BROWNS CB JAMAR TAYLOR VS. BENGALS WR A.J. GREEN
Taylor sharing the marquee in this matchup will take some getting used to. For the previous six years, it was Joe Haden who drew the assignment of trying to slow down Green, a six-time Pro Bowler. They had faced each other in the Southeastern Conference and looked forward to the biannual meetings in the AFC North. Haden, who was cut 11 days before this season, fared better than most and earned a spot on Green’s list of five toughest cornerbacks he’s faced.
“He was obviously a really good player,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said of Haden. “It is obviously going to be different for (Green).”
Green has played 11 games against the Browns — mostly against Haden — totaling 52 catches for 824 yards and six touchdowns, which is below his efficiency against the rest of the league.
“Joe, as I always said, has been one of the best I have seen week in and week out,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
Taylor found out quickly Haden’s cleats aren’t easy to fill. He hasn’t followed the No. 1 receiver everywhere on the field — as Haden often did — but saw Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton enough to have a few footprints on the back of his No. 21 jersey.
Brown is one of the league’s best and got a little lucky in traffic with 11 catches for 182 yards. Hilton was open all first half last week, finishing with seven catches for 153 yards and a touchdown, mostly with Taylor in coverage. Taylor didn’t shy away from his struggles, saying after the 31-28 loss to the Colts: “I’ve got to be better. I put this on me.”
He spent the week determined to bounce back.
“I just took it like any challenge,” he said. “I just came back to work, worked my butt off — first one in and last one out. I let it go.”
Green makes it easy to refocus, but he makes life difficult.
He’s 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and has a 5-inch height advantage on Taylor. Green can run every route in the playbook, consistently demonstrating the ability to get deep down the sideline and make contested catches over the middle. He had 10 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown last week in an overtime loss at Green Bay.
“He is one of the athletes you go against throughout the season where you circle it and you say this is one of the special ones, an All-Pro receiver,” said cornerback Jason McCourty, who will likely cover Green when he lines up on the left side of the formation.
“A.J. is one of those guys in the league that we have to know where he is at all times, maybe more so than anybody we have played so far, in all honesty,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said.
Green and Dalton came in together as rookies in 2011; Green was the No. 4 pick, Dalton No. 35. They teamed up for 461 completions, 6,753 yards and 44 touchdowns through 2016, becoming the most productive tandem in NFL history in their first six seasons.
“They know each other extremely well,” said Browns coach Hue Jackson, who was their coordinator in Cincinnati. “They have grown up in this league together. They have been through a lot and have had a lot of success together, and they still are one of the better combinations in football.”