Joe Haden and A.J. Green are the respectful rivals.
Haden, one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks, and Green, one of the top two or three wide receivers in the league, will go toe-to-toe again today at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. The two make for maybe the best individual matchup in the AFC North, one the judges would probably score a split-decision in the early rounds.
In the original NFL matchup last season, Green was held without a catch until a fluke 41-yard touchdown pass late in the game when no one on the Browns defense was ready for the snap. Later that year against the Browns, Green had three catches for 110 yards.
Haden missed a possible matchup with the Bengals during his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs last season. His first game back was against Green, who torched him for 135 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches, although the biggest chunk of it, a 57-yard touchdown pass with 5:21 to play, came in garbage time of a 34-24 Browns victory.
Green got the stats in that bout but not the win. Haden says he’ll take that trade.
The bell will be rung for Round 4 of the pro matchup today. They did play against each other in college; Haden at Florida and Green at Georgia.
“I look forward to it a lot,” Haden said. “If you want to be the best, you have to go against the best. I always say that, but with him and myself trying to be the player I want to be and going against somebody of his caliber, it’s a really good contest and matchup and I like it a lot.”
Miami Dolphins and former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace trash-talked Haden before the Browns’ Week 1 loss saying he “better be ready.” Haden was, as Wallace ended the game with one catch for 15 yards.
Green and Haden have a different kind of rivalry — one that’s as competitive on the field as any cornerback-receiver combo. But off the field, mutual respect for one another trumps trash talk.
Green said going up against Haden allows a receiver to see where he measures up in the league. He also paid Haden some high praise and believes he hasn’t gotten the credit he’s deserved.
“I feel like he’s one of the most underrated guys that gets no attention for being one of the best corners in the league,” Green said Wednesday. “I’m so surprised he never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro because he’s been doing it for four years at a consistent basis. I really don’t understand why people don’t give him the benefit of the doubt to being one of the best corners.”
Haden responded Thursday in kind.
“It’s special, just to hear him say that,” Haden said. “And the way I look at him is being one of the best receivers, I’d say the second best receiver in the league [behind only the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson]. Hearing that from him just [lets me] know that my work doesn’t go unnoticed. ... There aren’t too many A.J.s in the league.”
On the field, it’s business. The two do everything short of biting and clawing each other for every inch of grass. Then the clock reads 0:00, and it’s back to a handshake.
“With certain players, it’s not even the [trash] talk, it’s a respect,” Haden said. “After the game, hug it up. But during the game, I’m pushing him down, trying to throw him on the ground, he’s trying to pull me by. And you’re gonna get into it, for sure. But right after the game you’re gonna go, ‘Good work, see ya next time.’ ”
Haden’s objective today is to limit the big play, something he’s struggled with against the Bengals star. Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said Thursday that there’s an unwritten rule in the NFL that an offense will take four deep shots a game, one per quarter. The important thing is to figure out when the deep passes are coming and limit the damage. Green stands 6-foot-4 and has a knack for the spectacular, even one-handed catches. There aren’t many who are better at going up and getting the jump ball down the field. Haden knows this as well as anyone.
“You don’t want any deep balls, any passes over 30 yards,” he said. “You don’t want anything to go over your head. ... Just keep him in front of you.”
That’s a challenge that could prove to be easier said than done. In only his third season, Green is already among the elite at his position. Haden wants to be considered elite, and winning matchups like this one can push him into that group.
The weigh-ins are complete. At 1 p.m. today, the compliments stop and the bell tolls for Round 4.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.