BEREA: Joe Haden is the Browns’ most valuable defensive player.
Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is the undisputed leader. Left end Jabaal Sheard and tackle Ahtyba Rubin are certainly among the top players.
But Haden is the clear-cut MVP. After all, the defense has been a shell of itself without him.
Of all the blows that defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s men have absorbed this year, none has been nearly as devastating as the one created by Haden’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Haden will return from his ban Monday, but the damage is already done.
The Browns are 0-4. They’ll be 0-5 by Sunday evening if quarterback Eli Manning, wide receiver Victor Cruz and the rest of the New York Giants’ offense remind everyone how much the Browns miss their best cornerback and best player.
Without Haden, the Browns must rely on Dimitri Patterson to cover the opposing team’s best receiver. This weekend, it’ll be Cruz.
“We’ll see each other a lot,” Patterson said of Cruz. “I’m talking about a lot. I play inside. I play man. No secret about that. I’m treating it like a training camp practice. It’s going to be that type of mind-set. It’s going to be a grind, and I’m just going to make every receiver work for everything they get. They’ll have to earn it.”
Haden should be the one uttering those words leading up to game day. It’s a shame he’s not.
I’m convinced the Browns are winless because of Haden’s suspension. He would have been the difference in their 34-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.
Haden, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft, has already apologized to his teammates, and he has used Twitter to ask his fans for forgiveness. He’ll probably say sorry again when he faces the media next week at the team’s headquarters. Strong safety T.J. Ward said he talked to Haden and expects him to come back in great shape as a result of maintaining a workout regimen.
But it’s still too late, and the entire debacle is inexcusable no matter what picture is painted.
On Aug. 8, ESPN Cleveland reported Adderall use triggered Haden’s failed drug test. Adderall is often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, but it’s also commonly abused to fight fatigue. After the report surfaced, Haden was asked point blank if he needed Adderall to treat a medical condition, and he refused to answer the question. He later lost his appeal of the suspension.
Rumors have swirled on the aforementioned radio station about Haden using Adderall to stay awake while partying in Las Vegas. If the reports are true, Haden made a stupid, selfish mistake that has crushed the organization that pays him millions of dollars.
But if those rumors are false and Haden needs Adderall for a legitimate reason, he’s still not off the hook. It’s every player’s responsibility to notify the league about prescriptions and to obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption. Players are made aware of the rules. Haden also has an agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and a manager, Sean Cabble, who should be able to guide him on such matters.
So, at best, Haden was careless and irresponsible. At worst, he put himself before the team.
Without a doubt, his absence is the one loss for which the defense hasn’t been able to compensate.
Starting defensive tackle Phil Taylor suffered a torn pectoral muscle in May and has been sidelined since. But rookie Billy Winn has started all four games and has done an admirable job.
Starting weakside linebacker Chris Gocong tore his right Achilles tendon during practice Aug. 4. But Craig Robertson has excelled as the team’s second-most used linebacker and has become a regular in the nickel package.
The secondary, however, has been drowning without Haden. Second-year corner Buster Skrine is raw, and he’ll be thrown into the fire again Sunday in three-receiver sets. Rookie Trevin Wade took some nasty lumps against the Bengals and has barely played on defense since. Patterson and Sheldon Brown, the starting corners, are respected veterans, but nowhere near Haden’s level.
The Browns’ defense ranked second against the pass (184.9 yards allowed per game) last season. Through four games this season, it’s ranked 28th (286 yards allowed per game) in the same category.
That’s what happens when a defense loses its MVP.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj