Joe Haden: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict

Joe Haden entered the league with a strong reputation and he has done little to disperse it since.

After a college career(can we really call it a career when they don’t get paid?) at Florida that included a SEC Championship, a National Championship, a National Defensive Player of the Year award and being named a Unanimous All-American, cornerback Joe Haden found his way to the Cleveland Browns as the seventh overall selection in the 2010 draft.

Although Haden hasn’t yet joined the 14 Pro Bowl players from the first round of that draft class, he has garnished a reputation as a young superstar at the cornerback position. Being the seventh overall pick in the draft obviously brings with it some notable levels of excitement, but that excitement was cranked up even higher when Haden had six interceptions as a rookie despite starting just seven games.

Haden’s ability to find the football early in his career set a standard that he would be expected to live up to throughout his career. Even though he followed up his first season with no interceptions in his second, the unkown aspects of the position allowed people to overlook his lack of production as a lack of opportunities. Haden’s coverage was good enough that it didn’t set off any alarms for those watching at home or in the stands.

It was a given that Haden was already a top cornerback in the league, he even said so himself. But playing in Cleveland meant that Haden didn’t receive much national acclaim, so some amount of studying is important to understand exactly where he ranks amongst the best players in the league at his position.

Explaining the Process

Qualifying Plays:
Plays that count:

  • Every snap that has the cornerback in man coverage no matter where the ball is thrown.
  • The above includes sacks, quarterback scrambles and plays where the defensive back has safety help.

Plays that don’t count:

  • Screen plays. Even if the receiver isn’t part of the screen, these plays do not count.
  • Plays where either the receiver or cornerback doesn’t follow through his whole assignment.
  • Zone plays. Any ambiguity in this area will disqualify a play.
  • Any prevent coverage situations.
  • Receptions in the flat without a route run.
  • Running plays(duh!). Including designed quarterback runs.

Failed Coverages:

The ball does not have to be thrown in the defensive back’s direction for the coverage to fail. This is NOT an alysis of how many completions the cornerback allowed, that can be found elsewhere, this is an analysis of how good his coverage is on any given play.

Failed coverages can come at any point of the route, but it is subjective to where the players are on the field in relation to the quarterback. Typically, defensive backs must be within arms reach for underneath/intermediate routes. On deeper passes, there is greater leeway given to the defender.

Failed coverages can be subjective. They must be determined by the situation considering the length of the play and other such variables.

Shut Down:

This category is reserved for those plays when receivers would have to make superhuman catches to beat the coverage. The best example of this is when receivers line up wide and try to run down the sideline, but the defensive back gradually guides them towards the sideline, suffocating the space they have to catch the football in. If a receiver is on the white sideline, he is shut down.

In Position:

This is the opposite of a failed coverage. In order to be ‘In Position’, a defensive back has to be in a position to prevent a relatively well-thrown pass to his assignment.

 

Individual Matchups

No.

Player

Successful Snaps/Coverage Snaps

Percentage

1 Donnie Avery 4/8 50%
2 Anquan Boldin 3/6 50%
3 Torrey Smith 2/4 50%
4 TY Hilton 3/7 42.9%
5 Leonard Hankerson 2/5 40%
6 AJ Green 3/8 37.5%
7 Mike Wallace 2/6 33%
8 Darrius Heyward-Bey 3/10 30%
9 Terrence Copper 2/8 25%
10 Reggie Wayne 1/4 25%
11 Rod Streater 1/4 25%
12 DeSean Jackson 5/21 23.8%
13 Eric Decker 4/18 22%
14 Malcolm Floyd 1/5 20%
15 Demaryius Thomas 1/5 20%
16 Antonio Brown 1/5 20%
17 Pierre Garcon 2/12 16.6%
18 Robert Meachem 1/8 12.5%
19 Armon Binns 0/4 0%
20 Jacoby Jones 0/4 0%
21 Jonathon Baldwin 0/4 0%
Totals 41 / 156
Averages 1.95 / 7.43 25.87%

*Those with less than four against Haden were not included.

Weekly Breakdown

Week 1: Philadelphia Eagles
Total qualifying plays: 24
Failed coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 4
In Position: 13

Haden endured a very rough start to the 2012 season. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, he trailed DeSean Jackson all around the field.

On his very first man coverage assignment of the season, Haden turned the wrong way on an in route allowing Jackson to come free over the middle of the field. Straight after, Haden dropped into off-coverage at the snap and Jackson ran away from him on a shallow crossing route. Their third matchup was a successful one for the defender, as he easily stood in position on a curl route, before Haden cranked up the pressure.

