Highlighting Joe Haden this week comes with one large caveat. Calvin Johnson will play. If he does not, Haden's impact on the game significantly declines since a premier cornerback is not necessary to cover Kris Durham, Patrick Edwards or the ghost of Ryan Broyles that has allegedly been seen on the field a few times this season.
Assuming Calvin does play, he will be in for a tough matchup. Generally considered one of the handful of "shutdown corners" in the league, Haden's four-year NFL journey has progressed in spurts. After a fantastic rookie year in which he intercepted 6 passes, Haden was inconsistent in his sophomore season. His interceptions disappeared, his "stop percentage" (calculated by Football Outsiders) dropped and he began taking more penalties.
Things continued heading in the wrong direction at the beginning of the 2012 season. Before the team even broke training camp, Haden butted heads with Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur, was ejected from practice for excessive roughness and had a four-game suspension looming for Adderall use. After playing in the season opener, Haden served his suspension in Weeks 2-5. However, upon his return, he was extremely productive and allowed only 529 yards receiving on the season, bolstering his shutdown corner tag.
In 2013, Haden has picked up where he left off last season. Among his victims this year are two of the more talented young receivers in the league: A.J. Green and Mike Wallace. He held these two to 51 and 15 yards receiving, respectively. The Green matchup in particular is impressive, as the 6'4, 210 pound Green is much bigger than Haden's 5'11, 190 pound frame. The size difference was not an issue for Haden, as he dominated the physical battle and held Green to 4 yards less per catch than his 11.6 season average. The Browns defense is allowing a stingy 207.6 yards per game through the air this season, and Haden is the primary reason.
What does this mean against the Detroit Lions? For starters, no corner is capable of single-handedly shutting down Calvin on a consistent basis. Sure, Calvin has had slow games and corners have gotten the better of matchups occasionally, but that is the exception and not the rule. The problem that may arise is that Calvin is not 100 percent and Haden is known as an extremely physical corner. If Calvin's knee is bothering him, he may have a hard time fending Haden off at the line of scrimmage.
This, unfortunately, means that other players will need to step up. That did not happen at all last week, but just having Calvin on the field should affect the defense. The Browns are very good against the run, so the offense will have to be creative to lure the Browns out of stacking the box. The Green Bay Packers were able to zone in on Reggie Bush last week with Calvin missing in action, so the Lions have to find a way to give Reggie some room to work. If Calvin can prove he is healthy enough to demand attention, the Browns will be forced to provide Haden with safety help, which should free up the middle of the field for Reggie.
Finally, pay attention to Haden on Sunday, as the Lions may have a Haden junior in the making on the team. Darius Slay recently revealed his man crush of Haden. Let's hope some of Haden rubs off on Sunday.