CLEVELAND - If the Browns hope to earn their first win of the season before mid-October, they'll have to do it without one of their best players. With cornerback Joe Haden suspended four games, the onus will fall on the rest of the secondary to compensate.
Sheldon Brown, who left Sunday’s game against Philadelphia with a stinger, is expected to step into the number one cornerback spot, moving Dimitri Patterson into the starting lineup. Young corners Buster Skrine and Trevin Wade should also see increased playing time.
Haden is regarded as a shutdown corner and typically covers the opposition’s top receiver. The Browns’ next four opponents possess dangerous receiving threats that Haden would have been asked to stranglehold.
Second-year receiver A.J. Green is the Bengals’ clear number one threat. Green was solid in week one, pulling in five passes for 70 yards in a 44-13 loss to the Ravens. In his rookie season, Green put up big numbers in his second matchup against the Browns, totaling 110 yards on just three receptions, his long a 51-yard grab. Green racked up 11 targets in Week 1 and is clearly Andy Dalton’s go-to guy.
The Bills also have a dangerous option against the Haden-less Browns. Stevie Johnson possesses lots of talent but has gained wider attention from mental mistakes in key moments. Johnson has been hampered by a groin injury but said it felt fine in the opener against the Jets, in which he recorded a touchdown.
Anquan Boldin is listed in the number one spot on the depth chart but not the team's most dangerous threat. Second-year receiver Torrey Smith has the size and speed to burn teams downfield on deep balls. Quarterback Joe Flacco connected with Smith on a 52-yard completion in Week 1. That dynamic potential means Smith warrants the defense's attention. Depth could also be a key for the Browns in this matchup, as the Ravens feature tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson in their schemes. Pitta racked up 73 yards and a touchdown to start the season.
New York Giants
The cross-conference matchup at the Meadowlands, the final without Haden, could be the most problematic. Both Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have the skill sets of top receivers and are an interchangeable 1a and 1b. The undrafted Cruz broke out last season and made his name on his explosive, game-changing touchdowns. Cruz notched touchdowns of more than 60 yards five times in 2011. He will pose a challenge to whichever Browns corner covers him lining up out of the slot. Nicks excelled on the Giants' Super Bowl run, reaching pay dirt four times. He has been limited by a foot injury but by early October that could very well be a non-issue.
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