Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Haden Clearly MVP of Defense

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Haden Clearly MVP of Defense

Article excerpt

Cam Heyward is a star. He has a team-best nine sacks after getting two more in the win against Green Bay Sunday night. He's not quite on the same level as Aaron Smith - the best 3-4 defensive end in franchise history - but he's getting there. The Steelers are paying him $60-plus million for a reason.

Stephon Tuitt is a star. He lost a sack and a forced fumble Sunday night because of a penalty on Artie Burns, his second lost sack of the season. He's often unblockable and always disruptive. The Steelers are paying him $60-plus million for a reason.

Ryan Shazier is a star. He misses a lot of tackles but makes up for it with big plays - one after another - with his tremendous speed. He should go to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season. The Steelers made him a No. 1 draft pick for a reason.

T.J. Watt is on his way to being a star. He won't be NFL rookie of the year, but he has had a significant impact in the team's 9-2 start. He was at it again against Green Bay with a big sack late, a pass defense, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry. The Steelers made him a No. 1 draft pick for a reason.

But none of those guys is the Steelers' defensive MVP.

It's Joe Haden, right?

It's true, you really don't miss someone until he's gone.

All of us know Haden quickly became a big part of the defense after joining the team late in the preseason on a three-year, $27 million contract after being released by the Cleveland Browns, bouncing back from two injury-filled seasons to again take his place as one of NFL's great cornerbacks. "Thank you, Cleveland!" Ben Roethlisberger has gushed more than once. But few realized just how valuable Haden was until he went down and out with a fractured fibula late in the first quarter of the game at Indianapolis Nov. 12. The proof is in the mind-numbing numbers:

With Haden in the first eight-plus games, the Steelers gave up one touchdown pass of 35-plus yards. Without him in the past 2 games, they've given up six. How is your stomach this morning? The distances of those six touchdowns were 75, 61, 60, 55, 54 and 39 yards.

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