Upon Further Review: Special Teams

Joe Haden wasn't the only Brown to have a career day against the Dolphins

Although some would characterize the Browns' 13-10 victory over the Dolphins as "ugly", head coach Eric Mangini obviously saw things differently.  When asked if there is such a thing as an "ugly" win, Mangini offered the following.

"They're all beautiful.  They're all special in their own way."

As for the beauty component, perhaps it's best to leave such a perspective in the eye of the beholder.

After all, 5-7 is much prettier than 4-8.

Despite the plodding pace of Sunday's win and the nervous energy of another last second finish – something that has become characteristic of the Browns' 2010 season – there were several exciting developments that occurred.

In many ways, rookie corner Joe Haden enjoyed his NFL coming out party, as he was a force all over the field – registering six tackles, four pass breakups and collecting an interception.  Beyond Haden, the Browns also experienced a revitalization of sorts from veterans Shaun Rogers, Jake Delhomme and Ben Watson – all of whom contributed to another close victory.

And while some would correctly suggest that the Browns finally caught a break with Mike Adams' fourth quarter interception, perhaps the most significant development found on Sunday came from a usually reliable source.

Or, for another perspective, take a look at how Mangini began his Monday press conference.

"I thought that we played some smart, complementary football.  That's what you have to do, too, is each phase has to contribute to the win.  Our coverage teams were good. I thought that Reggie (Hodges) did a really nice job punting the ball.  Being able to kick the winning field goal there at the end, obviously that was important as well."

Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And when an offense is anything but attractive, excellent special teams play is simply gorgeous.

In an ideal football universe, the Browns would have offered more entertainment for its fan base en route to another win.  However, the overall development of the Browns is far removed from worrying about style points. 

Speaking of things ideal, it's worth suggesting that Sunday's win could have marked the launching point for Haden's career.  With some good health and fortune, Haden could ascend to a Pro Bowl level and in the future, we can trace its origins to South Florida.

However, another star rose on Sunday – one whose name does not have the fanfare of a first-round draft pick.

Simply put, punter Reggie Hodges had an outstanding performance on Sunday – one that was key to his team claiming a tough road victory.

Hodges gave a Herculean effort, blasting nine punts for a 48.7 average and pinning the Dolphins inside their own 20 twice. 

However, if we go beyond the numbers and relate Hodges' performance to the team's overall effort, it's clear that the Browns' punter served as a 12th defender throughout the afternoon.

If we look at the fourth quarter alone, Hodges continually forced the Dolphins deep on their own side of the field.  Hodges pinned the Dolphins' Davone Bess along the sideline early in the quarter, before blasting two massive punts – including a 59-yarder that ultimately set up the Browns' game-winning turnover.

In a game where points came at a premium and field position was precious, Hodges continually bailed out both the offense and defense with his performance.

But again, it's hard to figuratively put lipstick on a punter. 

Of course, it's also worth noting that Hodges essentially saved the game for the Browns on the final play.  Hodges snagged an uncharacteristic high snap from Ryan Pontbriand, giving kicker Phil Dawson enough time to make a game-winning kick.

And in a game where every snap ultimately counted, Hodges saved his best for last.

As for the rest of the special teams units, the Browns' kick coverage personnel were effective.  On nearly every kick, the trio of Mike Adams, Jason Trusnik and newcomer Sabby Piscitelli were the first defenders down the field.  There were no huge gaps in coverage to be found throughout the afternoon and the legs of the special teams coverage units – taxed to an extreme level – remained fresh until the end of the game.  Adams in particular made several tackles, including a game-changing leg grab of Bess that set up the Dolphins' ill-fated final possession.

Although a still hobbled Josh Cribbs didn't produce much in the return game, it was a thing of beauty to watch Trusnik smash his body into defenders.  Trusnik's blocking again shined on Sunday – at least if one considers special teams wedges as capable of such of thing.  But then again, perhaps the entire tone of Sunday's game was established on the opening kickoff, as rookie safety T.J. Ward delivered one of the hardest hits of the season. 

This hit, much like the overall play of the special teams, was indeed a thing of beauty.

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