Joe Haden: Breaking Down the High-Priced Cornerback's 2013 Season

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2014

Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) warms up on the field before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

The Cleveland Browns gave Joe Haden a $68 million contract extension last week. 

Haden is widely considered to be one of the most talented defensive backs in the NFL, and he is still just 25 years of age. During his first four seasons in the NFL, Haden has accumulated 13 interceptions and 67 pass deflections in 48 starts.

As the Seattle Seahawks have proven, finding high quality starters in the secondary is vitally important for building a dominant defense. New head coach Mike Pettine is used to working with high quality starters in his secondary, so it's no surprise that the Browns felt the urge to lock down Haden for the future despite adding multiple cornerback pieces in the draft also.

The Browns front office invested a huge sum in Haden before Pettine could even get an opportunity to coach him. It's unclear whether that was Pettine's choice or not, while it's also unclear if that was a wise investment or not.

Haden has a previous suspension on his record, something that the Browns will have been wary of because of Josh Gordon. However, more important than the threat of a suspension is the question about just how good Haden is.

Even though he is widely considered to be a shutdown cornerback who can compete with Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis, there is little in-depth analysis available to prove that theory.

With that in mind, I decided to use the Pre-Snap Reads cornerback analysis method to understand exactly what the Browns have in their now high-priced cornerback. 


Explaining the Process


Qualifying Plays

Plays that count:

  • Every snap that has the cornerback in man coverage no matter where the ball is thrown. This 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 the 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. 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 analysis of how many completions the cornerback allowedthat 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 toward 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

One of the main reasons that Haden is highlighted as a shutdown cornerback is because he followed receivers around the field more than anyone else last season. On this chart we can see that Haden followed many star receivers for prolonged periods, but it also reveals how successful he was.

No.PlayerSuccessful Snaps/Total Coverage SnapsPercentage
1Marvin Jones6/6100%
2Jerome Simpson9/1090%
3Robert Woods5/683%
4Dwayne Bowe13/1681%
5David Nelson7/978%
6Torrey Smith20/3165%
7Mike Wallace8/1362%
8Cecil Shorts8/1457%
9AJ Green15/2854%
10Julian Edelman8/1650%
11Alshon Jeffery2/450%
12Kevin Ogletree2/450%
13Kris Durham2/450%
14Calvin Johnson2/540%
15Jordy Nelson7/1839%
16Antonio Brown3/933%
17Brandon Marshall1/714%
Total and Average118/20059%
Analytical Analysis through

Only those with at least four snaps against Haden in man coverage were included on this list. Haden's list only has 17 players listed, whereas Richard Sherman's has 24. That, of course, can be attributed to the fact that Sherman played more games than Haden last season.

However, most importantly, only three of the 24 receivers who faced Sherman beat him 50 percent of the time. Eight of Haden's 17 receivers beat him at least 50 percent of the time.

Is that because Sherman was hidden from tougher tests by not moving around the field as much as Haden? No. Sherman faced Jimmy Graham, Hakeem Nicks, Marques Colston, Roddy White, Demaryius Thomas, Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Jordy Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Crabtree.

He did avoid A.J. Green, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in 2013, but he did face Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson and others in 2012 (Note: success rates on those charts are inverted) when he performed much better than Haden did.


Weekly Breakdown

This section breaks down each game of Haden's season individually.

Week 1: Miami Dolphins
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 5
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 8

Fittingly, Haden's first game of the season came against a receiver who was trying to prove that he was a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Mike Wallace was playing his first meaningful game after signing a huge contract with the Dolphins in free agency.

Wallace was a former AFC North receiver, so this wasn't the first time the duo faced off against each other. During the 2012 season, Haden covered Wallace in man coverage just six times and Wallace beat him twice.

In this game, they would face off in man coverage 13 times, with Wallace getting free on five occasions.

Giving Wallace separation isn't a major concern. The major concern with him is giving him separation down the field because his speed will always threaten the end zone unless he is given adequate attention from the defense.

