BEREA: The Browns’ defense is ranked third in the NFL against the pass, and it has a little extra swagger after its final stand sealed a one-point victory over the Miami Dolphins last week.
But perhaps no one can threaten to spoil the secondary’s hot start quite like a veteran quarterback who’s performing at an extremely high level. Matt Hasselbeck fits the description, and he and the Tennessee Titans (2-1) will visit the Browns (2-1) today.
“He’s very, very experienced, and he knows what defenses are throwing at him,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden said. “He’s very direct with what he wants to do. He’s precise.”
The Titans signed Hasselbeck as an unrestricted free agent on July 29. He had spent the previous 10 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, guiding them to six playoff appearances and a Super Bowl. Browns President Mike Holmgren was Hasselbeck’s coach in Seattle from 2001-08.
“Unfortunately, he has been well prepared by our boss [Holmgren] to play in the league, and he’s had a lot of success,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “He really knows what he is doing.”
Hasselbeck is off to one of the best starts of his 13-year NFL career. He has completed 78-of-112 passes (69.6 percent) for 932 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions for a passer rating of 102.2. His 932 yards passing is the highest amount he has ever compiled through the first three games of a season.
With Titans standout running back Chris Johnson off to a surprisingly slow start — he has 46 rushes for 98 yards (2.1 average) — Hasselbeck has carried the offense. The Titans have the league’s 17th-ranked offense (seventh passing and 32nd rushing).
“Obviously we hoped he’d be able to have this kind of impact on our team when we signed him, when we were able to get him in free agency after the lockout,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “We didn’t know to what level. I think everyone just assumes just because we were such a running football team over the past 10 years that we’d be more run-oriented. I think just because he’s doing well, plus the run game hasn’t done as well, that we’ve been asking him to do more.”
As for the Browns’ defense, it has been stellar against the pass. The combination of the secondary’s coverage and the defensive line’s pressure — its 11 sacks rank third in the league — has helped the Browns limit their opponents to 187.3 passing yards per game.
“We’re a man-to-man team,” Browns nickel back Dimitri Patterson said. “That says a lot about who we are and our mental toughness. We go out and we compete no matter what happens, and that’s what we tell ourselves every day. We’re gonna send a message to every team that we’re gonna play four quarters, just compete at a high level and challenge everything. That’s what we try to do it and be consistent doing it.”
Hasselbeck knows he’ll be challenged.
“Dick Jauron is doing a great job,” Hasselbeck said. “Obviously he’s a very good coach. I’ve faced him a few times. You play some teams and they’re all over the place, they’re reckless. His team is very sound. They play really hard.”
The Browns hope Hasselbeck will struggle to find his way without standout wide receiver Kenny Britt, who is out for the season after tearing ligaments in his right knee last week. Hasselbeck called Britt “the most talented player on this team” and added his season-ending injury has created “a huge loss.”
Nevertheless, Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown has been around long enough to realize the Titans’ offense is still dangerous. After all, Hasselbeck is at the top of his game.
“Matt Hasselbeck is playing phenomenal football,” Brown said. “Right now, [anyone] can line up in their offense, run routes, get open, he’ll hit [them]. That’s how comfortable he is within the scheme, the system. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a veteran, and it’s going to be important we stop him and get pressure on him.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.