It would probably be accurate to say that outside linebacker T.J. Watt was the best player on the field on Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, but if there was a runner-up, it was probably 11th-year veteran cornerback Joe Haden, who recorded four tackles against the Cincinnati Bengals. More significantly, he posted three passes defensed during the game.
All three of them came on third down. Even more amazingly, all three of them actually came on 3rd and 7. Two of the passes were intended for Auden Tate, with the first being to the veteran A.J. Green, who if we’re being honest is not the same player since his most recent injuries and is clearly not Cincinnati’s number one receiver.
The Steelers did an unbelievable job against the Bengals on possession downs, not allowing them to convert a single time on 13 third-down opportunities. They did convert on fourth down twice, although one of them was via a fake punt, but Haden was responsible for three of those third-down stops.
“I was locked in. I think I had a pretty good game today”, he told reporters after the game. “They were throwing at me on third down and they don’t really do that all the time. So, I knew on those third-down opportunities you have to lock in, you got to make a play. We were playing a lot of single high, so with one-on-one coverage they like to go outside, and we knew we had to stand up and had to make some plays today”.
They did that, at least often enough to smother the Bengals offense, which was held to just 10 points. Excluding the fake punt, they did rush for 100 yards on 20 attempts. Joe Burrow also threw for over 200 yards, but it took 40 attempts, and he was sacked four times. Needless to say, they only got into the end zone once.
It’s easily to take a look back after games like this and think about the fact that many were viewing Haden as being close to done, or at least beyond the point where he could be a team’s number one cornerback.
The Steelers don’t necessarily have a number one, at least since they signed Steven Nelson last year, but the two of them have really solidified the secondary. They are not flawless, of course, but they make plays, and that’s something the secondary lacked for years.
Haden now has nine passes defensed on the season after posting 17 last year, which was the most he had in a single season since back in 2014. He is on pace right now to finish with 16, averaging one per game. This is the second game of the season in which he had three passes defensed in a single game.