Third-year Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden has played two NFL games and four total against long-time nemesis, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, a battle dating back to their respective collegiate games between Florida and Georgia. During two Florida spankings in 2008 and 2009, Haden largely contained Green with a combined eight receptions for 141 yards receiving in both games combined. Yet the familiarity between both players is strong.
"He knows what I do and I know what he does," Green said. "He knows my strength. Just a battle, we are just going to be out there grinding we are going to see what happens. Definitely have respect for him because he's a great player in this league. You have to respect him."
An unprepared Haden (and the Cleveland Browns defense for that matter) watched Green haul in a 41-yard touchdown pass during the 2011 regular season opener. Later that year during Week 12, Haden allowed five receptions for 125 yards receiving to Bengals receivers and an opposing passer rating of 118.8. All the while Green has 11 career receptions against Cleveland for 209 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Last year Green said of Haden:
"I think he's just a good cover guy. He really doesn't come up there and try to challenge you that much, but you have to run precise routes because he's going to be on you in and out of your breaks, so you have to run good routes."
After Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis reiterated that point on Wednesday by saying he's not "cumbersome around the receiver", Lewis went on to praise Haden.
"You would say (Haden) is bred to be a cornerback," Lewis said. "He's got speed, he's got length he can play the football in the air. Great ball skills. He has a real feel around receivers."
Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban similarly talked Haden up.
"There's very little Joe Haden lacks. He's got good size, great speed, he's physical, he's real tough at the line and he can go down the field. And he's got good instincts. He's one of the elite corners in the league and we'll approach him as such."
This will be the first meeting between Haden and Green after the starting cornerback was forced to serve a four-game suspension starting on Week Two. And Haden, who he calls the best receiver in the NFL, is already looking to make a statement with Green this weekend.
"Perfect timing," Haden said of his matchup with Green. "At least when I come back, I can try to make a statement going against somebody in the division like him. I feel like once I come back and just do my thing this game, and then I'll just be back."
The Bengals however are coming off a disappointing showing in Cincinnati last weekend, a 17-13 loss that they should have arguably won. Entering week six against the Cleveland Browns, if the Bengals lose it could significantly impact their postseason chances this year. Green, who has a streak of four consecutive games with a touchdown, only posted 68 yards receiving against the Miami Dolphins.
We're not sure if Green vs. Haden will be the match that determines Sunday's game. But damn, it'll be a good one.