One of the most interesting matchups of recent NFL seasons is the battle between A.J. Green and Joe Haden when the Bengals and the Browns play each other. Over the course of Green's first three years in the NFL, Haden generally got the better of Green most of the time.
In fact, Green only received two positive overall grades from Pro Football Focus for his efforts in the five total matchups between the two players during that time period. Haden recorded positively in all but one game.
Since then, Haden and Green have only met twice, both times in 2014 due to Haden's injury issues in 2015. Haden won the matchup in Week 9 on Thursday Night Football, holding Green to only three receptions for 23 yards. He won again in Week 14, holding Green to only five receptions for 49 yards. And, Haden was even beating Green back in college when Green played for Georgia and Haden for Florida.
It is worth noting, however, that Green was dealing with multiple injury issues that may have hampered his performances in 2014. That doesn't change anything about his poor performances against Cleveland from 2011-2013, but it might help explain just why those 2014 games were so bad.
In 2016, both players should return healthy and ready to compete. They should be in midseason form by Week 7 when the teams play for the first time in 2016, so the world will get a chance to see if one of the league's best receivers can finally overcome his demons against one of the league's best cornerbacks.
Haden and Green have been playing against each other since their SEC days when Haden played for the Florida Gators and Green played for the Georgia Bulldogs. Although Green is a little less than a year older, he didn't start playing in college until a year after Haden. As the two players both left after their junior seasons, Haden has been in the league for a year longer than Green.
The experience seems to have worked in Haden's favor so far, although it's hard to say what exactly is going to happen now that the two players are established veterans and haven't seen each other on the field in over a year. Bengals fans will surely be hoping that Green can overcome what seems like a mental block when he plays against the prolific Browns cornerback, but will probably be nervous given their history.
Since being drafted No. 4 overall by the Bengals in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Green has established himself as one of the best receivers in the league. Having started 76 of a possible 80 games since then, Green has recorded 415 catches for 6,171 yards and 45 touchdowns. He's recorded at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first five seasons, which is a feat that only Randy Moss can also claim.
Green will face off against great cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib, and Josh Norman in 2016 as he prepares to adapt to a Bengals receiver corps where he may be the only consistent factor from the previous season. However, the most interesting challenge for him, by far, will the matchup between him and his arch nemesis who resides about 250 miles northeast on I-71.
Despite being on teams that are very different in terms of wins per year, Haden's path to greatness has been fairly similar to his Bengal counterpart. Like Green, he has been surrounded with plenty of talent at his particular position. For Green, that has been guys like Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu. For Haden, it's guys like T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson, and Buster Skrine.
Since 2010, Haden has started 68 out of a possible 96 games. That relatively low number, compared to Green's starts, is largely due to not starting right away as a rookie and missing most of the 2015 season with a concussion and ankle injury. However, in those starts he has managed to record 262 tackles, 89 pass deflections, four forced fumbles, and 16 interceptions returned for 222 yards and a touchdown. He has shut down some of the NFL's best receivers in Green, Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson, and Julio Jones while generally playing well enough to be considered in the 'best corner in the league' conversation.
Who has the advantage?
Purely in terms of talent, you could consider this one a bit of a toss up. Green and Haden were both drafted by their respective teams with the expectation that they would both become one of the best players at their respective positions. Both players have generally lived up to that expectation and, at times, have been considered to be one of the only reasons either of their teams had a chance.
However, history favors Haden in this matchup. As mentioned, Green has only had one particularly good game against him so far in his career. There's a good chance that all of that could change now that each player has had a chance to reset after their last matchup. But, until Green proves otherwise, Haden has to be considered the more likely of the two to really make an impact in any game in which the two players meet.