What started on the fields of the Southeastern Conference when
The Browns’ top defensive back will face off against the Bengals’ elite receiver at Paul Brown Stadium this Sunday, and it is a matchup Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton is looking forward to watching.
“As long as they are both in the state of Ohio, it’s going to be that for a long time,” Horton said Thursday. “Not really having played A.J. before, not seeing him that much, I was impressed when I did an in-depth study. He’s done nothing to disappoint. He’s a fantastic young man. He’s in the mold of a professional, meaning 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 off the field.
“He just wants to be known as a ‘Standup professional that’s been there before’ type of player. The matchup between him and Joe is going to be a battle. They’re two good players on two good teams. They both have the skills to compete, not only compete in the league, but compete with each other. I’m sure they’d both tell you, ‘I enjoy that kind of challenge.’ I know Joe does.”
Green leads the Bengals, and the NFL, with 1,013 yards on 65 catches. He has added six touchdowns, including a league-long 82-yard score in a 27-24 win against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Oct. 20, as well as a 50-yard score at the end of regulation against the Baltimore Ravens last week, and has had at least 103 receiving yards in each of the last five games.
However, when Green last played the Browns, Haden limited him to 51 yards on seven catches and kept him out of the end zone.
Keeping the opposition’s best wide receivers from having big days is nothing new for Haden. On the season, he has broken up 12 passes while competing against the likes of Green, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Baltimore’s Torrey Smith and Jordy Nelson of the Green Bay Packers.
“Joe has done a fantastic job of being pressured to cover the rarest of athletes in the NFL that can run and jump and catch, without hitting the guy past five yards,” Horton said. “He’s having a fantastic year.
“Joe’s been that way all year for us. We always buy into that it’s an 11-man concept. Pressure up front helps so you don’t have to cover long. At times, they’re going to get the ball out and you’ve got to get the ball down.
“I remember when he was at Gainesville. Coming out, I was at his workout. He was a talented guy, a young guy. I met with him for probably an hour before his workout, and he’s everything that I thought he would be. He’s stepped up to the challenge of matching the other team’s No. 1 receiver, and he was that way coming out of school. I’m happy he’s everything I thought he was coming out of Florida.”
The Browns have an NFL-leading 11 players with multiple sacks this season, and rookie defensive end
In a limited amount of work, Bryant has registered two sacks for eight lost yards.
“He’s a young, very young player in the league that’s very athletic,” Horton said. “He is like Barkevious (Mingo in) that he is going to get better with time. He’s going to get bigger, he’s going to get stronger, and he’s going to get smarter. He’s got the instincts, the feel right now.
“I keep talking about our young team, our young defense is going to get better because these guys are going to get better. They’re going to get more comfortable with our system, how we call things. I’ll get more comfortable with what they do best. That’s really what our challenge is, how to move these young pieces around and understand what they do. We think our team is starting to get comfortable.”
Bengals running back Giovani Bernard has rushed for 419 yards and a Cincinnati-best four touchdowns on 95 carries in his rookie season. In addition to rushing for 4.4 yards per carry, he has the second-most catches, 38, on the team. Bernard has turned those 38 catches into 304 yards and three touchdowns.
“I thought that kid was going to be special, and he is,” Horton said. “He’s talented. Somebody said the run he had against the Miami Dolphins was the run of the year so far in the NFL. He’s a guy that we have to be patient with. Where he starts at is not necessarily an indicator of where he’s going to end up at. (He has) great balance, speed, vision, can catch. We thought he was going to be a talented player, and so far, he’s been that.”