July 25, 2016

Partly cloudy

Joe Haden proves he’s a playmaker

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Dolphins threw deep at Joe Haden. They threw hooks at him. They threw screens at him. They ran at him.

Haden didn’t flinch.

The Browns No. 1 draft pick in April played his best game as a pro Sunday in Cleveland’s 13-10 victory over the Dolphins. Haden intercepted a pass for the fourth straight game, broke up a career-high four passes and made five tackles.

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He knew the Dolphins were testing him.

“They kept throwing it. I have no idea (why),” he said. “I thought after I broke up the first two that they weren’t going to throw two more. But I just feel like every play I go out there, I have to be ready for them to come at me, so I have to be on top of my game every play.

“One of my strengths is the deep ball, just staying on top and being able to make a play on the ball. So they just kept trying and I just kept knocking it down.”

“People are still testing him, and Joe’s finding ways to make plays,” linebacker David Bowens said. “I think he’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time.”

Haden made his second straight start, despite Eric Wright returning from a knee injury and playing in nickel and dime situations. Haden won’t be leaving the lineup anytime soon.

On Miami’s first possession, Chad Henne threw for Brian Hartline in the end zone from the 31-yard line. Haden was with him step for step and knocked the ball away with authority. Henne went after him again early in the second quarter, and Hartline had gotten behind him with a double move.

But similar to a breakup against Jacksonville, Haden closed the gap. The ball was well underthrown, and Haden was able to grab it.

“I’m very aggressive, so I jumped the first (move), but then I looked back and with my speed I caught up to him,” he said.

Safety Abram Elam, who had an interception that set up a first-half field goal, was dressing in the next locker.

“With his speed …,” Elam said, giving the rookie a hard time.

“I had a ways to go, but I think I was just a little bit faster,” Haden said of Hartline. “He started looking back and his eyes got big like he was about to catch the ball so I just looked back.”

Haden, who was in man coverage most of the day, has a team-high five interceptions and is the first Brown with a pick in four straight games since Ernie Kellerman in 1968. Ben Davis had an interception in seven straight earlier in ’68.

“It feels amazing,” Haden said. “It’s hard to describe. Just feels real good.”

The five picks are the most by a Cleveland rookie since Daven Holly had five in 2006. Haden also has a team-best 15 passes defensed. He said winning the starting job didn’t add any pressure, but he relished the big day.

“To do it in the (NFL), it was a statement. I felt like it was really meaningful,” he said.

Haden added to his good memories of Sun Life Stadium. The last time he was here, he played in the University of Florida’s national championship win over Oklahoma.

“He is so used to playing in this weather, that it is going to be a little different for him over the next four weeks,” coach Eric Mangini said of the closing stretch at Buffalo, at Cincinnati and two at Cleveland. “This is a nice little break for him, but now we have to enter into the frozen tundra over the next month. So I will get him some foot warmers and stuff and hopefully he continues to play at the same level.”

Mangini felt the need to add cornerbacks who could tackle after last season. Haden’s physicality is one of the reasons the Browns took him at No. 7, and he showed it a handful of times by coming up to stone running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown.

“That’s one of the things that we emphasized the biggest, because they felt like during the end of games we weren’t making tackles,” Haden said. “So that’s one thing we worked on in practice. It helped us out a whole lot, because everybody was making tackles.”

After the effort Sunday and winning the NFL’s rookie defensive player of the month for November, teams might think twice about going after Haden.

“I hope not, because I like to make plays,” he said. “I hope they keep throwing it over there.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.

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