Haden started the game off very well. He didn't give Wallace the big play he was searching for down the field. Instead, Wallace could only escape on a curl route against off coverage and a harmless out route. Wallace's speed did come into play when he caught his first pass against Haden in the third quarter.

Straight-line speed isn't a massively important attribute for successful NFL cornerbacks, but Haden's lack of it is noticeable.

His inability to run with Wallace isn't the main problem on this play, but it contributes to how he approaches it. Instead of being physical with Wallace early in the route, he is too concerned with the deep threat and is immediately working backwards and actually turns his back to the receiver early in the route.

This unwillingness to play aggressive, physical coverage is a constant issue with Haden. Not all good cornerbacks play an aggressive style like Sherman, but those who choose to mirror receivers generally have more speed and quickness than Haden has.

Wallace is able to come free on this comeback route because Haden gives him a free release and is overly concerned with taking away the deep ball.

To his credit, taking away the deep ball is the most important thing when facing Wallace, so if this was the worst play he gave up on the day, then it would have been an impressive overall display. However, it wasn't the worst play. Very soon after his first reception, Wallace came free deep down the sideline.

Haden actually plays this route perfectly early on. He doesn't give Wallace a free run down the sideline, instead facing him while turning to run on his inside shoulder.

Problems arise when Haden turns to locate the football. He slows down and doesn't immediately recognize the flight of Tannehill's pass, which causes him to lose where Wallace is. Wallace is able to come free down the sideline, but fortunately he and Tannehill fail to connect on the pass with the safety works towards the sideline.

Haden didn't have a second gear to disrupt any potential catch for Wallace, so he was fortunate that Tannehill's pass hit the ground before Wallace could catch up to it.

While it is true that Haden follows receivers around the field and this game is evidence of that, it's not true that he is left on an island with those receivers.

There is a difference between trailing receivers around the field and being asked to cover those receivers without any regular help from teammates. When Rex Ryan and Darrelle Revis were together in New York, Revis followed the opposition's best receiver around the field and wasn't given much help.

Under Ray Horton last year, Haden fit into the same role Patrick Peterson had under Horton the previous season. He followed opposing receivers around but still received help from safeties and linebackers.

On the very next play after Wallace had beaten Haden deep, the Browns put Buster Skrine on an island and sent two defensive backs to Haden's side of the field. While one defensive back may have made a mistake with his assignment, it's unlikely that both did.


Week 2: Baltimore Ravens
Total qualifying plays: 6
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 3

Just like in Week 1, Haden was tasked with following a speedy receiver who was trying to establish himself as a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Torrey Smith dropped a touchdown reception on a sideline route, but Haden primarily got the best of him.

That was no more evident than early on in the first quarter when Joe Flacco tried to find Smith down the right sideline.

Smith made it easy on Haden early in the route by not faking a release inside to create space along the sideline, but Haden still had to run with him before turning to locate the football. When he did properly locate the football, he showed off an excellent ability to adjust to it and knock it away from its intended target.

When he doesn't fail to recognize the flight of the football, Haden's ball skills are as good as any other cornerback's playing today.

Those ball skills allowed him to pick off four passes and register 20 pass deflections last season. While he does make some very impressive plays in man coverage with those ball skills, they primarily help him be an above-average zone cornerback.

Being a good zone cornerback is an under-appreciated aspect of the position these days, but it does still carry value and not every good man-cover corner can play zone coverage. Arguably the best cornerback in the NFL, Sherman still gives up too many big plays because he is too aggressive in zone coverage.

Haden has the right balance of aggression and caution. While he does make some bad decisions at times, his positioning and awareness are consistently very good when he is playing zone coverage. That is where he improved the most from the 2012 season to the 2013 season.


Week 3: Minnesota Vikings
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 12

Haden primarily covered Jerome Simpson during this game. Simpson beat him on one occasion when Haden was distracted by a play-fake in the backfield. Even though Simpson has decent straight-line speed and he can make some spectacular catches, he is slow when making cuts and lacks the deceptiveness to create separation against most cornerbacks.

