PITTSBURGH — The Steelers zapped the Titans in an impressive defensive display as they defeated Tennessee 19-13. With four turnovers overall, the Steelers felt like they suffocated most opportunities for the Titans to ever get going, especially in the second half. Simply put, a key catalyst to that effort was the return of veteran cornerback Joe Haden.
Haden, who missed four games with a foot injury, came back with a vengeance. Not only did he make a strong, game-winning tackle on the last play, but Haden also recovered a key fumble. Overall on the day, Haden finished with a pass breakup, a fumble recovery, and two tackles, one of which was game-winning. It was a game that did not go unnoticed from Mike Tomlin.
“It’s not just his playmaking,” Tomlin said. “It’s the presence that he brings. He’s got leadership skills. He’s got great experience. He smiles in the face of adversity. That’s contagious. There were some tangible and intangible qualities to his presence today.”
When it comes to intangible qualities, Cam Heyward knows all about them as a veteran. Haden, similarly, knows them on the back end like the back of his hands. It is that effect that Haden brings as a stabilizing force that may be the biggest asset in his return to the field.
“Joe’s a big communicator,” Heyward said. “He’s a seasoned vet that has seen a lot of football. He understands formations and understands what teams are trying to do us. That comes with a lot of guys that have played this game. You know, just playing checkers where we’re lining up and trying to diagnose run. You already know where you need to fill. A lot of those passes were very quick and you just had to tackle. Look at that last play, that’s what Joe did.”
The communication for the defense as a whole has been off in past weeks. That was not so much the case against the Titans, and Haden believes part of it is his calming voice in the secondary.
“I’ve seen a lot of football,” Haden said. “So, just being able to have a calming voice to reiterate things we already talked about. There’s a lot going on out there. So, just being able to tell them ‘watch for this’ and so on. You know, me and Minkah have great communication skills. So, just have another voice out there telling you, I think that helps out our defense a lot.”
Perhaps one of those other intangible traits is the swagger that Haden brings in the locker room and on the field. For T.J. Watt, that might be one of the main things that are synonymous with Haden’s impact throughout the team as a whole.
“He’s Joe Money,” Watt said. “He’s the freshest looking guy in the locker and out on the field. He brings some swagger and mojo with him. He rubs off on all of us. He’s a smart vet. He makes those small little plays. A lot of that stuff rubs off on other guys.”
With Haden finally, back, the Steelers are going to be at about as full strength as they can be for this late in the season. Even if the veteran does not have the athletic gifts he once had, he certainly has the mental gifts and intangibles that come with veteran play.