Tim Benz: Healthy Joe Haden might be boost Steelers defense needs
I have seven days to go before a pre-training camp vacation. So, today, we are going to start a little something here at Breakfast with Benz: "Stairway to Seven."
Seven players, in seven days, who could be difference-makers for the Steelers as they start their quest for a seventh Super Bowl title.
No. Not the obvious ones. We all know about the Killer B's. If Ben, Bell and Brown are hurt or substandard, the Steelers don't have a chance. Cam Heyward is a standout Pro Bowl player. Open and shut. You know what you are getting there.
The offensive line is above average. If they get banged up or regress, forget about it.
So we are looking at various players, not the ones in front of our faces, over the next week who have to be stellar — and healthy — for the Steelers to reach their ninth Super Bowl.
We start in the secondary with Joe Haden.
Haden was a good get by the Steelers once he was released by Cleveland. Really steady. Haden proved there was still gas left in the tank once he got into Black and Gold.
Unfortunately, that clip above was his only interception of the season. Maybe that's because he was good enough in coverage that the opposition just decided to throw at Artie Burns and the other defensive backs.
But at minicamp in June, Haden made reference to needing to get his hands on more passes and get the ball back for the Steelers more often in 2018.
The other area where Haden can improve? Be on the field more. Hey, the guy broke his leg. That's not his fault. And he came back after just five games. Hence, no one is questioning his dedication or desire. But injuries have been a problem for Haden. Haden has missed 19 games over the last three seasons.
When Haden was absent last year, it was noticeable. So much of the demise of the Steelers defense was pinned on Ryan Shazier's injury. We forget that coincided with Haden getting hurt.
The Steelers looked good in Game 1 without Haden as they battered Marcus Mariota and the Titans.
Then Brett Hundley, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton combined for eight touchdowns and two interceptions with Haden sidelined. They averaged a quarterback rating of 100, and opponents teams averaged 28 points against the Steelers.
If Haden can stay healthy and up his level of play a bit more, the Steelers secondary takes on a much more stable look. He may not be a "take away one side of the field" guy anymore. He doesn't have to be. He just needs to be slightly better than last year, so maybe that reputation starts to creep back, and then Keith Butler can slide help to Artie Burns or Cam Sutton more often.
Furthermore, if the Steelers play man-to-man more often, Haden is often going to have be good on his own, regardless of help from the scheme maybe matching the other team's play call.
None of this is to say Haden wasn't good enough last year. He was. But if the question is "how can the Steelers get better?" Well, he's one of the ways — if he suits up for all 16 games and rewinds the clock to 2013 or so.
That'd be a wild card for the Steelers on the "Stairway to Seven."