This was an easy assignment for Haden.


Week 4: Cincinnati Bengals
Total qualifying plays: 27
Failed coverages: 10
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 16

This game highlighted the flaws in your typical cornerback analysis.

Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green finished the game with seven receptions for 51 yards with a handful of those receptions coming against other defensive backs/zone coverage. Because of that, the immediate reaction suggested that Green had been shut down by Haden.

The reality is much different. Green beat Haden nine times in man coverage, while Haden only covered him a total of 20. While Haden had a decent all-around game, his man coverage on Green wasn't particularly impressive.

It was especially poor if you hold Haden to the standards of shutdown cornerbacks.

Green is a very, very good receiver. He has every tool imaginable to beat you, and he used those tools to create separation against Haden throughout the game. One of his earliest successes came on a play when he ran a very precise route.

Haden's most concerning flaw is his inability to quickly react to receivers in breaks. Instead of planting his foot and mirroring what the receiver does, he often extends too far or takes too many steps to turn. That causes him to float away from receivers through breaks and this creates separation for the receiver.

This out route didn't result in a reception because of Haden's coverage. It didn't result in a reception because Andy Dalton's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

Haden's inability to play aggressive coverage on this slant route gave Green an easy reception...

...before Dalton's refusal to push the ball down the field cost Green a huge touchdown reception on this double move.

Haden wasn't the reason Green's production was down in this game. When Green got decent service, he was effective. Haden did have a handful of impressive plays on the ball and some good coverages, but it's a massive stretch to suggest that Green was shut down or even contained by Haden.


Week 5: Buffalo Bills
Total qualifying plays: 27
Failed coverages: 11
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 14

Haden has all the physical tools to be a great cornerback, and he has the ball skills that will allow him to consistently make plays on the ball. The one thing that is holding him back more than anything is his inability to mirror receivers.

Everything Haden does is too loose and sloppy. His footwork is very inconsistent and that causes him to take himself away from the football too often.

A.J. Green had exposed that during Week 4 of the season, but the other receivers he primarily covered were very linear athletes who run rounded routes and don't get in and out of their breaks quickly. This meant that the matchups allowed Haden to be effective.

That wouldn't be the case for the majority of the year though.

Rookie Robert Woods was mostly held in check by Haden during their Week 5 matchup on Thursday Night Football, but Woods was able to turn a short reception into a big gain because of Haden's fatal flaw.

Woods runs a very precise and effective route. He releases from the line of scrimmage to Haden's inside shoulder before working back across his body towards the sideline. Haden shifts his momentum inside before pushing back heavily towards the sideline to run with Woods.

Haden does keep a good position, but he lacks the control to adjust to Woods' second cut when he stops to finish his curl route. Haden keeps moving towards the sideline as his right foot forces his shoulder to move past the receiver, allowing Woods to break inside for a big gain.

This was the only time Woods beat Haden, but it was a sign of things to come for the cornerback.


Week 6: Detroit Lions
Total qualifying plays: 14
Failed coverages: 7
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 7

Calvin Johnson played a part-time role in this game because he was injured before it even began. Johnson and Haden did face off. Predictably Johnson was able to expose him repeatedly like he does against every cornerback he faces, but it was the fact that Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree beat Haden that was of real concern.

While Durham has an obvious size advantage over Haden that helped him beat the cornerback twice, Ogletree was able to create separation against Haden with his quickness.

Again, Haden was incapable of staying with Ogletree through his break here because of poor footwork. He drifted too far towards his own goal line at the top of the route and needed to extend his hand to keep the receiver in check.

While that contact may have been minimal, it gave the official a chance to throw a flag when the opportunity should never have arrived.

Even while not at 100 percent, Johnson was able to expose Haden's poor footwork at the line of scrimmage for what should have been an easy touchdown. Johnson dropped the ball, but he didn't even need to use his size advantage to beat Haden on this play.


