CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 27: A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals makes a catch during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on November 27, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals defeated the Browns 23-20. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Sunday's massacre at the hands of the Steelers has made this week's game against the Texans that much more important for the Bengals. Some are calling it a "must win" if the Bengals are to make the playoffs. I tend to agree with that sentiment. It's a conference game against yet another division-leader, albeit one that comes limping into Paul Brown Stadium. But there's another storyline that makes Sunday's game intriguing.
In this year's draft, the Bengals elected not to draft a cornerback high even though starter Johnathan Joseph wasn't under contract and his counterpart, Leon Hall, had only one year left on his rookie deal. Instead of drafting Patrick Peterson (or another cornerback within the first few rounds), the Bengals opted for wide receiver A.J. Green. Needless to say, both Green and Peterson have worked out well for their respective teams.
As we all know, later in the offseason, cornerback Johnathan Joseph left Cincinnati for the Houston Texans. His departure followed a frustrating sequence of events that included ownership balking at designating him with the franchise tag, as well as giving him a lower overall offer than that of the Texans. Joseph didn't give Cincinnati a "hometown discount" and that was that. The Bengals tried to cover the loss of Joseph by bringing in veteran Nate Clements, as well as trading for Kelly Jennings.
Fast forward a couple of months where the Bengals cornerback group has been depleted by injury and mediocre play. Fans have begun griping about Joseph leaving for Houston, and this week he gets his homecoming back at Paul Brown Stadium. By all accounts, Joseph has had a Pro Bowl-type of season, racking up four interceptions for a defense that's ranked No. 2 overall. In case you were wondering, the entire Bengals defense only has six interceptions this season.
A.J. Green has been a borderline dominant wide receiver in his rookie season. He's on pace to break nearly all of the Bengals franchise records for rookie wide receivers and seems to make a big play in every game. Though Andy Dalton has played very well this season, Green has bailed him out of some poor throws with acrobatic catches. However, the times that Green has struggled this season were when he went up against elite defenses and/or elite wide receivers. Joe Haden has given him fits twice this year and the San Francisco 49ers vaunted defense basically shut him down as well.
Green will undoubtedly be covered by Joseph for most, if not all of the game and this matchup will be a huge key to victory for the teams. Why? For one obvious reason, Green has become the Bengals biggest offensive weapon this year. Another is that the starter opposite Green, Jerome Simpson, has been wildly inconsistent this year. If Green is shut down by Joseph, we're not sure if Simpson would step up and make the plays needed to win the game.
Aside from the above-mentioned reasons, there's also going to be a lot of emotion in this face-off. Call it the "old versus the new", if you'd like. A battle between a new player who's in Cincinnati and wants to be here, against a good player who felt spurned by his former team this offseason. More than anything, it's going to be entertaining to see how this battle plays out between two very good players at their respective positions. We know Joseph's skills first hand: great speed, good ball and coverage skills, and a decent tackler. We know Green's skills as well: Great ball skills, great hands, great athleticism and good speed. It's yet to be seen whose skills will rule the day, but whoever wins this matchup will greatly help their team's chances of winning on Sunday. Let's hope that it's Green who ruins Joseph's homecoming.