It’s hard to look back at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season and see just one thing. In some ways, it was a dismal failure. In others, it was a rousing success. The rise of the defense in particular was a remarkable thing to see unfold, and offers encouragement for 2020 and beyond, with at least most of the pieces remaining in place.
While the continued emergence of the Steelers’ edge-rushing duo of T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, who combined for 26 sacks this season, was a huge part of it, so was the fact that they were finally able to cobble together a quality pair of starting cornerbacks in veteran Joe Haden and free agent signing Steven Nelson, the two combining for six interceptions this year.
Haden didn’t take long to become one of the leaders of the defense, and of the team, once he signed with the Steelers in August of 2017, and he has only risen in prominence with each passing year. He is part of that leadership with Cameron Heyward, Vince Williams, and now T.J. Watt, but he may have the broadest reach of them all.
“We believed that we were gonna make it to the playoffs. We believed that we had a team that would make things happen”, Haden said after the game from the locker room. “No one ever gave up. Things might not have gone the way we wanted on the field, but we’ve got a really tight group here. We’ve got a lot of really talented guys that love the game, come in every day and try to get better, so I’m excited for us moving forward”.
Haden was a big reason for that sort of belief. It helped that he had two game-ending interceptions among the five that he had in total, which is more than he had in his first two seasons in Pittsburgh combined.
The acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick and the drafting of Devin Bush were also huge pieces of the puzzle, and those two young players will hopefully be carrying the torch for Steelers football for the next decade-plus.
Haden, 30, will be long retired then, at least most likely, but I’m not sure he’s ever been more proud of a group of guys on a sports team than he is right now with what this defensive unit was able to accomplish in 2019, even if so many things worked against them.