Week 7: Green Bay Packers
Total qualifying plays: 18
Failed coverages: 11
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 6

Many other receivers had threatened to do it, but Jordy Nelson was the first to severely expose Haden during the 2013 season.


Week 8: Kansas City Chiefs
Total qualifying plays: 19
Failed coverages: 4
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 14

Covering Dwayne Bowe proved to be the perfect remedy for Haden after having to deal with Nelson the previous week. Bowe is a good player with the talent to be a No. 1 receiver, but he lacks the quickness through his breaks that expose Haden.

Bowe did come free on an in route early in the second quarter when Haden showed awful footwork, but for the most part the defensive back was able to use his speed and ball skills to stay on his assignment.



Week 9: Baltimore Ravens
Total qualifying plays: 26
Failed coverages: 9
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 16

During their first meeting of the season, Smith and Haden had just six qualifying snaps against each other. During the second, there were many more opportunities for both players to show off their ability and a very good competition ensued.

Smith is still a developing receiver, but he showed off precise route running and effective footwork to release from press in this game.

In the first quarter, Smith began to run a shallow crossing route before sharply turning back towards the opposing sideline. This made Haden fall to the ground and left Smith wide open in the flat. Smith didn't receive the football because Joe Flacco threw to the other side of the field.

On three more routes during the first half of the game, Smith was able to turn sharply while Haden floated away to create separation.

However, Haden adjusted during the second half and his coverage improved. He had an interception on a tipped pass over the middle of the field, but that play highlighted his work rate and ball skills as opposed to his coverage ability.

What was most impressive about his play in the second half of this game was the adjustment he made.

On Smith and Haden's very first qualifying snap, the receiver beat him easily with a deep in route. This is a route that Smith attempted twice more in the second half, but Haden adjusted and played with better footwork to turn more sharply infield.


Week 11: Cincinnati Bengals
Total qualifying plays: 9
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 5

In their second meeting, Haden did get the better of Green, but he did so because he received a lot of help from the rest of the defense. The Browns played Cover 2 and gave him safety help to keep him out of space and allow him to be more aggressive against Green.

Haden was aggressive and he came away with two interceptions because of that. One came in zone coverage and one came in man coverage.



Week 12: Pittsburgh Steelers
Total qualifying plays: 9
Failed coverages: 6
Shutdowns: 2
In Position: 1

Outside of two plays when the cornerback got position on a seam route and post route, Antonio Brown was able to do what he wanted against Joe Haden. Brown's greatest strength is his speed in and out of his routes, whereas that is Haden's greatest weakness.

Somewhat ironically, Brown's biggest play of the game came when he ran down the sideline for a touchdown.

Just like he had done against former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace during Week 1 of the season, Haden initially played Brown well in his route. However, once he turned his head to locate the football, his feet stopped and that allowed Brown to come free.

Because it was a windy day, Ben Roethlisberger's pass hung in the air and gave Haden a chance to make up for his mistake, but he didn't have the recovery speed to take advantage. 


Week 13: Jacksonville Jaguars
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 6
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 8

A very inconsistent display for Haden.

He showed off the quickness through breaks to contain Cecil Shorts early in the game, and he handled the different moves the receiver threw at him when trying to release from the line of scrimmage. However, he also had plays when he floated through breaks in routes again and gave up another big touchdown reception.

It's easy to see why teams throw away from Haden a lot. His ball skills are intimidating and when he gets his technique right working down the sideline, the results can be disastrous for the offense.

Chad Henne badly underthrows this pass to Cecil Shorts, but Haden also snatches the ball away from his body at its highest point. That means it would have been difficult for Shorts to prevent the interception even if he had reacted to the poorly thrown pass.

These are the kinds of plays that make you think Haden could be a superstar player one day, but they don't appear often enough and are overshadowed by so many negative plays that it's hard to be overly optimistic about him.


Week 14: New England Patriots
Total qualifying plays: 17
Failed coverages: 9
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 8

Predictably, Julian Edelman gave Haden all kinds of problems. Edelman is a quick receiver who was able to expose Haden's heavy feet when working through the breaks of his routes. Edelman twice beat him with clean releases that put Haden in unresolvable positions, while he had two in routes that proved very successful as one created a huge amount of separation and the other led to a touchdown.

