“To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.”
That has long been the quote of challengers to championships in individual sports like boxing and wrestling, but to fourth-year Cleveland Browns defensive back
And much like he has faced all season, Haden could get another challenge if he faces the NFL’s most productive receiver, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, when the Lions come to FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday. Johnson is recovering from a knee injury, and his status for the game is uncertain, as he was limited in Thursday’s practice.
“Going against great players makes you want to step up,” Haden said. “I’ve got Calvin. I’ve got to make sure I study him, make sure I come out there and play my best.
“It’s good for everybody to tell me how good Calvin is, but I’m not putting anything past myself. I like the challenge. I like to go up against somebody like him because it lets me know exactly where I stand. If you go up against the best receiver in the league and you hold your own, you do your thing, it’s like, ‘What’s next?'
"I want to be one of those corners that can go up against the Calvins, go up against the A.J. (Greens), and it not be, ‘Oh, Joe, why are you so worried?’ and more of, ‘Calvin, you have to go up against Joe this week.’ Maybe, one of these days, it will be like that, but I’m just going in and making sure I play one of my best games.”
“He’s a player that has tremendous potential, and we’re trying to get that out of him,” Horton said. “We’ve challenged him to be that, and I joke with him, Patrick Peterson (of the Arizona Cardinals). Patrick Peterson wants to be great, and we want Joe to be great, and he’s accepted the challenge. He understands the inside joke of: ‘Patrick wouldn’t do that.’
“It’s a way of challenging a guy to be better than he knows he can be. He’s going to be on the team’s best receiver most of the time, and he’s got the ability, and he’s got the mindset to accept that challenge. I think it’s a great challenge every week because every week, you play someone really, really good.”
And a good challenge is exactly what Haden will get this week should Johnson be able to play.
Although Johnson did not play in the Lions’ 22-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, he still leads Detroit with 312 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 21 receptions.
He has turned 509 career receptions into 8,148 yards and 58 touchdowns, and is one of only four receivers in NFL history to average 100 or more yards over a 50-game span, a streak that dates back to the 2010 season.
“With him, you’ve always got to know where he’s at,” Haden said. “They move him around, and they just try to get him the ball any way possible. His quarterback has so much confidence in him, that he’d be able to just go up and get the ball. His range of catching the ball is tremendous. He can go up and get it. He’s fast, strong, and he has a really good quarterback throwing it to him, so that always helps.
“Covered or not covered, the ball is going to come. You’ve got to be in a tight position to be able to make a play on it because you could be on top, and they’re still going to throw it. You could be trailing, and wherever you are, the ball could still be coming that way.”