A.J. Green is one of the NFL's elite wide receivers. There's really no arguing that assertion. In his fourth season, Green has been to the Pro Bowl three times and has been named Second-Team All-Pro twice.
He is the Cincinnati Bengals most dangerous weapon. This season, Green has uncharacteristically missed four games, but has still found a way to produce. On the season, he's been targeted 99 times by Andy Dalton, hauling in 61 receptions for 959 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The Broncos will have their hands full tonight. Green's combination of speed, hands and body control are unmatched in the NFL. Head coach, John Fox, spoke about Green's attributes on Friday.
“He has a great combination," Fox said via the team. "He has body control, he has length, he has speed. The length part makes it tough to keep the ball from [him]. He’s a good ball-getter. He can go by you. Even being a bigger guy, some guys don’t have all those natural abilities like him. You knew he was going to have great success and that is why he was so highly rated coming out.”
Fox liked Green coming out of the University of Georgia in 2011. The Broncos held the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft, and although they ended up using it to select Von Miller, they did their due diligence on Green and considered drafting him.
“He’s a guy that was looked at in our spot [at No. 2 overall in 2011]," Fox said. "Obviously you look at just about everybody and kind of what fits you best. I think I told people then I’d like to have all of them, but they don’t let you do that. He’s a terrific player. I think he made a great impact his rookie season, and he’s just gotten better since.”
Even Demaryius Thomas, a perennial Pro Bowler in his own right, can appreciate the special skill-set of Green.
“I played against him in college," Thomas said. "He’s just athletic, goes up and gets the ball, runs great routes. We trained together in the offseason and we still keep in touch. He’s a great player.”
As Brandon Perna recently mentioned, there has been a pattern to Green's production lately. Over the last four games, his game stats look like this.
Week 12: 12 receptions, 121 yards
Week 13: 4 receptions, 57 yards, 1 TD
Week 14: 11 receptions, 224 yards, 1 TD
Week 15: 5 receptions, 49 yards
Do you see the pattern? Green has a huge day and the next week, not quite as prolific. Looking at his numbers last week, and factoring in said pattern, it seems as if he is due for another big day. At least, on paper.
It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, schemes around Green. Like his boss, Del Rio recognizes Green's talents and knows that he'll present the Broncos a formidable obstacle tonight.
“He’s a great player, Del Rio said Friday. "We saw him in person over at the Pro Bowl a couple years ago, and have gone up against him in the past. [He is] a terrific football player. We’ll do the best we can with him. We have good corners, we have good design and we’ll do some things to make sure that we give him plenty of attention. But it can’t be all about stopping one guy. It’s about stopping their offense, but he’s a big part of it. He’s a good player.”
Del Rio is right. It can't all be about stopping Green. The Broncos will of course bend their will toward stopping the Bengals two-headed rushing attack; Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. This electric young duo have combined for 1,513 yards on the ground and 13 TDs.
Allowing an average of 71.6 rushing yards per game, the Broncos field the NFL's No. 2 rush defense. On the road, in frigid December weather, they will have to continue their dominance against the run.
However, rendering the Bengals one-dimensional presents it's own obstacle. And therein lies the rub with Green. I like Aqib Talib matched up on Green. Talib can out-physical Green off the line-of-scrimmage and impede his progress, disrupting the timing of the route.
In certain situations, like third-and-long and in the redzone, Del Rio will likely put a safety over the top of Green and try to limit the big play down-field. There are few players in the NFL who excel at making the acrobatic, high-point catch down-field, than Green.
If Del Rio matches up Chris Harris, Jr with the Bengals No. 2 WR, Mohamed Sanu, and deploys his coverage primarily in press-man, I like the Broncos chances of stifling what Hue Jackson wants to do on offense.
Alas, as we've seen, Del Rio tends to rely more on a variety of zone coverages, despite having the personnel, both in the secondary, and in the front seven, to play press-man. Regardless of the coverage, the Broncos have to get physical and bump Green off the line.