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The most influential player for the Browns wasn’t on the field Sunday.

By Pat McManamon

If one guy let the Browns down in their loss to the Bengals it was Joe Haden.

His four-game suspension left the secondary in tatters, especially when the coaching staff decided to replace Sheldon Brown with Buster Skrine.

The ripple effect reminded me of the time a few years back when the Browns were in the playoffs against Pittsburgh and the Steelers were without one of their starting corners. A wise scribe from Pittsburgh told me it didn’t matter much that the third guy moved up, but the problem came when the fourth guy had to play nickel.

That fourth guy was Hank Poteat, and he got pretty well roasted by Kelly Holcomb.

Same with Sunday in Cincinnati. Without Haden, Dimitri Patterson moved into the lineup. But when the Browns chose not to play Brown, Skrine went from fourth to second. And the nickel back became rookie Trevin Wade, who started the season as the fifth defensive back.

The result: Five catches by Armon Binns, a long touchdown to Brandon Tate and an electrifying play by Andrew Hawkins after the catch.

Those are not exactly the Bengals you expect to beat you.

And it started with missing Haden. Play him and he locks down a receiver. One good cover guy changes the nature of an entire defense. But he was absent, somewhere watching as his teammates struggled.

Brown’s absence was a little more confusing. He took a shot to the shoulder/neck area in the opener. Shurmur said he was fine. Whatever the reason, he was on the field for one play. Which meant the third and fourth corners were starting.

I heard some folks on Twitter say that Haden shouldn’t be faulted for this loss, and in one sense he shouldn’t be: He was not on the field.

But the fact he was not may have been the single most important thing that affected the Browns defense.

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