CINCINNATI – A.J. Green and Joe Haden know each other well. It goes back to their days in college, when Green was at Georgia and Haden at Florida, and has continued for the last two seasons when the Bengals and Browns play.
Every NFL game offers a few intriguing one-on-one matchups. Don’t take your eyes off of Green and Haden Sunday. These two alone will be worth the price of admission, or your TV bill.
Green leads the Bengals with 19 catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the first three games this season. Haden has three pass breakups and gets the responsibility of covering the opponent’s best receiver each week. He doesn’t come off the field. The Browns won’t leave Haden alone with Green all of the time, but they could and feel good about their chances.
“He’s got such good feet, got good ball skills. He’s quick,” said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who has to find a way to get the football to Green. “That’s the biggest thing for him, and he plays with a lot of confidence. When you’ve got all of those things you’ve got a chance to be pretty good. He’s done a good job and he’s a really good corner.”
Green doesn’t get many one-on-one opportunities. He had as many as he’ll probably see all season in the season opener at Chicago, where the Bears let Peanut Tillman go mano y mano against all comers. Green had nine catches for 162 yards for two touchdowns. Tillman also had two interceptions on passes intended for Green.
Pittsburgh will give Ike Taylor some one-on-one time but usually keeps a safety over the top. Green Bay rarely left Sam Shields by himself. One time the Packers did, Green beat Shields for a 20-yard touchdown that started the Bengals’ rally back from being down 30-14.
“It’s similar more to Pittsburgh than anything, with the best corner on me and sometimes rolling to me or sometimes singling up,” said Green of how the Browns have defensed him in the past. “Even with Ike, they still rolled to me a couple of times. We’ll see when we get there.”
In four career games against the Browns, Green has 18 receptions for 244 yards and four touchdowns. His lone catch in his NFL debut at Cleveland in 2011 came when the Bengals caught the Browns still huddled up and Bruce Gradkowski threw a 41-yard touchdown to an uncovered Green for what proved to be the winning points in a 27-17 Bengals victory.
In the second game that season, Green’s 51-yard reception that set up Mike Nugent’s game-winning 26-yard field goal came against Haden.
Haden has had his moments, as well. He’s played five times against the Bengals and has one interception. It came last year in Cleveland as the Browns snapped Cincinnati’s four-game winning streak in the series, 34-24.
“He’s so patient. He’s great in and out of his breaks. He drives to the ball. Just little things like that,” said Green. “I’ve played against him quite a bit. I know what he likes, I know what he’s good at. I’m just going to have to go work him. He’s probably one of the best young corners in the league. He does everything well.”
Green is going to garner most of the attention from any defense the Bengals face; he’s shown the dangers of not doing so this season against the Bears and Packers. That attention, in theory, should open more opportunities for others in the offense. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert have a combined 24 catches for 228 yards. Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones have caught a combined 20 passes for 207 yards. Jones had a key 11-yard touchdown in last week’s comeback against Green Bay. Giovani Bernard has already made his presence felt running the ball and as a receiver.
The Bengals have turned the ball over seven times. If they limit those mistakes, more people get more touches.
Dalton targeted Green just twice in the first half against Green Bay. Shields intercepted one of the passes. Green had four catches for 46 yards in second half. Green is teaching himself to keep any frustration level down.
“As long as other people are getting open, I’m fine,” said Green. “It’s going to help me out in the long run, just opening up me a little more in the end. Somebody else is going to make the play, and as they keep making plays that’ll open up more stuff for me. I’m getting used to it, when you’re not involved in the game. It happens like that. It comes with the territory. I’m fine with it. As long as we come up with the W.”