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2021 South Side Questions: Who Will Start If Joe Haden Misses Another Game?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Who will start if Joe Haden misses another game?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been without starting cornerback Joe Haden for the past two games. In that time, they have found out just how much he means to their defense, relative to the alternative options.

James Pierre has started in his place, and has now started four games in total, three coming at Haden’s spot. He has varyingly struggled in all of them, but none as bad, without redemption, as Sunday’s performance against the Cincinnati Bengals.

It reached the point that he was, in fact, benched at the end of the game, subbed out for the final two drives, something that head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged on Tuesday. He also said that “we’ll see” when it comes to his role moving forward.

Haden has not been practicing this week, a bad sign for his availability. He went from being listed as Questionable last Friday to being downgraded to Out the following day, after being a limited participant in practice at the end of the week.

If he doesn’t practice at all, obviously, it can be more or less taken as a given that he won’t be playing against the Ravens. Even if he practices fully, it doesn’t guarantee anything. So in the increasingly likely event that he doesn’t play, who starts?

Pierre is one option, obviously. Ahkello Witherspoon is another, and he has played the past two games, a total of 35 defensive snaps in that span. Presumably it’s one or the other, though you have to at least acknowledge Justin Layne and his entire one defensive snap on the year, which came in the game in which Haden was injured, with Witherspoon a healthy scratch.

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