The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: How much is the defense missing Joe Haden?
There is no player on the defensive side of the ball who is making more than cornerback Joe Haden over the next two years, measured by base salary. Cameron Heyward will have an inflated 2019 cap hit because of his recent restructure, but Haden is on the books for a $10 million base salary next year, and $10 million this year in base salary and roster bonuses.
In other words, the Steelers know exactly how important the former Pro Bowl cornerback is to their defensive efforts. We saw the secondary fall apart relying upon Coty Sensabaugh and Cameron Sutton a year ago over a five-game stretch—though admittedly it doesn’t get much better when he returned—and we saw the same thing again on Sunday.
So the answer to the question figures inevitably to be ‘a lot’, but his impact also goes beyond his coverage abilities. He is also an important communicator on the field as a defensive back who has been doing this for going on a decade now. And I don’t think I have to explain that communication has been an issue.
While Artie Burns certainly had his share of problems, responsible for two of Patrick Mahomes’ six touchdowns against the defense, there were issues on the other side of the field as well, Sutton having given up a touchdown in each game he has played so far.
The mere fact that the team had to rotate him and Sensabaugh—and at safety a bit as well—did no favors to the unit’s ability to communicate effectively. Haden’s steady presence and experience is an important foundation in the defense’s communication structure, and it seems that Sunday’s game is a testament to just how valuable it is.