2018 South Side Questions: Why Did Haden Struggle Against Sanders?

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: Why did Joe Haden struggle against Emmanuel Sanders so much yesterday?

There were a lot of things from yesterday’s game that didn’t go as planned. One of them was the coverage of Joe Haden on Emmanuel Sanders. Though he only finished the game with seven receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown, the former Steelers wide receiver got the better of Haden several times that included some big missed opportunities.

Haden, who finished the game with three tackles and one pass defensed, spent some time following Sanders around the field, which is understandable after the Broncos traded their only other established wide receiver earlier this year in Demaryius Thomas.

So it should have been simple. Haden shuts down Sanders, the rest of the coverage holds up the rest, and the defense forces the Broncos to try to run the ball. Except that’s not really how it turned out, and even as it was, it could have been worse.

The most notable play in the sequence was obviously a 38-yard bomb over the top that Sanders caught over him, which brought the Broncos down to the five-yard line. Sanders would catch the game-tying touchdown on the next play.

But there were a couple of other deep passes that Sanders beat Haden cleanly on that Case Keenum and the receiver simply were not able to connect on. One came on second and 13 early in the second quarter on a drive on which Denver had to punt. An even closer call, on which he nearly caught the ball, came late in the third.

These were all plays on which Haden lost his rep cleanly, but he was spared some of the consequences due to failure on the offense’s part to execute the finer details of the play. it could have been worse; but why was it as bad as it was?

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