When the Ravens and Bengals met back in Week 11, Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green didn’t make a single catch or see a single minute of game action, as he was sidelined by a knee injury.
Baltimore’s defensive backs won’t be so lucky this time around.
Green has been a force this season, recording 63 catches for 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns - all team highs. He was selected to the Pro Bowl, leads the NFL in catches of 35 or more yards and has done all this while battling not just the knee injury but also a separation of the AC joint in his shoulder.
Oh yeah, and did I mention Green’s just a rookie?
“He’s a big-play guy,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “I heard some refer to him (that) he is the new Randy Moss. He’s like Randy was when Randy first got into the league. Randy is becoming a noun in the NFL. You get beat deep, that’s called a ‘Randy!’ He is definitely one of those type of guys.”
“He’s the type of player, he’s going to go up and get the ball,” said safety Bernard Pollard. “He don’t care who’s going up with him, he’s going up and he’s determined to come down with it. At the end of the day, he’s just a playmaker. The dude is a playmaker.”
You don’t often see teams spend top-10 picks on wide receivers, but the Bengals snatched up Green with the No. 4 selection in this year’s draft, and they haven’t regretted it for a second.
Green has great hands, impressive speed and the size to go up and grab a jump ball over any defensive back. A number of his game-changing plays this season have come on deep shots down the field where Green has just ripped the ball down and fought off defenders for big yardage.
“He’s a nightmare. He’s leading the NFL in rebounds, you know?” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “They just throw the ball up to him and it doesn’t matter if there are two or three guys ... The play he (suffered the knee injury) on in Pittsburgh, there’s three guys in the end zone on him. You see it down after down, snap after snap.”
But Green isn’t just a go-get-it type of receiver. He’s also got the ability to fight off a cornerback at the line of scrimmage and work the short-to-intermediate routes, which cornerback Chris Carr says makes Green especially tough to defend.
“He’s extremely versatile,” Carr said. “He can catch short routes and he’s a vertical threat, too. He’s just a complete receiver. Sometimes, receivers ... like you play Wes Welker, you have to worry about the short stuff. You play Randy Moss, you have to worry about the deep stuff. But (Green) can do everything.”
By no means is Green the Bengals’ only receiving threat. 6-foot-5 tight end Jermaine Gresham is second on the team in receptions with 51, and has six touchdowns on the season. Cincinnati’s No. 2 wideout, meanwhile, has given the Ravens a host of problems himself.
When he’s not busy doing somersaults over defenders into the end zone, Jerome Simpson is tormenting the Ravens. Simpson had a career-high 152 receiving yards on eight catches when the Bengals traveled to Baltimore back in Week 11, and he posted 12 catches for 123 yards in the regular season finale between these two teams last year.
Ravens defenders will be watching Simpson and Gresham closely on Sunday, but Green will certainly be the focal point because of the explosive nature he brings to Cincinnati’s offense.
So how do you stop a guy like that? How can you slow down a receiver that has the ability to beat you in so many different ways?
“When you’ve got a player like that, my motto has always been: hit ‘em,” Pollard said. “Hit ‘em. You want to go up? You need to hit him. Hit him when his arms are raised, hit him right in the chest.”
Suggs offered up his own defensive strategy when it comes to defending Green, one that involves a heavy dose of safety Ed Reed.
“We have something that we like to call ‘The Fear Factor’ that lines up behind us, so we’re pretty safe,” Suggs said. “We feel that we’re pretty safe from (Green, but) he’s still capable of going back there and making a play. He’s definitely a problem that we’re going to have to deal with.”