The Pittsburgh Steelers know quite well that the success of their secondary hinges largely on the health of Joe Haden, the ninth-year veteran cornerback who is in his second season with the team after signing with them in late August when the Cleveland Browns made him a surprise cut on the eve of the regular season.
That has been more evident than ever over the course of the past three games, during which time he spent an extended amount of time working against, even shadowing their opponents’ top receiving threat: in order, Julio Jones against the Atlanta Falcons, A.J. Green against the Cincinnati Bengals, and finally Jarvis Landry yesterday against the Browns.
Both Jones and Green were held without a catch through the first three quarters of their games, respectively. Landry had eight receptions yesterday, but for just 39 yards. Of course he didn’t spend the entire game covering only one player.
Haden registered his first interception of the season working against Damion Ratley down the right sideline in the middle of the second quarter of the game on third and eight. He played both the receiver and the ball beautifully, pinning his man to the sideline and making an athletic play to catch the pass as though he had run the designed route.
This was after he had two opportunities to come away with an interception in the team’s last game against the Bengals, at least one of which he certainly should have had but was unable to secure. He had another shot at an interception late in the game against Ratley, but ended up only as a pass defensed.
Twice in the game, the veteran shut down the Browns’ screen game, tackling Landry behind the line of scrimmage for a loss on two separate bubble screens in the second half. While he did miss a tackle in the game, he finished with three, two of which went for a loss, as well as the interception and two total passes defensed.
It was symbolic of the fact that he has established Pittsburgh as his new home after spending seven-plus years in Cleveland, during which he only experienced a winning record late in a season one time—and they ended up 7-9 after being 7-4. Last season was his very first trip to the postseason.
Haden seems to be at an all-time level of comfort in his professional life. As I mentioned late last week, when he was first cut by the Browns last August, he was considering that his career was near an end. He weighed the possibility of playing just one more season before retiring.
But he has experienced something of a rebirth with the Steelers and is looking forward to the future. And the relationship is mutually beneficial. The team needs him as much as he needs them, if not more. His helping shut down his former team at Heinz Field is the latest example of that.