MNF Week 2: The Importance of A.J. Green

Green layout

On this latest season of Hard Knocks, there was a scene in the Cincinnati Bengals training room where quarterback Andy Dalton comes to check on his injured Bengals teammates. During the scene, Dalton spends a significant amount of time talking to his star wide receiver, A.J. Green. This prompts another Bengals player to shout out “Andy’s gotta check on his baby!”

I don’t think Dalton would classify Green as his “Baby,” but man, he must really love having that 6’4” beast of a receiver from the University of Georgia on his team.

After the 2009 Independence Bowl, the NCAA accused Green, a sophomore at Georgia at the time, of selling his Jersey to UNC defensive back Chris Hawkins, who is now described to be someone who markets amateur athletes. Due to this incident, which violated one of the NCAA’s many (ridiculous) rules, Green had to sit out the first four games of his junior season in 2010. He may have had to sit out four games, but when he returned to the field, he hadn’t missed a beat.

That season, Green improved his receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown totals from the year before. He was drafted 4th overall by the Bengals in the 2011 draft, after ending his three-year Georgia career with over 2,600 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns. Since becoming a Bengal, Green has exceeded expectations and has become the team’s most important player.

Green has carried the Bengals' offense over his first two years in the NFL. He’s compiled over 2,400 receiving yards, which is more than double of the next Bengals receiver in the time Greens been in Cincinnati. Also, his 11 touchdowns last season were more than all the other Bengals WRs combined.

That’s a pretty dramatic stat at first glance, but TE Jermaine Gresham did help take the load off Green with 5 TD catches of his own last season. The most daunting stat of all though, in my opinion, is targets. Green was targeted 164 times last season. Gresham, the next highest Bengal on the list, had 94. That’s a difference of 70 targets. 70! That’s a ridiculous number, making it seem like Andy Dalton looks only Green's way on every play (which is probably true).

Since becoming a Bengal, Green has exceeded expectations and has become the team’s most important player.

That difference between the first and second leading targeted WRs on the Bengals ranks fourth most in the NFL behind the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and surprisingly, the Buffalo Bills. Pause for a second.

I get the Bears and Lions being up there, they have big time playmakers in Bandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson, respectively, but the Bills? Really? Did Ryan Fitzpatrick really look Stevie Johnson's way that much more than any other WR last year? You’d have to think that was due to the fact Donald Jones was the second leading WR on that Bills team. Jones couldn’t even make the New England Patriots. And we’ve all seen what The Hoodie and Tom Terrific are working with at WR this season.

Anyway, Green isn’t the best WR in the league. That’s not what I’m trying to claim here. What I’m trying to say is that Green has been as essential to not only his team, but also his QB, in the last two seasons as any other WR in the league.

Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler are both more accomplished quarterbacks than Andy Dalton. Yet last year, Dalton had a higher completion percentage and passer rating than both of them. This isn’t all due to Green's role in the Bengal passing game, but he defiantly gets a lot of credit.

Oh yeah, and he’s in only his third year in the league. Like I said before, Green isn’t the best receiver in the NFL. Players like Marshall and Johnson are guys I would still give the edge to. But in a year, maybe less, I believe Green can transform himself into a more dominant force than both of them.

The Pick: Bengals 24 Steelers 14

Pick Record on the Season: 2-0

5 For the Night

1. James Harrison vs. the Steelers: The long time Pittsburgh Steelers great will look to put a hurt on his former QB Ben Rothlisberger and the Steelers offense. Harrison has lost a step in the past few seasons, but he’ll be starting for the Bengals, so expect him to have a decent amount of an impact tonight

2. Geno Atkins: The Steelers lost their anchor on the offensive line, center Maurkice Pouncey, last week to a torn ACL and MCL, so Geno Atkins should have a field day up the middle tonight against second year center Kelvin Beachum. No offense to Beachum, but Atkins is the leagues best defensive tackle; it may be a rough night.

3. Steelers' Run Game: As a team, the Steelers rushed for a pathetic 31 yards last week against the Tennessee Titans. With Le’Veon Bell sidelined for another few weeks, it’s really a mystery as to who is going to step up for Pittsburgh. Issac Redman is slated to get the start, so he may get the bulk of the carries. Or at least his super desperate fantasy owners (myself included) hope so.

4. Big Ben: The Steelers enter the year with their weakest skill position core in some time. The one bright spot is Roethlisberger, the two-time Super Bowl champ. They’ll need some big time performances from Big Ben this season if they want to make the playoffs and having one tonight wouldn’t hurt after a below average Week 1 vs. Tenessee.

5. Bengals Tight Ends: With the addition of first round pick Tyler Eifert, the Bengals have loaded up at tight end. Eifert and Gresham had great games last week, with both of them getting their fair share of snaps. Watch to see if head coach Marvin Lewis leans on one guy more than the other tonight, or if he continues to have them split time.

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