Danny Amendola also drew a pass interference penalty against him on a seam route.


Week 15: Chicago Bears
Total qualifying plays: 11
Failed coverages: 8
Shutdowns: 0
In Position: 3

Thankfully for Haden, he left this game injured during the third quarter.

While it's never good to be injured, in this scenario it did at least save him from the brutal beating that Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery had piled on. Marshall in particular used his quickness and size to make Haden's presence irrelevant on a number of plays.

On this play, Marshall runs straight through Haden who fails to hold his ground. Instead, Haden pulls on the receiver and is eventually flagged for interference. In spite of his infraction, Marshall is still able to tower over him and high-point the football above the defensive back's head for a huge gain.

On this play, Marshall is able to lose Haden with a quick double move. Haden overplays Marshall's quick move inside so he is unable to recover when he reverses towards the pylon. Even though the pass is poorly thrown and leads Marshall back inside, he is unable to get to the football.

When Darrelle Revis faces a receiver such as Brandon Marshall, he is able to stick with him through breaks and contain his quickness while still contesting jump balls. When Richard Sherman faces Brandon Marshall, he is able to fight him for the football and do enough with his technique and physicality to disrupt his route running and quickness.

What Joe Haden proved in this game is that he can't compete with Marshall on jump balls and he can't stick with his quickness through routes.

He was outclassed.


Week 16: New York Jets
Total qualifying plays: 15
Failed coverages: 2
Shutdowns: 1
In Position: 12

After being outclassed by Marshall the previous week, Haden returned the favor to the Jets wide receivers. He primarily covered David Nelson, who was the only receiver to beat him as he successfully ran two curl routes late in the game.


2013 NFL Season Total
Total qualifying plays: 218
Failed coverages: 81
Shutdowns: 16
In Position: 121 
Success rate for the season: 62.8%


Results at Spots 
Qualifying Plays at left cornerback: 117
Failed coverages at left cornerback: 40
Success Rate at left cornerback: 66%

Qualifying Plays at right cornerback: 86
Failed coverages at right cornerback: 34 
Success Rate at right cornerback: 61%

Qualifying Plays in the slot: 15
Failed coverages in the slot: 7
Success Rate in the slot: 53%


Results versus Routes
Percentage is Success Rate. Total number of routes is in parentheses.

1. Seam 89% (9)  
2. Sideline 88% (56) 
3. Post 80% (10) 
4. In 68% (25)
5. Curl 57% (46)
6. Out 54% (24)
7. Crossing 50% (22)
8. Comeback 50% (14) 
9. Double Move 42% (12)
10. Slant 39% (13)


Joe Haden is an adequate starting cornerback who could excel in a scheme that allows him to play more zone coverage or as part of more Cover 2 looks. His ball skills are exceptional and his physical talent is easy to become infatuated with.

At 25 years of age, Haden needs to be better than what he currently is.

The consistency in his footwork and overall technique in man coverage simply isn't good enough. Not only is he not a shutdown cornerback, but he is also not even an above average cornerback in man coverage. His 62.8 percent success rate for the 2013 season is significantly worse than his 73.6 percent success rate for the 2012 season.

Haden's name is often mentioned alongside Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman in terms of him being a shutdown cornerback, but his performances don't merit that recognition. Under the same criteria for last season, Revis had a success rate of 81.9 percent, while Sherman had a success rate of 79 percent.

Even in comparison to Alterraun Verner (79.8 percent), Sam Shields (68 percent) and Patrick Peterson (69.6 percent), Haden's raw numbers are very unimpressive.

His tape helps his case because he is a very willing tackler and a good zone defender, but the Browns have made a catastrophic mistake by giving him such a huge contract extension. He will likely be thrown at a lot more next season too after the Browns investments at the cornerback position in the draft.


You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf


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