Sunday, December 5, 2010

Monday leftovers

You could see it coming a few weeks ago when he picked off his first pass as a professional. And it has been building ever since.

Slowly, but very surely, Joe Haden is beginning to make General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. look awfully good for making him the Browns' top pick in last April's college draft. His performance in Sunday's 13-10 victory down in Miami did nothing to hurt that notion.

Maybe it was because he was playing in his native Florida. Then again, maybe it was just another huge building block as he strives to prove he belongs.

Shortly after being named rookie defensive player for November, Haden kicked off December with one of the best performances by a Browns defensive back in a long time regardless of experience. He played like anything but a rookie as he sent a powerful message around the National Football League that teams pick on him at their own risk.

Haden did it all against the Dolphins, who picked on him all afternoon. If he wasn't defensing passes (he knocked down four, including one in the end zone), he was supporting the run with the kind of solid tackling not seen from a member of the secondary in quite a while. Now throw in his fifth interception of the season and you have what can be considered a solid afternoon.

The most impressive part of his game is the tackling. Rather than arm tackling, Haden is a throwback, wrapping up the ball carrier and dragging him down. He does not leave his feet until he's certain he can make the tackle. And he is rarely out of position.

Yep, it looks as though Eric Wright will have a tough time claiming his starting spot back. At least for this season.

What in the world caused coordinator Brian Daboll to button up his offense against the Dolphins? Just about every Jake Delhomme pass was of the low-risk, high-percentage variety. Maybe it was those two interceptions he threw last week against Carolina.

Daboll allowed Delhomme to throw downfield just three times all afternoon against the young Miami secondary, preferring instead to be satisfied with a lot of underneath stuff, especially to tight end Ben Watson. All that got, for the most part, were nine punts by Reggie Hodges. Now maybe Daboll was under orders to keep it conservative. If he was, then shame on Eric Mangini.

It became obvious the Dolphins were determined not to let Peyton Hillis get free and stuffed the middle with six- and sometimes seven-man fronts. Basically, they dared Delhomme to throw the ball. And when he did throw downfield, he was successful twice to Mo Massaquoi.

A lack of offensive creativity was evident. No misdirection plays against Miami's active defense. No screen plays or draw plays just to keep them honest. Only vanilla plays with Hillis futilely pounding his way for meager yardage. After a while, it became frustrating. And then maddening.

Gotta give credit to Mangini for that unorthodox maneuver at the end of the game when he had Delhomme kneel down three times in the shadow of the Miami goal line before bringing in Phil Dawson to kick the chip-shot game-winning field goal on the final play of regulation. Credit is given clearly in the nature of a second guess only because it worked.

But I'm not so certain a Bill Belichick or a Rex Ryan or a Mike Tomlin or a Tom Coughlin or most NFL coaches, for that matter, would have done the same thing given the same set of circumstances. No, most coaches don't mind taking chances and play to win rather than not to lose.

What it showed was Mangini's lack of confidence in not only his offense to score a touchdown from the 2-yard line with less a minute left in regulation to break a 10-10 tie, but a similar lack of confidence in his defense, which damn near blew the lead in the last few seconds of last Sunday's victory against Carolina.

How can one team look so good on one drive -- the six-play, 94-yarder that produced the Browns' only TD of the afternoon -- and yet look so embarrassingly awful the rest of the game? It's almost as though they flipped a switch and decided to justify their paychecks at least once. . . . John St. Clair is a turnstile. There is no other way to describe the Browns' offensive right tackle. He provides a gateway to the quarterback that is alarming. Only problem is there is no one better. Well, maybe Pork Chop Womack, but he's busy playing right guard because there's no one better there. . . . Next up: The Buffalo Bills, who followed up their overtime loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday by going up to Minnesota and getting blasted by the Vikings. Is it possible? Three straight victories by this time next week? Very strange, but very possible.

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