I’ve made no subtitles when it comes to evaluating the way the Cleveland Browns defense has performed so far this season. Tabbed as the strength of the team, the Browns have been an absolute mess defensively, being out-schemed often and appearing as though the concept of tackling is as difficult as quantum physics.
There are many players on Cleveland’s defense who’ve had a hand in the team underperforming so badly. Unfortunately, one of the biggest culprits happens to be the self-proclaimed best cornerback in the NFL.
Once again, Joe Haden is off to a sloppy start to the season. The same issue plagued him last year, as he was torched early and often in the first few weeks of the 2014 campaign. This year has started no differently, as Haden has been burnt pretty badly during the first three games. However, making things more complicated is what went down last week.
Haden had been listed as probable every day leading up to Cleveland’s bout with the San Diego Chargers. He was dealing with a broken finger and sore ribs, but had practiced on a limited basis throughout the week. As of last Friday, Haden said he would be on the field in San Diego.
Out of nowhere, just minutes before the game kicked off, Haden went from “probable” to “out.” It’s a rarity to see a player go from a 75% chance of suiting up to not playing at all. It’s so rare, in fact, the NFL has to investigate the issue. Yes, due to league protocol, the Browns actually have to explain why Haden didn’t play last Sunday.
There’s a lot to digest in this latest saga with Haden, but it all roles into one major issue. Labeled as one of the best players on the Browns, Haden is once again having trouble proving such a thing.
Considering how poorly he had been playing this season, an off-the-field controversy was the last thing Haden needed. Unfortunately for him, that’s exactly what he’s dealing with right now. Teammates have been forced to answer questions regarding whether or not the cornerback should’ve toughed it out Sunday. After hearing this offseason that left tackle Joe Thomas has played through torn MCLs in his career, obviously Haden missing a game for an injury he was able to practice through looks bad from the outside.
Not helping matters was coach Mike Pettine. Asked about Haden’s sudden switch to being inactive, the coach didn’t exactly sound like he had his player’s back.
“We left it up to Joe, and he made the decision that he didn’t want to go,” Pettine said Monday.
If he meant to sound as though he wasn’t throwing Haden under the bus, Pettine definitely came up short there. It certainly seemed like he didn’t quite agree with the call, and therefore put Haden in a tough spot by saying he was the one who asked to sit out.
Regardless of whether or not he was hurting enough to merit sitting out Sunday, this still looks bad for Haden. Fans are questioning him. His own coach made it seem as though Haden himself made the call to sit out. Additionally, the NFL now has to look into the matter because of this.
Had the week gone quietly, had Haden not said, verbatim, “I’m ready to go. I’m going to be fine,” this likely wouldn’t have been as big an issue. Instead, you have a player who’s looked bad on the field so far this year and is now dealing with additional heat for deciding last minute he couldn’t play despite saying just the opposite two days earlier.
Who knows what it is that makes Haden start seasons so sluggishly. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer. All we know is that, thanks to this latest injury issue, the Cleveland corner is now dealing with more criticism than ever.
Nobody on the Browns’ defense has performed well this year, and that’s not all on Haden. That said, he’s supposed to be a leader on this team, and he’s being questioned both for his sub-par play and his toughness. Simply put, if he wants to turn this season into a success, he has a lot of work ahead of him.