The injury to Joe Haden, who is out indefinitely with a fractured fibula, is the biggest shake up to the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers all season. A relatively healthy season is squashed by a question mark at cornerback moving forward. However, this is a good time to remember that Haden was signed just weeks before the season. Heading into the third preseason game the team had Coty Sensabaugh and Ross Cockrell in an open competition for the starting job. This team was about two weeks away from starting Sensabaugh in their season opener, so they should be able to trust him in a starting role for the time being, right?
Breaking Down Coty Sensabaugh’s First Start
Overall Coty Sensabaugh played a solid game. Marcus Mariota was 2-7 when targeting him in coverage, and he even garnished a big interception. As you can see below, Sensabaugh reads the route, and once he sees his receiver’s foot plant at the 45 yard line, Sensabaugh breaks on the ball, picks off Marcus Mariota and puts the Steelers in the red zone. On curl routes and comebacks, Sensabaugh performed well, being targeted three times without allowing a catch and adding the interception.
The value of the early pick and the effectiveness of those curls and comebacks came into play on another Mariota pass in the fourth quarter. At the bottom, Eric Decker is running a comeback route while Mariota stares him down. However, he sees Sensabaugh reading the play and in good position so he changes his mind.
Below, you can see Mariota wants to go Sensabaugh’s way here, but cannot. The pressure comes to Mariota and he quickly forces a pass without looking because Sensabaugh took away his first option. This led to Artie Burns tipping the ball into the air for a Robert Golden interception.
Playing the run
Whether battling the run, or tackling at the point of reception, Sensabaugh fared well. He only had three tackles, but showed up in the box throughout the game. He clearly looked like he wanted to make an impact in every way possible, doing the little things with perfection to make his impact. Below, Sensabaugh reads the screen play early. He does so fast enough to beat rookie Corey Davis off the ball and completely seal off the outside, forcing Decker to cut up field into a tackle.
With his success on curls and comebacks this game, Sensabaugh also has a strong break on an in route. While he breaks, he sees the check down to DeMarco Murray. He abandons his receiver and again seals off the outside to turn the catch into a group of defenders.
Of course, his performance was not all pretty, and most will point to this one bad play well before the good in which Sensabaugh had. To open up the second half, the Titans tested Sensabaugh and the Steelers deep, burning them for a 75-yard touchdown reception.
Sensabaugh’s original responsibly was the deep left. Sean Davis, to his right, was responsible for the deep middle. However, Davis latches onto Decker, who breaks for an intermediate route. As seen below, when Decker makes his break, Sensabaugh knows that he is alone on this journey. As seen above, by the time he flips his hips the receiver has an entire half of the field to work with as he runs free from the cornerback.
The busted coverage can be explained; the second year safety has never played with this cornerback before, and the lack of communication was extrapolated on a short week. However, the tackling to finish the play is the most discouraging moment of the play. Sensabaugh completely gets turned around, and Robert Golden puts in a poor effort as well.
The second reception in which he gave up he got caught looking into the backfield. As seen below, Mariota is reading the defense from left to right.
Sensabaugh sees this while also feeling the receiver to his right with space. As Mariota looks at Decker, who was running up the middle from the slot, Sensabaugh makes a break to the deep middle of the field. This lines up at the same time Davis is breaking inside for a short in-route. Mariota sees that he caught Sensabaugh off guard and makes the easy completion. Fortunately for Sensabaugh, Mike Hilton quickly made a tackle for a short gain.
Overall, it is tough to be disappointed with how Sensabaugh played. There is really one poor play on his tape from the game. The premier tape showed situations where Mariota was forced to look the other way due to the exquisite coverage displayed by Sensabaugh. While the Steelers hope to get Haden back by the playoffs, they should feel pretty comfortable with what they saw out of Sensabaugh in the short term.