A.J. Green is very good at football. For whatever reason, he becomes extremely good at football when he plays the Baltimore Ravens.
A good portion of Green’s most spectacular moments have come with the ever-feared Ravens defense on the other side of the field. There was the tipped-Hail Mary back in 2013, the bobbled-touchdown in 2014, and perhaps his signature game in 2015 when he scored twice off 227 yards receiving and 10 catches.
Four of his five games with at least 70 receiving yards against the Ravens have happened in Baltimore as well. It’s hard to think that one of Cincinnati’s biggest rivals didn’t have these facts in the back of their mind when they hired the only wide receivers coach Green’s ever had in the NFL this past offseason as their new quarterbacks coach.
For the seven years Green’s played in the league (prior to this season), James Urban was with him every step of the way. He was brought in as the Bengals wide receivers coach in 2011, which was Green’s rookie season. A talent like Green probably didn’t need as much coaching as other receivers Urban has had to develop and refine, but Urban probably knows everything about Green that makes him who he is as a Pro Bowl player.
Now, Urban’s new tasks deal with getting quarterback Joe Flacco ready to play every week and developing his backup Lamar Jackson as the Ravens new quarterbacks coach. The position was one that Urban held before coming to Cincinnati with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 and 2010, with both Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick having Pro Bowl seasons in those respective years.
The work Urban put in under then-Eagles head coach Andy Reid got him a seven-year run in Cincinnati. And after a good run with the Bengals, Urban’s old friend from Philadelphia, John Harbaugh—the Eagles long-time special teams coordinator under Reid—brought him on to help usher in the Jackson-era at quarterback, and get the best out of Flacco’s final year(s).
But this week, Urban’s knowledge about the receiver he coached for seven years had to have been a focal point in the Ravens’ game plan. Not every time has Green torched the Ravens—they actually held him to just 91 yards combined in both meetings last year—but the damage Green has done to Harbaugh’s defense in the past can’t be ignored. Green’s already a focal point for every defense to mitigate, the Ravens just happen to have more reason than most.
Maybe the info Urban revealed will have an impact on the Ravens’ plan to stop Green; maybe Green is too talented for a secondary whose best cornerback (Jimmy Smith) is suspended until Week 5. Both are probably true to an extent, and how this matchup unfolds will be an interesting storyline in a game where both offenses are more talented than in recent years.
Remember in 2015 when Harbaugh said, “One of these days, we’ll figure out how to cover A.J. Green. It’d be nice if we did it one time before he retires.”
Hiring Urban could go a long way toward doing just that. Hopefully, Green and the Bengals have plans to ensure that’s not what happens.