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Breaking Down A.J. Green's History With Joe Haden

It's one of those premiere match ups that the game commentators love to talk about - a top three receiver versus a top three cornerback. Green was quiet against the Browns in 2013, but is this part of a larger trend? We take a deeper look.

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Wide receiver A.J. Green has played against Joe Haden for much of his career. They played each other in both 2008 & 2009 when Green was at Georgia and Haden was at Florida.

In these two games, Green averaged four catches and 70 yards, but Georgia lost both games in blowout fashion. Haden also had a pick-six in the 2008 game, on a play that was completely the Georgia quarterback's fault.

Haden entered the NFL one year ahead of Green, but it wasn't long before they saw each other again. In Week 1 of 2011, Green had zero receptions on three targets halfway through the fourth quarter. Then, backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski quick-snapped the ball and lofted a 41-yard touchdown pass to Green to take the lead. The Browns defense wasn't set up at all, especially Joe Haden, who had barely left the defensive huddle when Green easily ran downfield.

The play was Green's first NFL catch and his first NFL touchdown. It was obviously within the rules of the game (the offense doesn't have to wait for the defense to set up), but it's a bit unfair to call this a "win" for Green, who simply ran forward and caught a lobbed ball. Because of this reasoning, the 41-yard quick snap touchdown is not included in the table below.

A.J. Green Joe Haden
Year (week) Catches Targets Yards TDs PFF pass grade INTs breakups PFF coverage grade
2011 (1) 0 3 0 0 -0.7 0 1 +3.8
2011 (11) 3 4 110 0 +0.9 0 0 -1.0
2012 (6) 4 6 88 1 +3.3 0 1 +2.8
2013 (4) 5 9 41 0 -0.4 0 2 +2.2
2013 (11) 1 3 3 0 -1.7 2 0 +3.2

This table specifically excludes any catches Green made against other defensive backs and any breakups/interceptions made by Haden when he was not covering Green.

In the one 2012 game (Haden didn't play in the other game), Green had his best day against Haden by far. He earned a +3.3 pass grade from PFF and posted a stat line of seven catches, 135 yards, and two touchdowns. Three of these receptions (for 47 yards and a touchdown) came against other cornerbacks, and that exclusion is reflected in the table above. Green did most of his damage on one play, a 57-yard touchdown with Haden in coverage.

In fact, 45 percent of Green's career yardage with Haden in coverage has come from two plays. The other one was essentially a game-winner in the week 11 matchup in 2011.

The point is, Green hasn't been able to make many intermediate catches against Haden. His other yardage mostly comes from hitch and comeback routes. In re-watching all of these catches, it's clear that Haden doesn't give up much separation to Green. His physical play at the line of scrimmage disrupts Green's routes and timing with Dalton. Haden is usually right on Green's hip every play and ready to make the immediate tackle if Green makes the reception.

Andy Dalton has a 52 percent completion percentage when throwing to Green while Haden is covering. Most of these incompletions have been Dalton's fault, as he was maturing through his first three years. Dalton either threw high, out of bounds, or late and inside.

Haden has intercepted Dalton three times. The first came when Dalton threw high to Green, covered by another cornerback. The ball was tipped up into the air, then it fell into the chest of Haden. Haden's two other picks both came in 2013, in the first quarter of the week 11 game. The first was a pure miscommunication between Dalton and Green. Green started to cut inside across the middle of the field, while Dalton expected him to cut back toward the line of scrimmage. The second pick was completely on Dalton. The throw was late and inside on a sideline route to Green. Haden read Dalton's eyes and easily jumped the pass for a pick six.

Overall, blame for much of these incompletions goes to Dalton, not Green. However, the PFF grades help explain that Green has not gotten much separation from Haden over the course of each game. For whatever reason, Haden plays some of his best coverage against the Bengals, and the Dalton-Green connection is suffering because of it. When the Bengals face the Browns tomorrow night, Green will have to get separation from Haden more consistently and Dalton's throws need to be on time and on target.