Now that the regular season has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: CB Joe Haden
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Even on a pitch count, the veteran cornerback made a major impact in the Steelers securing a hard-fought victory on Sunday, recording a diving fumble recovery and also making the final tackle short of the sticks on fourth down to end the game.
Joe Haden has spent the past month battling a Lisfranc foot injury. It has kept him off the practice field entirely until this past week, and he has only gotten one full day of practice in. Because of that, while he returned on Sunday, he was on a highly abbreviated pitch count, only playing a couple dozen snaps in total out of 80 defensive snaps for the Steelers overall.
Yet he made two of the most impactful plays on the entire night, his fumble recovery in the middle of the second half serving as a key tipping point in the game as the Steelers worked to come back and erase a 13-3 halftime deficit. They were able to tie the game on the drive that followed his fumble recovery.
Fifteen minutes of game time later, he called game. Ryan Tannehill looked for wide receiver Nate Westbrook-Ikhine on 4th and 7 with just 46 seconds remaining. He only got six of those yards—and even that might have been generous.
Haden did an excellent job of playing to the sticks and keeping his feet on that line, then using his strength (“I lift weights”, as he said) to make sure that he kept the receiver from picking up any momentum from the point of contact, instead sticking him and driving him back.
That was it. It resulted in a turnover on downs, and the Steelers ran out the clock. Had they not made that play, Tennessee has first and goal with about 40 seconds left, if they decide to use their final timeout. And are any of you really confident that this defense could have stopped them from getting into the end zone on four tries at that point, especially with T.J. Watt holding his ribs?