From the left side of the offense, Jackson ran a deep in route roughly 15 yards down the field. Haden stuck to him from the snap and played him aggressively moving down the field. When Jackson broke infield, Haden was on top of him, but Jackson was able to extend his arms away from the defender to snatch Michael Vick’s pass from the air. Despite the interception, Haden had played the defender well, except that he was punished for pass interference as he had too much contact with the receiver at the top of the route.

This was a very inconsistent game for Haden. He routinely turned the wrong way when receivers came out of breaks, but had an interception in the third quarter in zone coverage. At times he completely took his receiver out of the game, but those plays were overshadowed by too many negative ones. The two that stood out most significantly came against Jackson and on one of the few plays he had against Jeremy Maclin.

On one occasion, Jackson turned him deep down the field on a double move to the inside before breaking outside. Haden couldn’t control his momentum as it pulled him infield. As a result, Jackson was wide open and when Haden recovered into a position to tackle him in space, he was still off balance and missed the tackle, allowing Jackson to run free down the sideline. This is something that would happen again later in the season, but it wasn’t the most costly play of the game from the young cornerback.

Screen shot 2013-06-02 at 00.50.57

Late in the second quarter, with the game tied at 3-3, the Eagles were facing a first and 10 with 23 seconds left before the half. The Eagles were already in field goal position, so the Browns were giving up short-yardage gains and playing the pass from the start. Because of that, Haden was lined up nearly 10 yards off of Jeremy Maclin with a single coverage assignment.

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When Michael Vick gets to the top of his drop, Haden is still comfortably on top of Maclin, but his body position makes him susceptible to being manipulated. Haden’s hips are already facing the endzone, which means he will be forced to turn away from the receiver if he moves towards the closest pylon or the sideline.

Haden is overplaying the post route over the middle of the field.

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Maclin takes a hard step towards the pylon, which forces Haden to swivel quickly towards that point. He turns his head very quickly, but as soon as he turns it in that direction he has lost sight of his receiver. Maclin is already moving into the space behind the safety over the middle of the field.

Even if Haden recognised his mistake at this point, he would never have a chance of getting back to the receiver in time because he is still moving towards the sideline.

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Maclin runs a good route, but the quality of it is bloated by Haden’s horrible technique that took him out of the play. Had Haden kept his hips facing towards the receiver and trusted his quick feet to help him change direction, he might have kept up with Maclin. By overplaying his hand, he made Maclin’s job too easy.

This isn’t just a minor mistake, it’s a completely blown coverage that even an average cornerback wouldn’t expect to make.

Weeks 2-5: Suspended

Week 6: Cincinnati Bengals
Total qualifying plays: 13
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 7

Against the Bengals, the Browns played primarily zone coverage and Haden moved around the field. His play throughout the game was very impressive, highlighted by an interception on a tipped pass when he reacted phenomenally quickly, however his absence from the team during his four-week suspension appeared to take it’s toll later on in the game.

AJ Green and Haden had a marquee matchup on the day, with Green getting the better of him twice early on because of his strength coming out of breaks. However, Haden replied late on in the game when he suffocated Green’s space in the endzone as he tried to adjust to a poorly thrown pass from Andy Dalton.

That play came after Haden surrendered a touchdown to the young star however.

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With five minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Browns winning by 34 points to 17, the Browns were trying to burn time off the clock and force Andy Dalton to check-down by playing off-coverage.

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Green runs straight down the sideline and Haden plays the route well initially. He keeps himself between Green and the endzone for 20 yards or so before turning and running side-by-side with him into the redzone. However, once Green looked back to locate the football, Haden’s balance started to slip and he stumbled to the ground as Green moved inside for an easy catch.

Green caught the ball six or seven yards from the endzone, but Haden had lost his equilibrium and was fighting to regain it while he made his assignment made his way towards the endzone.

Week 7: Indianapolis Colts
Total qualifying plays: 20
Failed coverages: 9
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 9

Outside of a few combined snaps against Coby Fleener and Reggie Wayne, Haden spent most of this game trying to contain TY Hilton and Donnie Avery. Trying to being the key part of that sentence. Hilton and Avery combined for seven successful snaps on 15 coverages against Haden in man coverage. Haden couldn’t cope with the respective speed levels of each receiver.

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Because of Hilton and Avery’s speed, this type of play happened more than once. Haden plays the receiver, but much like the touchdown he allowed to Jeremy Maclin against the Eagles in Week 1, the receiver is out of his eye-line with the fear of Hilton’s deep threat forcing Haden to overplay the deep ball. This means that Hilton is able to come free on a comeback route while Haden continues to slide down the field, away from where the football eventually arrives.

