If you read this blog, you would know that I prop up Joe Haden as much as any player in the league. It mostly comes from the mainstream football media not giving him his due as one of the premier shutdown corners in the game.
Ironically, that could easily be said about A.J. Green, the forgotten man in the weekly discussion around football parts about who the best receiver in the game is. Green’s name is left out of the discussion, or at least typically within the three to five range, while we fuss over the likes of Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones and Brandon Marshall.
News flash: A.J. Green is leading the league in receiving yards as of today, with 65 catches, 1,013 yards and 6 touchdowns, through ten games.
Both Haden and Green can be considered vastly underrated players at their positions. They do not play in huge markets and their teams have struggled over the years, although the Bengals have made two straight playoff appearances and the Browns are exceeding expectations this season.
On Sunday, they meet for the fifth time in the NFL and seventh overall. It has been a back-and-forth affair from their times at Florida and Georgia respectively. If you didn’t know, the Gators and Bulldogs participate yearly in one of the best rivalries in the South Eastern Conference (formerly known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party“), let alone the entire landscape of college football.
Haden’s freshman’s season was in 2007, Green’s in 2008. In their first meeting in 2008, Green got the best of Haden with five catches for 91 yards. In the second meeting, Haden was shadowing Green for most of the entire game and held him to only three catches for 50 yards.
Haden entered the league in 2009, while Green was drafted the subsequent year. Since then, you would have been hard-pressed to find a better receiver-cornerback battle over the last three seasons than the one of Haden and Green. If we look at some of the current matchups in the league, whether it is Sherman-Fitzgerald, Tillman-Johnson, Hall-Bryant, none of them come remotely close to the Haden-Green Bowl.
One of the great aspects of Haden that I have mentioned in the past, is the willingness of Haden and his past and present defensive coordinators (Rob Ryan, Dick Jauron or Ray Horton) to allow him to literally play on an island and matchup with the opposing team’s best receiver. As such, the state of Ohio has been privy to this great battle between the two All-Americans. In the four previous matchups, this is how the Haden-Green battle has transpired:
2011: Game 1: 1 catch, 41 yards 1 touchdown, 4 targets, Game 2: 4 catches, 110 yards, 0 touchdowns, 4 targets
2012: Game 1: 7 catches, 58 yards, 1 touchdown, 12 targets (Haden suspended, did not play). Game 2: 7 catches, 135 yards, 2 touchdowns, 11 targets
2013: Game 1: 7 catches, 51 yards, 0 touchdowns, 15 targets. Game 2: ???
From the previous four bouts, it is hard to get a great read as who was the winner and loser, but it seems to be slightly in favour of Joe Haden. Of course, Andy Dalton has struggled some with his downfield accuracy throughout his three-year career and Green is one of the best deep threats in the game.
In their first battle in the 2011 season, Haden was dominant as he held Green without a catch up until 10 minutes left in the game, where Green caught a 41 yard pass, his only reception of the game. Otherwise, Haden had batted away four balls and was blanketing Green the whole game. The second decision, Green used his tremendous leaping and overall athletic ability to high-point a ball over Haden for a 51 yard catch. Green would fail to reach the end-zone, but I would conjure up that as a win for Green.
In last season’s first matchup against the Browns, Haden was suspended and did not play. Green had an okay game and while he did score a touchdown, it was Eric Hagg and not Joe Haden who was defending Green when he ran his comeback route and scampered in the endzone for a 10 yard touchdown.
The second matchup saw Green absolutely dominate the Browns for two touchdowns. As you will see below, Haden was playing what looks like zone coverage for the first score, in what resembles a cover two type of defense where the corner takes the flat zone. It makes sense for teams to go with a zone defense when they are in the red zone, from five to ten yards out of the goal, as you can cover more of the end zone and defend as many passing lanes as possible.
On the onset, it looks like Haden completely lost his Green who appeared to be his initial responsibility, but he then breaks off his pursuit of Green when a Bengals receiver is running a crossing route at the three yard line. Nevertheless, Green got a touchdown here in a bad coverage by the Browns.
His second touchdown, was a clean win off of Haden, who despite giving Green a good eleven yards off the line of scrimmage, was still not able to keep up. The Browns are in a man-to-man alignment with two deep safeties on a 3rd and 17, and that still couldn’t stop Green from blowing past the entire secondary.
In the first meeting of this season, Haden definitely got the best of Green. He ran his patterns for him and jumped his routes on numerous occasions. It did not help that Andy Dalton, was (and currently is) struggling with accuracy issues.
Here, is a 3rd and goal play on the eight yard line, where Haden, while not directly lined up on Green, was able to read the play and attack him with great closing speed, wrap him up and hold Green to no gain. It also appears like he makes a call at the line of scrimmage where he switches the coverage of Green from Chris Owens (who is lined up directly on Green, pre-snap) to himself.
On another play, Haden gives Green an eight to ten yard cushion as a pre-snap look. Green runs a poor route as he rounds off his break too much and doesn’t use his body well enough to seal his defender. Haden, who has terrific anticipation skills, reads the play easily and jumps the route, almost intercepting the pass.
Green was stymied for the entire game and could not get anything going, finishing with 7 catches and only 51 yards.
What Haden does best: Haden is as physical a corner as you will find in the league. He is so good at re-routing his man and forcing them to use the release that HE wants as opposed to the release they want. Conversely, he uses great hand tactics, be it at the line of scrimmage when he is pressing the receivers, or hand-battling down the field to gain position. Part of being physical means that you are a sound tackler as well. For a position that has often had players who want nothing to do with laying a hit, Haden has no qualms about making contact.
What Green does best: A.J. Green is an athletic marvel who can run like the wind with his long strides. One of his greatest assets is his ability to make level ten difficulty catches, despite a corner being drenched all over him. We’ve seen him do it countless times in his three seasons in the league and it continuously leaves defensive backs and coordinators flabbergasted, especially when he is seemingly covered perfectly. He extends his hands at the perfect time to make the catch. Part of this great skill is the ability to track the ball while it is in the air and adjust to it if need be. Aside from possibly Calvin Johnson, there is no player who can “high-point” the football as well as Green can.
This battle between two former SEC rivals has been one of the best matchups in the league. Haden, along with Green, have great admiration and mutual respect for each other. The best part about it? Haden is only 24 and Green is 25. This battle will hopefully go on for a very long time as both players dominate their respective divisions in the AFC North.
You can watch this matchup tomorrow on CBS at 1:00 PM.