BEREA— Throughout the summer months, when fans, commentators and analysts discussed the Cleveland Browns secondary, the words “best in the league” were often used.
Those four words might’ve been prefaced by phrases such as “amongst the” or “may be the,” but the words were said consistently, nevertheless.
After the Browns 31-10 loss to the Jets— a loss in which that secondary allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for 179 yards and two touchdowns— the aforementioned secondary is looking to earn their way back into the “best in the league” conversation.
“It’s important for us to bounce back as a secondary,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden said. “I think we definitely gotta tighten up. We gotta make our plays, get off the field on third down and, you know, it’s everybody, like me, Donte and everybody, we feel like we didn’t play up to our ability and we’re just ready to go back out there and get after it.”
Though they might not have played up to their lofty expectations, the secondary is actually somewhat encouraged by what they did last week, despite the sub-par statistics.
“We don’t feel like we played all that bad on the defensive side of the ball. The score might look differently than the game actually looks,” safety Donte Whitner said. “We’ll be alright.”
A week ago, the challenge for the Browns secondary was to halt a savvy veteran with a mind as good as any in the league.
This week, the challenge comes in the form of highly-touted rookie Marcus Mariota, who had a historic performance in his first-ever NFL start.
No matter the man behind center, however, Whitner believes the Browns know they can do some damage— physically or mentally— to their pass-throwing opponent.
“We have to be good on the early downs, put them in second-and-longs, third-and-longs and then we’ll be able to confuse them a bit,” Whitner said. “We’ve been able to confuse veteran quarterbacks, so it’s not even about being a veteran or a rookie, it’s about getting in the quarterbacks head, getting them in third-and-long and make them have to read and look at certain things.”
Haden agreed that the match against Mariota will be as much mental as it will be physical and he’s of the belief that the Titans quarterback is going to have a tough time determining what the Browns secondary will bring play-in and play-out.
“We're going to be disguising. I don't think he'll be able to pick out what we're doing,” Haden said. It’d be the same, but the way we'll be rotating with (Tashaun) Gipson and Donte (Whitner) and Tramon (Williams) and K'Waun (Williams), everybody will work together to disguise it a lot better.”
Although the dynamic duo of Whitner and Haden are focused on their jobs and want the secondary to be much better in their second test of the season, they also understand that a win in the home opener is the most important result of Sunday’s game.
“0-2’s not a good look,” Haden said. “You definitely want to get to 1-1 and, especially this being a home game and especially all that we put into the first game and go out there and lay an egg like that you want to just get that taste out of your mouth and go out there and show that’s that not the team that we want this team to be this season.”
Follow Hayden Grove on Twitter for all of your Browns news and updates from Berea: @H_Grove.