When the Cincinnati Bengals selected A.J. Green with the 4th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, my stomach turned. I figured that the Bengals would do their usual “Mike Brown Shuffle,” and blow their pick on an overrated player like Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert to eventually take over for the dissatisfied Carson Palmer. Sadly for us in “Steeler Nation,” Cincinnati’s brass made the correct choice in Round 1 with Green, and later selected “Ginger Spice” Dalton in Round 2 to fill their former void at Quarterback.
As it stands now, the Steelers are staring a 2-4 start dead in the face and must take on the rival Bengals in a crucial Sunday Night Football matchup tomorrow. To have any sort of legitimate shot of winning this game though, the Steelers’ beleaguered Defense must find some ways to contain Green and the Bengals’ Offense. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh’s Defense, Green’s skill-set and overall logic will make the upcoming task a close to impossible one.
Green’s Incredible 21 Game Start
It is typically the norm for most Rookie Wide Receivers to struggle early on in their careers’. Whether the issues are with adjusting to the physicality and talent level of their competition, and/or just fine tuning their overall skills in general, even the most talented and highly touted of Rookie pass-catchers have their struggles. A.J. Green is an exception to the previously mentioned norm.
After he burst on the N.F.L. scene last year as a Rookie, Green has continued his stellar production in 2012 (43 Catches (T-3rd), 628 Yards (League-Leader), 6 TD’s (T-2nd)). Over his first 21 games dating back to last year, Green has amassed an amazing 108 Catches for 1,685 Yards and caught 13 Touchdowns. What is even more impressive is the fact that last month’s A.F.C. Player of the Month is on pace this year to shatter his solid numbers from last season (65 Catches, 1,057 Yards, 7 TD’s). If Green continues to produce at his current 2012 level, he is set to challenge franchise season Receiving records with a stat line of 115 Catches (Record), 1,675 Yards (Record), and 16 TD’s (Carl Pickens’ 17 is Record) this season.
In my opinion, Green scares me more than any other Bengals pass catcher I have seen on the Bengals franchise with his awesome combination of size (6’4″ 207 lbs.), speed, and hands. He is a more imposing and developing into a better deep threat than Pickens and my childhood pass-catching hero (#6 of the SDSU Aztecs) Darnay Scott from the 1990′s, and is far-and-away more talented and productive than Ocho-Psycho or T.J. Houshmandzadeh over the 2000′s. If Green continues to gel with his Quarterback, and Cincinnati’s other pass-catching options become consistent threats around him, he has all the tools to really develop into a special player. Yet as talented as Green is, and as much as I already fear what he can do against the Steelers, he could really be primed for a ridiculously awesome night because of how dreadful his upcoming competition has played over the course of this season
Pittsburgh’s Porous Secondary, and Is There Anything The Defense Can Do?
First of all, I hope somebody called the “Waahm-Bulance” and ordered some Large “Curly Cries” for Steelers Cornerback Ike Taylor. Heck, I hope somebody introduced him to some important stats he chose to overlook when he blasted the media recently. I probably would have stopped (rightfully) criticizing the Defense for all of their faults and deficiencies this season, because honestly, I can only rip on the same issues they refuse to fix so many times before I get bored and ultimately frustrated.
Yet after his little radio show tantrum against subversive and ill-informed media types, Ike just bought himself and the rest of the under-performers on Defense an unlimited supply of healthy criticism from this blogger until they actually decide to “nut-up” against some of their supposedly inferior foes. Unfortunately for Taylor and his fellow Defensive Backs, tomorrow night’s matchup might not be the most ideal situation for them to excel after how poorly they have played this year.
On the season, Taylor has been flagged for numerous penalties (including 3 last week), and was most recently abused by the stone-handed yet still talented Kenny Britt last Thursday night in Nashville. As poorly as he has played over the last six games (includes dumpster-fire Wild Card game), Taylor is without a doubt the most experienced, as well as most talented Cornerback on Pittsburgh’s roster. This is bad news for the Steelers, because Green is likely the most talented pass-catcher the team will face all season, and has the size, speed, and physical nature to give the Cornerbacks fits on the back-end.
Green’s presence alone will force the Steelers to key on him and likely give Taylor over the top Safety help for most of the night, although Taylor apparently is not expecting or asking for it. If the Safety help does indeed occur, which it should for Taylor’s sake, other Bengals like Jermaine Gresham or Andrew Hawkins can find acres of open space to work with and attack Pittsburgh’s Secondary. If the Steelers Defense is to do anything besides actually cover Green and his pass-catching friends to stop Cincinnati’s passing attack, they will need to have a fine collective performance from their pass-rushers as they attempt to put pressure on Dalton in obvious passing situations.
Sadly, I wouldn’t hold my breath on the pass rush from the Outside making an appearance though. Think about it: An overweight LaMarr Woodley on a bum hamstring? James Harrison still a bit hobbled? Then mix in the likely strategy involving zero creative Defensive Back blitzes courtesy of Coordinator Dick LeBeau. Plus, I am sure that the 5-Techniques (Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Brett Keisel: 2.0 Sacks combined) will continue to underwhelm in terms of their pocket collapse. Unless the players/schemes I mentioned before can find a way to excel, or Jason Worilds can establish himself as a consistent threat off the edge, hungry Rookie Adrian Robinson is actually allowed to play a Defensive snap or two and attack the Quarterback in passing situations, and Brandon Johnson wants to exact some revenge on his former team, the Bengals make-shift (17.0 Sacks on the season) Offensive Line could cruise to a decent night.
Pittsburgh’s pass-rush however might find some success blitzing Cincinnati if they decide to attack the interior of Cincinnati’s Offensive Line tomorrow. Remember readers, the Bengals are missing their starting Center Kyle Cook, and some well-timed A-Gap blitzes courtesy of Lawrence Timmons or even Johnson could give Cook, Rookie Right Guard Kevin Zeitler, and 1st Year starter Clint Boling at Left Guard some issues if they are disguised/executed properly and quickly. The interior blitzes could be something to watch for fans, and might be an X-Factor to help this Defense stay in the game, force mistakes, rattle Dalton, prevent him from finding his pass-catchers like Green, and give the Steelers a fighting chance.
After what Kenny Britt did to Taylor and the Secondary, Green might enjoy a career night under the lights at Paul Brown Stadium tomorrow night. If Dalton is not looking in Green’s direction all night long and BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman are not tearing things up on the ground, I will assume Jay Gruden drew his game-plan up in crayon or studied extensively at the “Bruce Arians Academy for “Offensive” Coordinators.” The matchup between Green and any of Pittsburgh’s Defensive Backs (whether it is in Man or finding holes in the soft Zone) is too obvious not to exploit, and could make this an ugly game to watch throughout the night for us Steelers fans.
I still hold out hope that this will be the week that Pittsburgh’s Defense turns things around, and the Secondary finally shows signs of improvement. The optimist in me will say that this current 10-day rest period has helped the Defense reflect, re-group, and hungry to make the necessary adjustments. The “Negative-Nancy” pessimist in me says that with Green and his presence looming, Sunday night might not be the most comfortable of situations for the Steelers Defense.
I hope the optimist in me is right.
Readers: Will the Steelers contain Green? If so, how? And to what extent? Or, will Green have a big day? If so, how big? Franchise-record big? League-record big? Should Ike Taylor continue to start? Seriously, share your thoughts on tomorrow’s game below, and post your predictions and why you feel a certain way.