Hall of mirrors


HOUSTON — Matchups, matchups, matchups. All sorts of matchups in Saturday's Wild Card game (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Houston:

While with Tennessee, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones dueled with Texans Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson twice a year.

Both kickers, Cincinnati's Mike Nugent and Houston's Neil Rackers, have not only worked in Cincinnati but also bring playoff experience from elsewhere; Nugent with the Jets and Rackers with the Cardinals.

Texans wide receiver Kevin Walter, a former Bengal who broke Cincinnati's heart last month with that six-yard touchdown catch with two seconds left, goes against a defense that features the only other players on the field that were in the Bengals '05 Wild Card game against the Steelers: left end Robert Geathers and end/tackle Jon Fanene.

But the most intriguing matchup continues to be the Pro Bowl showdown of two No. 1 Bengals draft picks, Bengals rookie wide receiver A.J. Green and Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph.

Leon Hall, shelved by a season-ending torn Achilles, has a unique perspective. He was on the opposite corner of Joseph for four seasons before Joseph left via free agency before this season and he covered Green in practice.

"It's going to be fun to watch," said Hall this week on a visit to the Bengals locker room. "Last time was a good battle. I've had a lot of experience with J-Joe and A.J. pretty much catches everything. It's two Pro Bowlers going at it."

In the 20-19 win over the Bengals Dec. 11, Joseph returned to Paul Brown Stadium to keep Green out of the end zone. But Green did get him in one third-quarter drive for a 36-yard jump ball and a 25-yard pass interference penalty.

"He can jump higher than you," Joseph said. "And he can run, and I think every week he's been getting a lot better as far as being a total receiver running routes, setting corners up. The one thing you worry about him is his jumping up. You think you have him covered and he makes the catch anyway."

It's not an easy technique for a cornerback. Joseph and Hall both are just under six feet, tough duty when working against the 6-4, 207-pound Green and the 6-3, 219-pound Johnson.

"You know in the back of your mind you have to get your head back around and see the ball as early as you can so you can rise up and get it," Hall said. "Quarterbacks do that (throw jump balls). They have a lot of faith in their receivers. If I had A.J., I'd do the same thing. The thing you worry about it is getting your head around as soon as you can and jump as high as you can, which is obviously hard to do since your three inches shorter."

For the second time in three weeks the Bengals go against a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver that has been compared to Green. First it was Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald. Now it is Andre Johnson, a guy that Hall went against at PBS two years ago.

"Obviously (Green) is not as big, but I think he can jump as high as him, he's more athletic than him a little bit. Andre Johnson has been a great receiver in this league. A.J. obviously possesses a little different talent. He's just become a total receiver. He was a total receiver when he came in, but he wasn't experienced. You could tell (now) he's setting cornerbacks up. He's running better routes."

Hall and Joseph are still close. When Joseph got done with his game back on Nov. 13 and found out Hall had blown out his Achilles against Pittsburgh, Joseph called him right away. When Joseph made the Pro Bowl for the first time last week, Hall called him. It had always been a debate which one would go to the all-star game first, but Hall said didn't they didn't talk about it in that way.

"It goes beyond football," Hall said. "He's a good friend of mine. He'll probably always be a good friend of mine."

Joseph was always supposed to the athletic, brittle guy while Hall is perceived as solid-state durable. Before this season Hall had never missed a game and barely any practice time while Joseph missed a total of 13 games in his five seasons.

Now Hall is in a boot and Joseph hasn't missed a practice and is in the Pro Bowl.

"How things change. I'm happy for him," Hall said. "He's athletically gifted. He can run. He's smarter than a lot of people give him credit. He's known for his athletic ability but he's very smart on the field."  

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