In Week 14 of the 2020 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers watched Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs run roughshod all over the secondary on the road, carving up the Steelers to the tune of 10 catches for 130 yards and a score.
Granted, that game by Diggs came one week after Steelers’ outside linebacker Bud Dupree tore his ACL, and starting cornerback Joe Haden missed the game with a concussion. However, Diggs dominated nearly every single rep on the field, carrying the Bills to the dominant 26-15 win.
Now, ahead of the Week 1 matchup again on the road against the Bills, Diggs and Buffalo star quarterback Josh Allen appear poised for more, taking on a rebuilt Steelers’ secondary that lost Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton in the offseason, sees Haden another year older and Cameron Sutton elevated into a starting role, not to mention guys like James Pierre and potentially newly-acquired Ahkello Witherspoon seeing action on the outside in nickel and dime situations.
That could cause matchup problems for the Steelers when it comes to trying to contain Diggs. Could that mean the Steelers break their defensive philosophy and travel a cornerback like Haden with Diggs every snap? Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin is not opposed to it, though he remained non-committal during his 84 Lumber Mike Tomlin Show Friday.
“You know, I’m not opposed to that,” Tomlin said when asked about traveling a cornerback on Sunday. “I make those decisions week to week based on elements of the match up. And sometimes it’s not about the likes of Joe Haden and Stefon Diggs, but it might be the supplementary people in the nature of that match up. And so that’s a decision that we make week to week. I am definitely not opposed to it. If it aids us in the construction of a good plan, there are many discussions like that, that you go through week in and week out in an effort to level the playing field and give you the best chance to match up.”
While a matchup like Haden on Diggs throughout the game might make the Steelers the most comfortable when it comes to trying to defend the All-Pro receiver, it might not be the best one for the Steelers, considering Haden’s age and slight decline in play over the years. Rather, the Steelers could feature a lot of pressure up front in the way of blitzes like the Kansas City Chiefs did in the AFC Championship Game against the Bills, rotating a lot of players in the secondary post-snap in an effort to confuse Josh Allen.
It’s going to be incredibly hard to take away a guy like Diggs overall, but if the Steelers can come up with a plan to negate the star wide receiver as best as possible, forcing names like Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders and Gabriel Davis to beat them, that’s a more viable option than doing the standard defense against Diggs.
I don’t foresee the Steelers asking Haden to travel in Week 1 against Diggs, but stranger things have happened. It’s just great to hear Tomlin is comfortable with it, depending on the matchups moving forward in 2021 and beyond.