Both are in their NFL infancy, so this matchup will be something to watch for many years.
A close second?
There is such respect and maturity about the competition. Haden and Green seem to genuinely like each other, and admire the way the other plays. There is no trash talk, nothing ridiculous.
Browns cornerback Joe Haden facing Cincinnati's A.J. Green is one of the NFL's best matchups.
Just good, competitive football.
“It’s all in love,” Haden said.
It’s pretty much the way it should be. Both will fight like mad for their teams, but both are more than friendly off the field.
“That’s the same with Torrey (Smith), with a lot of these receivers I go up against,” Haden said. “There’s no extra beef. We’re really good competitors. And it’s cool. Because after the game you can sit and talk and hang out.
“It’s super cool having the players I go up against being good guys.”
The Bengals have a rare talent in Green, and a rare person. He entered the league with the professionalism of a veteran, standing in the locker room after the Bengals' playoff loss his rookie season and saying of the next season: “I’m ready to go to work.”
“He’s a fantastic young man,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “He’s in the mold of a professional, meaning that you don’t see the hyperbole with him. He just goes out and does his job and gets back in the huddle. He doesn’t want the extra attention from off of the field. He wants to be known as a stand-up professional, a guy-that’s-been-there-before player.”
Presumably Green would say he has the same kind of respect for Haden. No player on the Browns seems to have grown more in one offseason. He seems more dedicated, more focused and more mature than a year ago, when he missed the first four games because of a suspension.
Maybe it was that experience, maybe it was getting married, but Haden is reaching his on- and off-field potential more than ever this season.
His first game against Green was the first indication that Haden was ready to, as Horton said, take the “potential” from “potential Pro Bowler” from his name.
Green caught seven passes, but had just 51 yards -- and had no catches longer than 16 yards. That game sent Green on a streak of five games when he had 36 catches for 598 yards, with three touchdowns, as if he took the game against Haden personally.
“If he does, he does; if he doesn’t, he doesn’t,” Haden said. “No matter how you take it, you still have to go out and do it. I’m taking the game with my approach. He can go out however he wants to. But it’s going to be a battle.”
Haden has been doing good work all season. Every game he is assigned to the opposing team’s best receiver, be it Baltimore’s Smith, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson or Miami’s Mike Wallace, who had one catch for 15 yards.
“He’s stepped up to the challenge of matching the other team’s No. 1 receiver,” Horton said.
Green enters the game with the longest catch in the AFC (82 yards), and the most receiving yards in the NFL (1,013). Haden’s goal: Keep Green from the big play, because in just three seasons in the NFL, Green has done some serious damage to the Browns with big catches.
“Stay on top,” Haden said. “Make sure he doesn’t really affect the game like that. He’s a really, really good player at the same time. We make sure we pay a little extra attention, make sure he doesn’t affect it.”
It’s the kind of matchup players enjoy, and fans enjoy watching.
And if both players continue on their career paths, it could be a matchup that folks will see on NFL Films for many years to come.