Four downs: Stats suggest Joe Haden is Steelers' best cornerback
1. RIGHT/LEFT TURNs
In a relatively short period of time, the Steelers went from scrambling to find a cornerback who could play to believing they have two No. 1 cornerbacks. When they acquired the second of those No. 1 guys (Joe Haden), they moved the other (Artie Burns) from the left side to the right. Suddenly, the Steelers have the NFL's top pass defense.
So, who has been the Steelers' best cornerback? The NFL's statistical service suggests it's Haden. Opponents are averaging a 5.83 yards on deep (15-plus yards) passes to the offense's right side of the field (the defense's left side, or Haden's domain) and 12.31 yards on deep passes to the defense's right side. The Steelers' defense is allowing a 27.8 completion percentage to its left side, 43.8 to the right.
The Steelers rank 23rd in the league in both average gain and completion percentage on deep passes to the defense's right side. They rank fourth in average gain and sixth in completion percentage on deep passes to their left. These numbers don't tell the full story, of course, but they suggest Haden has been superior to Burns.
2. SLOW STARTERS
Detroit has not been a strong starter this season. The Lions have been outscored, 37-17, during the first quarter and 55-45 in the second quarter. They have, on average, trailed by five points at halftime. But it's been a different story in the second half. Led by the NFL's second-highest scoring second-half offense, Detroit has outscored opponents by a touchdown, on average, after halftime. The Lions erased halftime deficits in two of their three wins.
Another quirk with Detroit's offense? It ranks seventh-worst in yards allowed but eighth-best in scoring.
3. NFC ROAD WOES
Since Mike Tomlin became coach in 2007, the Steelers have the second-best record among AFC teams against NFC opponents (27-15), and they've lost only six of their past 33 games at Heinz Field against NFC teams.
But recently, traveling outside the AFC hasn't been kind. The Steelers have lost three of their past four at NFC teams. Take it back a game further, and although the Steelers won at St. Louis in 2015, Ben Roethlisberger suffered a left knee injury that kept him out of the next four games.
The past two losses at NFC teams have been particularly galling. In 2016, Philadelphia pasted the Steelers, 34-3, and five weeks ago, the previously-winless Bears beat the Steelers.
There is no shortage of advanced metrics used to rank teams.
The one at footballoutsiders.com is one of the more comprehensive, accounting for offense, defense and special teams and using every snap to, it says, “compare a team's performance to a league baseline based on situation in order to determine value over average.”
Got it? Probably not, but that's OK. All you need to know is the formula rates the Steelers as the top team in the NFL, with the league's No. 5 offense and No. 2 defense.
Want some other quantitative evaluation of the Steelers? ESPN's Football Power Index ranks them fourth in the NFL. Numberfire.com slots them at No. 2.