The black-and-white map of the Hawaiian Islands taped inside Joe Haden’s locker serves as both motivation and reminder to the Browns cornerback.
His goal is to play in the Pro Bowl. He may be on his way.
“He’s playing phenomenal,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said of his teammate. “I would be surprised if he doesn’t make the Pro Bowl this year.”
But before he can begin making any winter travel plans, Haden has more work to do. This week, he’s preparing for a matchup Sunday against Detroit star wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the physical phenomenon nicknamed “Megatron” who keeps opposing coaches awake at night trying to devise ways to slow him down.
Johnson missed last week’s game against Green Bay with a knee injury, and was limited in practice this week. But the Browns are expecting Johnson to play, and if he does, Haden will be assigned to cover the 6-foot-5, 236-pounder with the wing span of a hang glider and speed to burn.
“Just look at the dude,” Haden said, describing Johnson. “He’s huge. He’s big, strong and fast. There’s nothing really else that you have to say about him, he’s so good.”
It’s another challenge for Haden, who has handled everything the Browns — or their opponents — have thrown at him this season.
In Week 4, Haden limited Bengals receiver A.J. Green to seven catches for 51 yards in Cleveland’s 17-6 win. Green was unable to get free from Haden for a big play, and finished with a 16-yard reception as his longest gain.
Green is a tough assignment. Johnson is a whole other level.
“I think he’s the only receiver I would say is better than A.J.,” Haden said. “The one thing about it is that his quarterback has so much confidence in him. It’s just no matter what, he can be covered, and he has so many opportunities to get to the rock. He’s going to throw it up no matter what.”
Haden has yet to get an interception this season, but that may have more to do with teams staying away from him. According to STATS, Haden is averaging 1.13 passes defensed per game, the second-highest average among NFL players with at least 50 passes broken up (PBUs) since 1994. Darrelle Revis is first at 1.23.
Haden hopes to one day be regarded on the same level as Revis. His performance against Green helped raise his profile, but Haden wants to take it higher, and a solid game could help him get more national exposure.
“It’s good for everybody else to hear about how good Calvin is, but I’m not putting anything past myself,” he said. “I like the challenge. I like to go up against somebody like him, because it lets me know exactly where I stand. If you go against the best receiver in the league and you hold your own and do your thing, it’s like what’s next?
“I want to be one of those corners that can be able to go up against the Calvins, go up against the A.J.s, and not be ‘Oh Joe, why are you so worried about him?’
“ (I’d rather it be) ‘Calvin, you have to go against Joe this week.’ You know what I’m saying? Maybe one of these days it’s going to be like that, but I’ll just go and grind and make sure I play one of my best games.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has enough confidence in Haden to allow him to take on Johnson without any help. But since the day he arrived in Cleveland, Horton, who coached two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson in Arizona, has been pushing Haden and demanding more.
So far, Haden has produced.
“Joe is one of the players we challenged to be better,” Horton said. “He is a player who has tremendous potential and we are trying to get that out of him and we’ve challenged him to be — and I joke with him — Patrick Peterson. Patrick wants to be great and we want to Joe to be great. It’s a way to challenge a guy to be better than maybe he knows he can be.”
Jackson has detected a drive in Haden to be the best.
“If you watch him in practice, he’s always competing,” Jackson said. “No matter what happens, he always competes. He’s one of those rare cornerbacks, not only can he cover but he’s willing to throw his pads on a hit as well. What Joe has to do and what he’s been doing is playing the game above the shoulders as well as his athletic ability. The quicker you understand that and understand how to study film, his game will go through the roof.”
Just as long as it drops Haden in Hawaii.
Browns OLB Jabaal Sheard isn’t a fan of Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, who has been fined and suspended in the past for illegal plays. “I just watched the highlights with him hurting somebody,” said Sheard. “It’s crazy. I respect how hard he plays, but I’m not a dirty player so I really don’t care for it. There’s offensive linemen that play like that. There’s a few guys out there that kind of just play that way. I don’t respect it. I don’t like it. He’s a great player. He’s a dominant player. I don’t think he needs to do all the dirty stuff.” Sheard (knee) and OLB Quentin Groves (ankle) are listed as questionable for Sunday. ... Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said QB Brian Hoyer will undergo surgery to repair his torn right anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 18 at the Cleveland Clinic. Hoyer, who led the Browns to wins in his first two starts, sustained the season-ending injury last week against Buffalo.