It wouldn’t be going too far, I think, to say that Joe Haden has been experiencing something of a career renaissance since the Pittsburgh Steelers had the opportunity to sign him as a street free agent in August of 2017. The past two seasons have been his best in half a decade, especially 2019, during which he now has four interceptions, tied for the third-most in the NFL—behind Minkah Fitzpatrick, his teammate, and Devin McCourty, both safeties.
He is also up to 15 passes defensed on the season, including six over just the past three games, along with three of his four interceptions. In fact, the three have come within the past 62 minutes of play, two of them effectively ending the game on the last defensive play.
Given the recency of his big splash plays, it’s understandable that it generated questions for head coach Mike Tomlin during his Tuesday press conference, but he insisted that it’s really just Joe being Joe, and doing what he’s always done, which is put in the necessary work both on and off the field.
“Joe is just a quality professional. He prepares all of the time”, Tomlin said. “He has a systematic approach to that preparation, and I really think it puts him in position to have a high floor, to be opportunistic, to be the guy that’s in that spot in that significant moment. I don’t think it’s anything mystical about those plays. I think you create your fortune, and he’s a guy that continually puts himself in position to be fortunate”.
In truth, though, he has been in position to be a lot more fortunate than he has been in actuality. Over the course of the past two seasons, he has probably dropped half a dozen interceptions or more. The Steelers led the league in dropped interceptions, though they have been much better as a team in completing their opportunities in 2019.
Following the win over the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago, Haden told reporters a week after that, after landing a game-sealing interception off a Baker Mayfield pass, that he was mad at himself for dropping a couple of chances at interceptions the game before, and that he put in extra time on the JUGs machine.
That’s why he was so emphatic in his post-game comments in which he simply said that he was just happy to be able to make plays. He meant that literally. He knows there are a number of plays he could have made that he hadn’t been. Now he is, and suddenly he’s being talked about in a major capacity again, despite his otherwise very even play.