The Cleveland Browns come to Buffalo sporting an 0-13 record and looking to battle it out vs. the 6-7 Buffalo Bills. Being that the Browns are winless and the Bills are undeniably out of the playoff picture, this game’s prospects could only be described as lackluster. Nonetheless, a particular battle within the game could keep things interesting for both fan bases. Two former first round picks, Sammy Watkins and Joe Haden, could be very exciting to watch square off.
In order to assess this matchup, it is crucial to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of Joe Haden as the Browns’ top cornerback. Being that Haden got the best of Watkins in Week 13 of 2014 (5 targets, 0 receptions), it can only be expected that both Sammy and Offensive Coordinator Anthony Lynn will watch copious amounts of film to understand Haden’s play. Haden, on the other hand, will look to continue his dominance against the young, 3rd-year wide receiver.
Haden has had a down year. According to Pro Football Focus he has been targeted 66 times, allowing 40 receptions for 534 yards, 5 TDs, and has brought in 3 interceptions. His 5 TDs tie him for the fourth-most allowed among all cornerbacks. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t still a good cover corner. Check out some of his strengths.
Joe Haden’s combination of size, strength, and athleticism has allowed him to compete at the highest level since being drafted by the Browns in 2010. It is hard to miss his elite ball skills, route recognition, and uncanny ability to dominate while in press coverage. Take a look for yourself!
Notice how Haden lines up in press man, but at the snap of the football elects not to jam the receiver. Instead, he shadows the receiver with great technique, staying in his hip pocket the whole way down the field. Haden then looks at the receiver’s eyes and turns his head right when the receiver looks back for the football. He is able to track the ball mid-flight and high point it right in front of the receiver, coming down with an impressive interception.
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Haden is playing off coverage in a cover 3 look. At the snap of the ball he begins backpedaling while keeping his eyes on Steve Smith Sr. Smith runs a poor slant route, thinking he has Haden bailing in the back pedal. Haden recognizes the slant route, immediately breaks down, and attacks using a drop step. He times it perfectly and intercepts the pass just as Smith reaches out to catch it.
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Haden once again lines up in a press coverage, this time taking an inside shade on Sammy Watkins. At the snap, Haden shows remarkable press coverage techniques, striking Watkins with his inside hand and dropping his left foot back taking away an inside release.
Sammy recognizes this and begins to stem the route back outside.
Haden mirrors and gets hands on Watkins again.
Sammy then breaks to the inside on a slant route, allowing Haden to do what he does best. He does a great job flipping his hips and attacks over top of the slant for a great interception.
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There are a few areas where Anthony Lynn and Sammy Watkins can exploit Haden’s deficiencies. The first of these is his ability to play man coverage in the slot, defending against double moves, and, on a few occasions, he has been caught with his eyes in the backfield. Look for the Bills to attack these flaws if they want to get Sammy Watkins the football.
Coverage in the Slot
Haden has been picked on numerous times while playing man coverage in the slot, allowing 7 total receptions for 105 yards. This play is no exception to those statistics. Based on the offensive formation and the defensive play call, Joe Haden lines up in off man-coverage with a free safety over top. At the snap of the football, Haden dead reads Beasley off the line of scrimmage. Beasley takes three steps off the line of scrimmage and breaks inside on the drag route. However, Beasley plants his feet in the ground, opens his hips, and breaks back outside on the whip route. Haden loses eye contact with Beasley and it allows for great separation between the two. Haden reacts late, and the result is a catch by Beasley and a pickup of 12 yards.
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Haden had his struggles covering Odell Beckham Jr, especially when he lined up in the slot. He attempts to shadow Beckham Jr. and places his inside hand on his shoulder pad to only allow a one-way go.
OBJ plants his inside foot in the ground, cuts to the outside and turns his head and shoulders back at the quarterback. Haden believes Beckham is running an out route and attacks the near hip.
After two steps OBJ plants his right foot in the ground and gets vertical on the “double-move.”
The double move causes increased separation, the quarterback makes a good throw, and Beckham is off to the races for a 41 yard gain.
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Eyes in Backfield
Before the snap Haden is playing in off coverage with two safeties over top. At the snap Haden has his eyes in the backfield and falls for a great play-action fake by the quarterback. Odell Beckham Jr. immediately gets straight up field on the fade route and is wide open due to Haden being out of position.
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How Can Buffalo Win the Matchup?
Inverting the Inside and Outside Receiver
Inverting the slot receiver with the outside receiver or placing a tight end with the outside receiver allows for the outside receiver to be off the line of scrimmage. In doing so, an extra yard of separation is created between the press cornerback and the wide receiver.
In this clip, the tight end attached to the line allows for Sammy Watkins to be off the line. With this extra separation Sammy Watkins is able to defeat Joe Haden’s press coverage and win inside.
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Watkins in the Slot
Last week vs. the Steelers we saw Sammy Watkins score his first touchdown of the season while in the slot. The slot is an area where Watkins has been used much more this season.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 15, 2016
Due to Haden’s poor performance in the slot, it should be expected that we see Watkins in the slot more often this game.
In this clip, Watkins attacks the defender’s outside shoulder. When he is within 3 yards of the defender Watkins gives a great shoulder fake to the outside, freezing the defender. Watkins breaks to the inside and Tyrod Taylor delivers the football for Sammy’s first touchdown.
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Haden’s worst game of the season came against the Giants in Week 12. According to Pro Football Focus, Haden received a -1.6 grade while allowing 4 receptions for 85 yards and 1 touchdown to Odell Beckham Jr. With that said, expect the Bills’ offense to attack Haden in multiple ways, just like the Giants did. The Bills would be wise to utilize Watkins’s talents as a wide receiver more in the slot, due to Haden’s poor performance covering there. The Giants did this numerous times with Odell Beckham Jr. The Bills can also counteract Haden’s profound press man coverage by aligning Watkins off the line of scrimmage. If the Bills instill these techniques into their offensive game plan, expect the Bills’ star wide receiver to have a successful day against Joe Haden.