Against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Cincinnati Bengals‘ wide receiver AJ Green had what was likely his worst ever game for his professional team. Green finished the game with three receptions for 44 yards, neither of which are career lows, but had at least two big drops and a terrible block in the back penalty on the end of a 43 yard run from BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
The 24-year-old receiver has been a consummate professional during his first two seasons in the league and as a result has achieved a level of consistency that very few receivers ever do. For that reason, he will be very determined to rebound against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 15.
While most players at this level despise short weeks, such as the one the Bengals must endure this week ahead of traveling to Philadelphia, Green should be delighted to get a chance to redeem himself so soon after such disappointment. Green’s performance was compounded by the whole team’s close loss to the Cowboys.
Green has never shown any inclinations that he is a selfish player or a diva at the receiver position, so one must presume that he will feel terrible at letting his teammates down in one of their biggest games of the season. Not only did Green struggle, but his mistakes all came at crucial moments for the offense.
For the first time all season, outside of the first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green and Andy Dalton were noticeably not on the same page. In fact, Dalton’s only interception on the day came when he was trying to connect with Green deep down the field. After Dalton rolled out of the pocket following play-action, Green ran a deep out route but slowed up inexplicably as he came out of his break. Green almost came to a complete stop before realizing the ball was coming his direction. By the time Green reacted to the football, Brandon Carr had already run in front of him and caught the football. Green seemingly presumed that Dalton wouldn’t throw him the football because Carr was sticking to the sideline. Dalton should never have thrown the ball, but if Green ran his route it would never have resulted in an interception.
Soon after that, on third and seven at the goal line, Green had an opportunity for a touchdown. Dalton threw a perfect pass to him running a slant route, but Green simply dropped the ball when he had a chance to force his way into the endzone. That drop led to a field goal attempt, while a second drop in the third quarter on third down deep down the field forced the team to kick another field goal. Green went one better at the beginning of the fourth quarter when an inexcusable penalty cost the team 10 yards and contributed to the offense stalling without even a field goal attempt.
Each of those moments should motivate Green this week, but more important than his motivation will be his matchup. Playing the Eagles means playing Nnamdi Asomugha, a once feared but now appealing matchup for most receivers in the league. The Eagles may not put Asomugha on Green, because of his struggles this season, which would mean that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would take him on. While Cromartie has the speed to stick with Green, Green has an obvious size advantage. Asomugha can match his size, but can no longer stick with him down the field. The Eagles will be very tempted to play plenty of zone coverage against the Bengals, but their secondary has consistently blown coverages throughout the season.
If Green wants to have a big game and erase the bad taste left by his last performance, the Eagles’ defense offers him the perfect opportunity.