Throughout his career, A.J. Green has been an offense unto himself.
He caught 59.6% of his targets entering this season, but that doesn’t even tell half of the story, as a lot of those passes - especially the deep ones - weren’t perfectly thrown in the Andy Dalton years. Green, though, made amazing adjustments, juggled balls to himself, or leaped over defenders to haul them in. He was the homerun hitter but also the guy to get you on base when you really need him to.
And his production translated to victories. The Cincinnati Bengals had a winning record when he played and a terrible one when he didn’t.
AJ Green was this team’s franchise quarterback https://t.co/qog2ihsTp1— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 10, 2020
This year has been very, very different. In two games, Green is only catching 36.3% of the passes thrown his way despite his rookie quarterback, Joe Burrow, actually being overall pretty accurate.
Joe Burrow has completed 62% of his passes so far and 69% to players other than Green. Yes, the QB has struggled throwing the ball deep, and that is where Green gets a lot of his yards. But it’s clear that the two most important players on the offense are simply not on the same page.
That must - and will - change this week in Philadelphia.
Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles watched Jared Goff carve them up to the tune of 267 yards and 3 touchdowns. More importantly, Goff casually completed 20 of 27 passes, as Eagles defenders were slow to react and often out of position.
Philadelphia’s defense coordinator, Jim Schwartz, blamed himself for the terrible showing, saying his game plan wasn’t complex enough. But the reality is, the secondary doesn’t scare anyone. The only person Bengals fans might recognize is former Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay, who hasn’t looked as good as he did earlier in his career.
This is the perfect week for Green and Burrow to finally connect on some of those deep throws. It’s clear that they both know it is going to happen. That’s why the QB kept targeting the WR even when it wasn’t working against the Cleveland Browns— he knows that is the key to this offense being explosive.
“They started playing more two-high. He was playing well at the beginning of the game... I missed some throws to A.J. again. I am just going to have to fix that. I can’t keep missing throws to A.J. when he gets open like he does.”
In other words, Burrow is going to do his best to make this work. And there’s no time like right now, against a team in disarray with a bad secondary and a defensive line that is missing its best player, Fletcher Cox.
Green’s rough start, catching only 8 of 22 targets overall and 3 of 13 against the Browns, can easily be chalked up to him missing the last season and a half. He just isn’t moving like himself or adjusting to balls the way he normally does. And he isn’t quite sure about where Burrow will place them either.
All of these problems were expected considering the roster upheaval since he was last on the field. But if something doesn’t change this week, it may be a sign that there’s more to this problem than rust.
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