In Week Four, the Browns shocked the Bengals, thanks to a defense that limited receiver A.J. Green to 51 yards on seven receptions.
With the rematch coming this weekend in Cincinnati, Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton thinks his defensive backs can do it again.
“Joe [Haden] has done a fantastic job of being pressured to cover the rarest of athletes in the NFL — that can run and jump and catch — without hitting the guy past 5 yards,” Horton said Thursday, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. “So he’s having a fantastic year. I think [cornerback] Buster Skrine is having a fantastic year. I think [strong safety] T.J. Ward is having a fantastic year. And I think my biggest surprise and probably the MVP for me is [free safety] Tashaun Gipson. He has done a remarkable job for us.”
Whoa. Gipson (pictured) is the MVP? Why?
“Because he was a former corner that played limited snaps last year going to a position that requires a ton of smarts and you can never be wrong at the position, and he’s a much better tackler than I ever envisioned,” Horton said. “He’s got fantastic hands, and he’s tough and he makes very few mistakes. He’s protected some guys that may have been out of position.
“I use the word ‘unremarkable,’ meaning on a piece of paper when you’re watching practice and grading you don’t remark anything about him because he’s always in the right place doing the right thing. . . . He has very few mental mistakes, and he’s just been a fantastic player. It’s really for me a comfort because I know he’s going to be in the right place at the right time and do his job well.”
Still, the Browns primarily will be counting on Haden to handle Green, again.
“Joe is one of the best corners in the league and just a guy who can literally shut somebody down,” linebacker Paul Kruger said, via Ulrich. “We have all the confidence in the world in him, in his abilities. We definitely respect Green, and we know he’s an effective player. Obviously his play speaks for itself. We’re going to be doing what we can to make sure we minimize his productivity, and I think Joe’s obviously a big part of that.”
Haden and Gipson and the rest of the defense will be a big part of the effort to get a win on Sunday, against an increasingly desperate Bengals team that doesn’t lose at home. If the Browns can pull off the sweep, a previously unthinkable home playoff game could be in their not-too-distant future.