*Joe Haden – 17 tackles, 1 pass defended *
In the locker room on Wednesday, Haden said his 2014 season is not going how he envisioned it. In Week 2, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham got the best of the Pro Bowler on a 9-yard touchdown grab. And of course, last week against the Ravens, Steve Smith was able to beat Haden for a 32-yard reception that setup the game-winning field goal. The untimely plays have raised some eyebrows regarding Haden's normally elite coverage skills.
Haden's playing man-to-man coverage 99 percent of the time, which is new to him. Linebackers and defensive linemen can get moved out of their gap and still make a play. But at cornerback in Cleveland's defensive system, you have to be right on top of the receiver, or else.
Haden's not backing away from criticism. He expects more from himself.
"I'm one of my biggest critics and I know that I haven't been playing up to my ability," said Haden. "There's been some plays where I definitely need to be able to make those. But I'm working hard every day. I'm my biggest critic, so I know I need to work…I'm down. I can play better. I know I can play better. I'm not changing my attitude. I'm just going to keep trying to push forward and eventually start making those plays."
In a press conference earlier this week, coach Mike Pettine challenged Haden to make better plays when the game is on the line. Pettine said anything he's quoted on publicly has normally already been communicated to the player. Haden had no problem with his head coach calling attention to his early season shaky performance.
"I love coach Pettine," Haden said. "I understand that they put me in the category to be great. I want to be great. Great players do make those plays. I just didn't make it. I have the ability and the talent and I know I can make those plays…I just haven't been playing my best ball yet."
There's been no wavering from Haden's teammates, either. Donte Whitner firmly believes Haden is among the best corners in the league, in large part because of his positivity. There's nothing the cornerback needs to do differently, either. The real Joe Haden will shine through soon enough.
"I'd rather have Joe Haden on this team than any other cornerback in the National Football League," said Whitner. "He doesn't make any excuses. He doesn't come to the meeting room pouting. He comes out with determination. If you'd have seen the way he practiced today and saw the plays he made, then you would feel like he had no issues with him at all."
The standout player
Tashaun Gipson – 15 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 touchdown
If Gipson doesn't pick off that pass on Drew Brees, do the Browns beat the Saints? In his third year in the NFL, perhaps no secondary player in the NFL is as underrated as Gipson. Since the beginning of last season, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (eight) is the only player with more interceptions than Gipson's seven. Some safeties don't possess good hands and when they drop interceptions, momentum plummets. Since entering the Browns starting lineup as an undrafted rookie in 2012, Gipson's performed at an extremely high-level.
"I'm not frustrated," said Gipson about not receiving a lot of national attention being one of the best safeties in the league. "I know in due time, things are going to happen. We've got to win, first and foremost."
The words of wisdom
Donte Whitner *– 26 tackles (leading the team)
Whitner was so upset after the loss to the Ravens he left the stadium without even taking a shower. He takes the losses personally, but he knows the Browns are close enough to winning that it'll come in due time.
"We understand now that we can play with any team in the National Football League," said Whitner. "It's not time to panic. We've lost two football games by a total of four points, when nobody gave us a chance to win any of these games…We've had numerous opportunities to close the ball game out, whether they be on the defensive side of the ball, offensive side of the ball, special teams – catching a punt and not allowing it to bounce inside the 10-yard line. There's no need to panic, we just have to clean up the small mistakes."