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Browns' mix and match coverage scheme takes Joe Haden off No. 1 receiver at times

Sep 04, 2014 -- 3:00pm

By Tony Grossi |


Photo/USA Today

Extra Points …

Change in strategy: Under the previous two defensive regimes, cornerback Joe Haden would shadow the opponent’s best receiver all game long. Not this year.

One of the changes in the Mike Pettine defense calls for a constant mix of coverage schemes, and that will include Haden giving up the star receiver to a teammate at times.

Pettine said he did it with Darrelle Revis with the New York Jets when Revis was at the top of his game and considered the NFL’s top cornerback.

“I’m never a fan of giving an offense a steady diet of the same matchups and same types of coverages,” Pettine said. “I just think it goes back to offensive coordinators are pretty good, because they gather information throughout the game. If you settle into a constant, they’ll adjust accordingly. Part of being a good defense is mixing things up and trying to stay a step ahead.”

So it means Haden won’t be covering Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown all the time. In the two Steelers wins last year, Brown had 15 receptions for 179 yards, including a TD of 41 yards.  

Haden calls Brown the toughest receiver for him to cover. Haden has had more success again

st giant receivers such as A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson than the shifty and speedy Brown, who is 5-10 and 186.

“It’s funny with corners,” Pettine said. “Every corner kind of has a style that’s kryptonite to him. Stevie Johnson with Revis, just because of the unique way he came off the ball.”

Full strength: Buster Skrine has practiced with a cast on his broken thumb and will play with it in Pittsburgh. So Skrine and Haden, who both missed the last two preseason games, will join rookie No. 1 pick Justin Gilbert as the three top cornerbacks.

The question is whether Skrine or Gilbert will start opposite Haden. Skrine is listed ahead on the depth chart.

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said, “Buster will start, given that they give us the personnel group we anticipate them giving us.”

You could interpret that to mean that Skrine will start only if the Steelers open in a three-receiver alignment.

Either way, Skrine and Gilbert probably will wind up getting equal snap counts throughout the season due to the proliferation of multiple-receiver formations.

Despite some growing pains in the preseason, O’Neil said he was extremely happy with Gilbert’s development as the real season kicks off.

“I think he’s improved every day he’s been a Brown,” O’Neil said. “I think he had some great NFL experiences in the preseason that’s only going to make him better.

“I think he did a great job. Playing cornerback is probably the hardest position outside of quarterback in the league. I’m happy with where he’s at right now.”

J.G.’s new job: Suspended receiver Josh Gordon has landed a job with a Northeast Ohio car dealership, according to a report.

ESPN reported that Gordon will work as “goodwill ambassador” for the Sarchione Auto Group in Randolph, OH. The report stated that Gordon would head up the auto group’s community efforts and also would be a showroom floor salesman.

Pettine’s reaction: “Just due to the rules of the suspension, we’re not allowed to have contact with him. So I’m just finding out that news as well. That’s something I don’t want to get into because I just want to discuss the guys that are here. We want what’s best for him.”

On guard: Backup swingman Paul McQuistan (ankle) did not practice again, meaning he probably won’t be available in Pittsburgh.

It means the coaches have to scramble to prepare one of the new backup linemen claimed off waivers this week – Ryan Seymour or Vinston Painter – to serve as an emergency guard in the event of an injury to starters Joel Bitonio or John Greco. Both Seymour and Painter are listed as tackles.

“That’s why coaches get paid,” Pettine said. “We fly a guy in on a Monday and say get ‘em ready for Sunday. We’ve got to get creative with what we do. To me, that’s one of the exciting challenges of coaching, taking a guy that doesn’t know the system and in a short period of time get him up to speed. It’s something we’re tasked to do.”


Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi




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