The 2020 Steelers defense is really good. In fact, it is the best this team has thrown out there in nearly ten years. 2020 Steelers defense is the best of the Mike Tomlin era
There is a problem though. The Steelers have a weakness on this unit, and other teams are capitalizing on it. Pittsburgh’s corners have regressed this season to the point where it is becoming a concern. We had a feeling this could be an issue before the season started, and now our fears are coming true. Should the Steelers be worried about the cornerback position in 2020?
Joe Haden and Steven Nelson are at best slightly better than average corners. Unfortunately neither are even playing to that level at this point. Let’s take a look at each individually.
There was a time when Joe Haden was a premier corner in this league. That is no longer the case however. Haden is on the wrong side of 30 now, and it’s beginning to show. After three games, he has an awful PFF grade of 55.9. That is the worst of Haden’s career not counting his injury plagued season of 2015. https://www.pff.com/nfl/players/joe-haden/5532
Haden looked like he had found the fountain of youth last season. Five interceptions and seventeen passes defended were numbers of a Joe Haden in his prime. Those numbers might have been more due to the Steelers pass rush however. The rush is still there, but Haden has begun to regress back to what a thirty plus corner should look like. He still is a good option as a second corner, but in this case he is the team’s number one.
Week one versus the Giants showed us a disturbing trend. Steven Nelson had trouble covering the speedy receiver Darius Slayton, and has continued to struggle against speed ever since. Slayton had 102 yards against the Steelers with Nelson on him most of the night. In his other three games, Slayton has only managed 134 yards combined. Meaning almost half his receiving yards for the season came against the Steelers.
PFF has Steven Nelson currently graded at a mediocre 67.1. This is more in line for what kind of corner he was in Kansas City. Last season’s 80.5 grade is looking more and more like an aberration. Again, Nelson is a decent number two corner on a team without a number one.
If there is a chink in the armor with the Steelers defense, the corner back position is certainly it. Both Joe Haden and Steven Nelson are serviceable corners at best at this point in their careers. Behind them the situation is much worse unfortunately. Cam Sutton would likely be the next man up if there were an injury. He is much better suited in the slot, than an outside corner however. That leaves only the untested Justin Layne, and unknown James Pierre as backups.
As long as the Steelers pass rush can keep up it’s amazing pace, this all may not matter. There is no better cure for a poor secondary than extreme pressure on the quarterback. That is something the Steelers do better than any team in the league. Pittsburgh also has a weapon in the secondary that can help this situation out immensely. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a huge asset for a struggling corner back position. His ability to cover huge areas of the field can help mask the short comings in the secondary.
All that said, this will be worth keeping an eye on as opposing teams continue to try to isolate the Steelers corners in coverage. Undoubtedly there will be more big plays given up by Nelson and Haden. Keeping these to a minimum will be a key for the Steelers season.