Steelers defenders earn game balls following win over Titans

Week 15 was essentially a must-win situation for the Pittsburgh Steelers if they wanted any hint of a shot at a playoff spot following the 2021 NFL regular season. At 6-6-1, the Steelers looked outmatched early, once again on Sunday, as the Tennessee Titans looked to maintain their track as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Despite early woes, however, the Steelers defense started creating turnovers that kept things more manageable and put points on the scoreboard in their teams’ favor.

Although there were plays from members of the Steelers offense and special teams worth considering, the defense had three key players who exited with this week’s game balls after the 19-13 win at Heinz Field.

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Haden puts the game to bed

The return of veteran cornerback Joe Haden from injury came at a critical time. Tennessee had just enough options, offensively, to potentially destroy Pittsburgh on Sunday. Fortunately, Haden played a pivotal part in eliminating some of the tools the Titans had at their disposal.

On fourth-and-seven from the Steelers’ 16-yard line, the Titans were looking for a touchdown that would eliminate the six-point lead the black and gold held with just 46 seconds remaining in regulation time. They didn’t have to get more than seven yards, though, for a new set of downs and to really put the Steelers’ back to the wall.

On a quick pass over the middle, Ryan Tannehill targeted Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. After the catch was made, though, Haden instantly wrapped the Titans receiver up and refused to allow his forward momentum carry the ball past the first-down mark in the open field.

”He’s Joe Money… He’s just a vet. He makes a lot of those really smart, veteran plays.” – T.J. Watt

Despite analysis, Haden’s play did indeed result in a tackle short of the “line to gain”, creating a turnover on downs and an opportunity for Ben Roethlisbether to get the Steelers offense into victory formation for the win.

Haden logged just two tackles in the game but the second one was a game-best play and only added to the hype he’d earned when he had an earlier fumble recovery.

Let’s just say, “welcome back, Joe.”

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Speaking of Joes…

Joe Schobert has been getting in some good plays despite not necessarily being a household name, and against the Titans he had seven tackles. Schobert also was able to grab a pass that teammate Taco Charlton tipped for an interception. Although Schobert wasn’t credited with a sack, he did help apply pressure on Tannehill that gave the Steelers defense opportunities to make takeaways that ultimately resulted in field goals made by Chris Boswell.

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The new franchise sack king is crowned

T.J. Watt looked like he and Cameron Heyward were mulling over a WWE tag-team pairing in this game, meeting so often at the ball that they had to share stats at times.

Watt, who was awarded 1.5 sacks in the game, broke former single-season franchise sack record holder James Harrison‘s record, moving to 17.5 in Week 15.

Watt also logged three quarterback hits and a fumble recovery on a botched Titans snap (where he was met by Heyward once again).

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