PITTSBURGH — The Steelers defense welcomed back Joe Haden on Sunday.
To say the least, the veteran cornerback was instrumental in their victory over the Titans. While he was not the only key member of the secondary to play at a high level, he was certainly one of the catalysts to their performance. Of his plays on the day, however, none were bigger than his fourth-down tackle to stop Nick Westbrook-Ikhine short of the line to gain.
The Steelers literally won the game due to that play.
The Titans essentially designed this for the slot guy on the in-route. However, Minkah Fitzpatrick is robbing the middle of the field playing Cover 1 robber. With the Steelers in man coverage and taking away the complete middle of the field, the onus then changes to Tre Norwood and Haden. They have to cover their guys freely on an out route and spot route combination. The idea here is for the offense to get a rub or create some cushion, and then, as a result, hit the open man at the sticks for a touchdown.
The difference for the Steelers here though is two things. For one, Haden is playing the sticks. Being as sticks-aware as he is, Haden’s only purpose here is to make sure they do not get the first down. Westbrook-Ikhine can catch the ball, but Haden can stick him short. Then, there’s the strong tackle. Westbrook-Ikhine tries to power through, but Haden wraps him up expertly around his thighs and simply spins him down. That’s an expert, strong tackle.
Haden rose to the occasion when he was needed. It was his expert football IQ, however, that allowed Haden to execute it once he saw what was coming.
“We were in man-to-man call,” Haden said. “So, when my receiver ran in, I thought he was setting a pick play for the inside receiver to run a wheel route. So, I was expecting him to throw the ball. But I had my heels on the first down marker. So, I was just sliding inside. Then, he threw it to him. I knew, if I tackled him and he went backward instead of forward, there was no way he was going to be able to get the first down.”