeted as much as Burns has.