Body control is the biggest issue for Haden. He overcommits too often and doesn’t appear to have full control of his center of gravity at all times. His feet are very quick, but he still wastes steps and doesn’t move the way the elite cornerbacks in the league do.

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The knock-on effect of his lack of control in coverage is that he is susceptible reacting to receivers as they come in and out of their breaks and he misses tackles in the open field against ball carriers for the same reason.

Week 8: San Diego Chargers
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 11

Haden had a very good game against some lesser talents at receiver who were running some less complex routes than the receivers he faced in Indianapolis. The only two failed coverages Haden had in this game came when he slipped as the respective receivers came out of their breaks.

Week 9: Baltimore Ravens
Total qualifying plays: 14
Failed coverages: 5
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 9

Torrey Smith scored a touchdown when Haden came in too hot to try and tackle him in open space late in the fourth quarter. Smith and Boldin gave Haden some issues with their relative physical strengths, but he nearly intercepted a wild Flacco pass when he excellently read the flight of the football and one of his failed coverages came when he bought heavily on play-action.

Week 10: Bye

Week 11: Injured

Week 12: Pittsburgh Steelers
Total qualifying plays: 8
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 5

In a game when the Steelers fumbled the ball repeatedly and the Browns played zone coverage throughout, Haden had very few opportunities to trail receivers in man coverage. Emmanuel Sanders beat Haden on a post from the slot after motioning away from the cornerback just before the snap. That motion move afforded him space from the snap that Haden could never recover.

Haden did force two interceptions in this game. Neither were perfect plays, but both showed off his impressive ball-skills. He didn’t catch one of the turnovers himself, but after being beaten in the slot by Mike Wallace on a slant play, Charlie Batch threw an inaccurate pass that Haden was able to bat up into the air for Billy Winn to intercept.

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Winn’s interception came early in the fourth quarter, but it was even later than that when the Browns came out with this single-high safety look and pressure front. Haden is at the bottom of the screen in press coverage against Mike Wallace. Wallace is the fastest receiver in the league, so with press coverage and the single safety playing center field, the obvious play for the Steelers here is to try and attack Haden deep by getting Wallace in behind him.

Screen shot 2013-06-02 at 01.59.37

Haden is running just above of Wallace’s outside shoulder, in the perfect position understanding that he has safety help coming to his side of the field. His position here allows him to work on any comeback, curl or in routes, while he should also be in a good position to undercut any post routes.

Screen shot 2013-06-02 at 02.00.20

However, his position from the previous image actually allows him to undercut a severely underthrown pass from Charlie Batch. Haden immediately recognises that the ball won’t reach Wallace, who continues downfield, while he gets up high enough to high-point the ball above his own teammate who is in position for the pick also.

Week 13: Oakland Raiders
Total qualifying plays: 21
Failed coverages: 6
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 14

Slants and comebacks were Haden’s problems in this game. The Raiders have fast receivers, but it was the quickness of Derek Hagan who beat his press coverage twice  in two attempts to come free infield.

Week 14: Kansas City Chiefs
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 7
In Position: 6

Dwayne Bowe only played eight snaps in this game and Haden was too physically gifted to worry about containing Terrence Copper, Jonathan Baldwin or Jamar Newsome.

Bowe did have a 47 yard reception early in the first quarter that appeared to be against man coverage on the broadcast. However, the all-22 revealed that the Browns were playing zone coverage and Haden being in position was more a result of him trying to recover when his deep safety was drawn infield.

Week 15: Washington Redskins
Total qualifying plays: 21
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 14

Regardless of Kirk Cousins being the quarterback, this game featured the one play that best showed off Haden’s potential to be a very good cornerback.

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At the goalline in the third quarter, the Redskins come out with two receivers to the right side and two tight ends to the left. Haden and Pierre Garcon are paired across from each other at the top of the screen. Haden is in single, press coverage.

Screen shot 2013-06-02 at 02.11.38

With that heavy formation to the left side, the Cousins runs a bootleg into the flat on the opposite side of the field. Garcon initially moved inside as if he were looking to block Haden, but continues through his route to the back of the endzone.

Screen shot 2013-06-02 at 02.11.55

Once he gets to the back of the endzone, Garcon pivots quickly and looks to work back towards his quarterback. Haden never looses sight of his assignment, while still shifting his weight and moving his feet so that he is in the perfect position to run back to that side of the field alongside Garcon.

