- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green was so bothered by his play at Cleveland seven Sundays ago that instead of cycling through the coaches' film like he normally does during his personal game film review the next day, he turned to the televised copy.
What he saw angered him even more.
"It wasn't my best game," the Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl receiver began. "A lot of out of character stuff. I can't get frustrated like that ever."
On the sidelines, in between series of the Bengals' 17-6 loss to the Browns, Green was caught by cameras throwing his arms up in the air in exasperation and stalking off to corners of the bench on his own, visibly flustered by the way he and those around him were playing. Despite being targeted 15 times, he ended the game with seven catches for only 51 yards.
Part of the reason Green struggled so much in the Bengals' first meeting with the Browns was because of who was covering him, and how. Joe Haden, a former consensus All-America selection from the University of Florida and one of the best young cornerbacks in the conference if not the league, drew the responsibility of shadowing Green that day. With Haden's tight, physical, blanket-type coverage, Green had difficulty breaking away for too many long routes and picking up big gains after the passes he did catch.
On Sunday, the Green-Haden showdown enters its second act of the season.
"I'm just looking forward to getting better every week and have a better outcome," Green said when asked about the matchup.
This will be the seventh time in their football-playing careers that Green and Haden have met. They played twice in college when Green's Georgia Bulldogs lost back-to-back neutral-site games to Haden's Gators. In those meetings, Green caught eight passes for 141 yards. Haden, who was drafted one year ahead of Green, had 14 tackles and an interception in those same games.
Since Green's career began three years ago, the pair have squared off five times. If the meetings continue to trend the way they have so far, then Green ought to come out the winner of the battle this time.
In 2011 and 2012, whenever Green was held to a comparatively quiet game against the Browns in the teams' first meetings of those respective seasons, he posted a much better showing in the following contest that year. After being held to one catch, a touchdown, for 41 yards in his first game as a rookie in the 2011 opener, Green came back and caught three passes for 110 yards in the rematch against the Browns later that year. Held to just seven catches for 58 yards in an early-2012 game Haden didn't play in, Green went off in the next game against Haden, catching seven balls for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
"He's one of the best," Green said of Haden.
Haden's style of play made Bengals coach Marvin Lewis agree.
"I hate to compare people, but he's very good," Lewis said. "He's been that way, in my opinion, since he came here as a rookie. He's got great speed, length, and he's not afraid. He just keeps playing. He has all the qualities of great cornerbacks."
With 35 total tackles, Haden is well on pace to set a new career mark in single-season stops this year. He also has one interception, but that's far from the six he had as a rookie in 2010.
Along with the fast and fearless style of play Haden showcases, he also has a bit of trash-talking flamboyance about himself that seems to annoy the receivers he faces. While Green denied being bothered by Haden's antics -- after one hard hit on Green in the first meeting this year, Haden stood over him in a taunting fashion -- his frustrations seemed to stem from the brash manner in which Haden was handling him.
"That's what he does," Green said. "Their whole defense does that. That's the character of their defense."
Because of how quickly the Browns' intimidating front line can get into the backfield during pass rushes, Green is anticipating quicker throws from quarterback Andy Dalton. That means he'll still be running shorter routes against Haden. Until recent weeks when it seems more teams started sending full-house blitz packages more consistently at the Bengals, Dalton had been good about getting the ball out of his hand quickly.
Regardless of how quickly Dalton has been getting the ball out of his hand, Green's play has skyrocketed since he was abused by Haden. In the six games since, Green has caught 39 passes for 713 yards and three touchdowns. He has 239 yards after the catch in that stretch, as well, helping propel him into the league lead in receiving yards (1,013).
"He's got a lot more in him," Lewis said. "We need him to keep playing better and better and better. He's, if not our best player, one of our best players. He's got to play great. We've got to keep pushing him to play great."