Joe Hadenfeels something new about the Steelers — and he likes it.
"This team, I feel like they've never really been underdogs," Haden was saying at the Rooney Complex during OTAs. "Ever since I've been playing against the Steelers for seven years, they were never the underdogs. So just having that chip on our shoulder, having people doubting us, I think that's something that we can take and use to our advantage. Just come out here and grind, and it's all literally about what you're doing between the lines."
Last season, the Steelers finished 9-6-1, losing the division by a half game to the Ravens and missing the playoffs as a result. Couple that finish with the loss of Antonio Brownto the Raiders, Le'Veon Bellto the Jets and a general sense of chaos around the team immediately following the 2018-19 season, and many believe the Steelers will once again finish outside the playoff picture in 2019-20.
Currently, the Browns are favored to win the AFC North, with the Steelers finishing second by most oddsmakers. To Haden, that's what has created the underdog mentality in Pittsburgh this season.
"People always, you know, you hear the outside noise," Haden said. "Usually Pittsburgh, they're... basically putting us in the playoffs. So now just hearing people not talk as highly of us has kind of put a chip on peoples' shoulders."
To get back to the playoffs, the Steelers defense needs to generate more turnovers. Last season, they ranked 28th with eight interceptions and 19th with seven fumble recoveries. Their minus-11 turnover differential was also 28th in the league. For Haden, who led the team with two interceptions, it all starts with capitalizing on the opportunities at hand — literally.
"I think a lot of the opportunities ... we gotta catch the ones that hit us in the face," Haden said. "If we would've caught a lot of the picks that we dropped — I would say we at least dropped six or seven — and then a couple of them I dropped and, I mean, unfortunately, me and SD [Sean Davis] ran into each other for one of 'em, so we had a lot of opportunities out there that we left on the field.
"So it's just the ones that hit us in the face, and then we got the d-line putting that pressure on them that they're going to continue to do, we just gotta make sure we catch the ones that hit us, and we'll be fine."
With a clear plan in mind and an underdog narrative fueling the charge, Haden believes the Steelers defense in 2019 is primed for success.
"I think that's a great thing [to be considered the underdog]," Haden said. "We got something to really, really work for."