Veteran offensive linemen Joe Haeg, signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, has played up and down the line throughout his five-year career. He’s played guard, he’s played tackle, and there’s no question that versatility is one reason why the Steelers went out and signed him. Depth along the offensive line is slim right now.
But where Haeg may end up the most in 2021 is as the team’s 6th offensive linemen. The tackle-eligible, popularized by Zach Banner in 2019. But with Banner now a starting tackle and Jerald Hawkins, who occupied that role last season, still unsigned, Haeg fits well in that role. He has good size at a listed 6’6, 298 pounds (I’m betting he’s a little heavier than that) and the Steelers prefer to play a bigger, stronger tackle there than an interior player. That’s why the likes of Banner, Hawkins, and Chukwuma Okorafor have occupied that spot. It’s also more natural for a tackle to be the end-man on the line than it is for a guard.
And Haeg got plenty of work as a tackle-eligible last year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He started just one game along the starting front five. I’ve gone through all of Haeg’s 6th offensive linemen snaps from 2020. Here are the numbers when the Bucs ran the ball with him as an extra offensive linemen. Just to be clear, this doesn’t include his lone start at LG.
I’m also going to compare that with Jerald Hawkins as a 6th offensive linemen in 2020, using our charting done by the great Tom Mead.
25 of Tampa Bay’s 46 runs were successful. Overall, they’re solid numbers. The yards per carry might not look like much but YPC is typically lower in run-heavy personnel when defenses load up the box too. Many of these plays came in short-yardage/goal line too which naturally caps YPC. Not all of that can be attributed to Haeg, of course, he’s just one man, but there’s the data.
They’re also a lot better than Hawkins’ numbers. Nearly two yards higher YPC, four more TDs, and a whopping 22.3% increased success rate. Again, not putting all that on Hawkins nor am I going to pretend Joe Haeg is going to solely fix the run game. But it’s nice to see those numbers stacked together.
So that’s the data. What does the tape say? Let’s take a look of him working as tackle-eligible/6th offensive linemen.
Here in Week 6 against Tampa Bay, Haeg (#73 in all these clips) does a nice job of keeping a wide base to hold the point of attack. Rolls his hips, keeps his head out of the block, and able to slide while maintaining his base. Wins the rep.
Again, working on #94 in the Packers game. Strong double-team by him and the LT. Haeg creates the most movement and though he’s a little top-heavy, he keeps driving his feet and gets a good push off the line. Like the finish on this play too.
Like this rep here against the Lions. The start of it, anyway. Again, good pad level and drive off the line to create immediate movement. He does lose the block at the end, really because the RB bounced the run wide, but this is a good rep overall.
Finally, Haeg does a solid job here against the Raiders’ LE, #98. It looks like the defender was slanting down to secure his gap but Haeg is able to seal him down the line and create more space for the running back as he bounces the run off his hip on this counter.
However, he struggled mightily in his lone start of the year, Week 9 against the Saints, getting the nod at left guard. He allowed multiple pressures and did not look good in pass protection. Here, he stops sliding laterally, drops his outside foot, and while he stays square to the rusher, he’s not square to his QB. And that’s a problem. A QB is supposed to be able to read the numbers on the back of your jersey. Here, Haeg ends up perpendicular to him. And gets Brady killed because of it.
And on this rep late in the game, he “catches” and isn’t able to anchor on looper Marcus Davenport on this stunt. Gets blown up and Brady is again hit.
The debate over “will Haeg play tackle or guard” is sort of like Miles Killebrew’s safety vs inside linebacker discussion. It’s missing the bigger point. Killebrew was brought in as a special teamer, Haeg as the 6th offensive linemen. I do suspect Haeg will become the Steelers’ swing tackle behind Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner. He might not be next man up at guard if Pittsburgh drafts a center and pushes B.J. Finney to a backup role, which would be ideal.
Joe Haeg is not going to transform this running game. But he is an upgrade as a tackle-eligible, which is extra important against 4-3 teams like the Bengals and the fact the Steelers don’t have a great blocking TE on the roster (unless you’re really confident in Kevin Rader getting a hat). So having that linemen is important, even if it makes you a little more predictable and limited schematically. Haeg is one building block among the many steps in improving this run game. And that’s worth something.