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Garcon is a quick receiver however and he uses his quickness to set himself up to accelerate away from Haden. This creates separation between the two, the yellow line, as he appears to be wide open for the touchdown.

Screen shot 2013-06-02 at 02.12.36

Haden doesn’t get his hand to the football, but he recovers enough to the point that his coverage is tight on Garcon and his extended hand knocks into him as he tries to catch the ball. Haden doesn’t deflect the football, but he disrupts the receiver enough to cause the incomplete pass.

Week 16: Denver Broncos
Total qualifying plays: 27
Failed coverages: 5
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 20

Demaryius Thomas beat him on a crossing route with his speed, while Eric Decker was able to take advantage of his poor coverage coming in and out of breaks to get free on occasion.

Week 17: Pittsburgh Steelers
Total qualifying plays: 11
Failed coverages: 3
Shutdowns: 3
In Position: 5

In the third quarter of this game, Haden gave up a touchdown to Antonio Brown when he failed to stay alive after Brown’s initial movement. Roethlisberger didn’t extend the play to a degree that the secondary was overly stressed, Haden just sat on his heels as Brown came inside before conitinuing further infield for the relatively easy touchdown.

That play was a bad one, but the touchdown he gave up to Plaxico Burress was very worrying. Burress is a big, strong receiver who can overwhelm defensive backs at the point of attack, but Haden stood up well to him when he tried to do that earlier in the game. Instead, Burress beat him with his quickness and a crisp route, aspects of the veteran receiver’s game that are not celebrated.

2012 NFL Season Total:
Total qualifying plays: 186
Failed coverages: 49
Shutdowns: 27
In Position: 110
Haden’s success rate for the season: 73.6%

In Slot:
Total qualifying plays: 12
Failed coverages: 5
Haden’s success rate: 58.3%

 Left cornerback:
Total qualifying plays: 155
Failed coverages: 39
Haden’s success rate: 74.8%

 Right cornerback:
Total qualifying plays: 19
Failed coverages: 5
Haden’s success rate: 73.6%

Success Rates v Specific Routes

1.Seam

91%

2.Out

91%

3.Curl

74%

4.Post

68%

5.Double Move

66%

6.In

55%

7.Flat

50%

8.Slant

50%

9.Crosing

42%

 Verdict

 This was the first player analysis that really surprised me. I was really excited about the opportunity to watch one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL and a player who could potentially be on that level with Revis and Sherman.

What I found was a good player who didn’t really stand out from his teammates. Obviously Haden has a lot of talent, but he doesn’t appear to have that same awareness as Sherman and he’s not a master of his technique like Revis.

He obviously has all the tools. His athleticism is what you would want in any cornerback and it allows him to be a good man cover cornerback and an above average zone cornerback. He doesn’t have the same top-level speed as a Patrick Peterson, or his size, but he does have fluidity and enough speed to keep up with every receiver in the league so long as he approaches them with the right technique.

I expected to see Haden put in single coverage an awful lot with the rest of the defense daring the offense to throw the ball his way, but that situation rarely ever occurred, if at all by design. My first inclination was to question the coaching staff, but on the occasions when Haden was in single coverage against decent receivers, he more often than not looked overmatched. He doesn’t have that crisp control that his reputation implies he does.

Right now he looks like a physical talent who has his moments, but he is by no means a complete player who will be a pillar that supports the rest of the defense. He’s just another part of the foundation.

His statistical representation is adequate, he is a good cornerback already, but he didn’t face many top receivers, only AJ Green would be considered an elite player on the chart above, and he didn’t have as tough assignments as other guys who have previously undergone this study.

Fortunately for the Browns, it appears that Haden could still live up to his reputation as a star cornerback at some stage in his career. He is still only 24 and would likely elevate his game dramatically with better technique, something that can be coached, while new defensive coordinator Ray Horton earned his reputation in this league as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive backs coach.

Horton’s secondary in Pittsburgh played pivotal roles in not one but two Super Bowl victories and he has developed a number of young players into stars during his time in the league.

In a sense, Haden represents the Browns as a whole this off-season. He’s obviously very talented, like their roster, but he has one or two notable flaws that prove fatal to his goals at this stage, like their quarterback. Coaching and guidance could boost both Haden and the Browns to the top tier of their respective categories in the league.

Whether it be because of a greater media presence, social media or whatever else, most promising players in today’s world are prematurely labelled superstars. Haden has fallen to that fate, but just because he is mislabelled now, it doesn’t mean that he will be held under that perception forever. If he really wants to own his reputation and make the perception reality, he has a lot of work to do.

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf