The Cleveland Browns, the Ravens' opponent Thursday night, rank 27th in pass defense in the NFL, and one reason could be the absence of cornerback Joe Haden.
Haden, drafted in the first round in 2010, is a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback who is widely respected by opposing quarterbacks. So his absence due to a four-game suspension for failing a drug test has impacted the Browns.
In the two games that Cleveland has played without Haden, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andy Dalton and the Buffalo Bills’ Ryan Fitzpatrick each threw three touchdown passes and completed more than 62 percent of their throws.
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Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron conceded that not having Haden has impacted the pass defense.
“You never want to be without your starting corner, obviously,” he told Cleveland reporters. “Clearly it has some effect, but again, we like our guys. They’re young and they’re developing, but they play hard. The experience that they’re gaining hopefully in the long run will serve us well. You don’t ever want to be down any starter at any position. I wouldn’t say corner is any more important than the defensive line or linebacker, but you definitely don’t want to be down starters.”
The Ravens would appeared poised to attack the Browns through the air, but quarterback Joe Flacco said he won’t take their defense lightly.
“I think they’re still a really good defense,” said Flacco, who has thrown for at least 200 yards and three touchdowns in just one of his past five meetings with Cleveland and is looking to post back-to-back 300-yard passing games for only the second time in his career. “Obviously, I think Joe’s a pretty good corner. So if you lose out on a guy like that, you’re going to miss him in some way. But I think the guys they have back there are still talented guys. They’re still a really physical, hard-hitting, good coverage defense.”
The Browns’ secondary features several young players including cornerback Buster Skrine, a fifth-round pick in 2011; free safety Eric Hagg, a seventh-round choice in 2011; and free safety Tashaun Gipson, an undrafted rookie. But Flacco insisted that their youth won’t influence the offense’s game plan as crafted by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
“We’re going to do what we do no matter what,” Flacco said. “At some point, something may happen where we might be a little more successful with it. You hope something like that may happen, but like I said, those guys are still pretty talented.”