A.J. Green stymied by 'great' Joe Haden

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
9:05
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- This time, just like the last time, an A.J. Green-Joe Haden tilt went in favor of the Cleveland Browns cornerback.

As much as Green, the Cincinnati Bengals' tall, wiry wideout from the University of Georgia wanted to have a better outing Sunday than the one he had seven weeks ago, Haden was committed to making sure that didn't happen.

But at the end of Sunday's game, Haden's efforts -- fueled by two first-quarter interceptions -- weren't enough. The Bengals still ended up winning, 41-20. That win, coupled with a Baltimore Ravens loss and a Pittsburgh Steelers victory pushed Cincinnati's (7-4) AFC North lead to 2 1/2 games over the remainder of the division. The Browns, Ravens and Steelers all sit at 4-6 in a three-way tie for second place.

[+] EnlargeJoe Haden and A.J. Green
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsA.J. Green had just two receptions for 7 yards, while cornerback Joe Haden had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a score.
Green, gaining just 7 yards on two receptions, had one of the worst performances of his career. It was enough for the player who entered the day leading the NFL in receiving yards to recognize the cornerback's work and to give a respectful nod.

"It's a tough road every time I go against him," Green said. "He's probably one of the best corners anywhere, but that also goes to their defense. The Browns have a real good defense and they scheme well. But he's also a great corner."

Haden's greatness aside, on a day when getting the win was the most important thing, Green added that individual numbers can take a backseat.

"My numbers are going to come regardless," Green said. "I'm just glad we came out with the 'W.' That's all that matters."

While Green-Haden V wasn't quite the classic that Green-Haden IV was, the matchup still lived up -- early, at least -- to its lofty pregame billing.

At the line of scrimmage in the first quarter, the physical Haden pushed Green around as much as he wanted. Green tried to respond by getting separation further downfield. That plan backfired.

Twice when Green exceeded the 10-yard mark on a route, he tried to slip double coverage by getting beyond Haden and into a soft zone. Both times, the zone Green thought he was getting into didn't match the one quarterback Andy Dalton was throwing to. The plays resulted in a pair of interceptions.

"I think there was a little miscommunication on what exactly we were doing," Dalton said. "Unfortunately it happened right there where Joe was able to make those plays."

The second of the two interceptions came when Dalton threw short of where Green turned around for the ball, and Haden jumped right into the passing lane. Barely breaking stride, Haden caught the ball and sprinted untouched for a 29-yard pick-six that pushed the Browns' early lead to 13-0.

"That's little stuff I need to clean up myself," Green said of being out of position. On both interceptions, he thought a linebacker dropped low, giving him a spot up top to make a play further downfield.

Back in September during the teams' previous meeting, Haden held Green to seven catches for just 51 yards. Like he did in that contest, Haden wasn't letting Green get open downfield. He was staying with him close to the line of scrimmage. When Green did catch a pass, he was always right there to come through with a swift tackle. Green only had four yards after the catch in that game.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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