When the New York Jets play the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, their biggest defensive priority by far will be stopping A.J. Green. In just his third year, Green has already become an elite wide receiver, and he made the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons. In my opinion, Green is the second best receiver in the NFL, and he is undoubtedly the best offensive player on the Bengals.
The Jets need to focus their defense on Green because he is the key to the Bengals’ offense. The Jets have the league’s second ranked run defense, and Muhammad Wilkerson & Co. shouldn’t have too much trouble with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. That means the game will come down to the Jets’ ability to stop the pass, which has been their defensive weak point this season.
The Bengals drafted Green and Andy Dalton in 2011, and Dalton relies on Green extremely heavily. 25.8% of Dalton’s career completions have been caught by Green, for 33.7% of Dalton’s career yards and 39.7% of his career touchdowns. This season, Dalton has targeted Green on 47.6% of his pass attempts, which is actually slightly less than last year’s 49.8% mark. Green has only missed one game in his career, and Dalton only completed 53.3% of his passes and threw 3 INTs in that game.
Point is, Dalton doesn’t get much done without Green, and that is why the Jets must focus so heavily on stopping him. Antonio Cromartie will draw the assignment, and he should provide man-to-man coverage on Green on every play. However, that is not enough. This may go against everything Rex Ryan stands for, but if the Jets want to win then they have to double team Green on nearly every play.
The Jets have a front four that can stop the run and pressure the passer without help from the linebackers, and the Jets need to let their line handle things up front. That allows them to spend the majority of their game in the nickel package, giving them an extra cover man. Dee Milliner, Kyle Wilson, Demario Davis and Antonio Allen are all capable of playing man coverage without much help, and the rest of the Bengals’ receivers are nothing that those four players can’t handle.
That frees up Dawan Landry to help Cromartie, which is what he should be doing in every passing situation. If the Jets give safety help, it will allow Cromartie to jam Green at the line and slow him down. This serves two purposes. First, it could give the pass rush an extra half second to get to Dalton. Second, it allows Cromartie to stay underneath Green, taking away the jump balls and back shoulder throws that make him deadly in the red zone. Knowing Landry has help over the top allows Cromartie to be aggressive, not worry about getting beat deep and force Dalton to throw into tighter windows.
It may seem like an overreaction to design an entire defensive game plan around stopping a wide receiver, but it Green’s case it is simply what has to be done. He is a special talent, and the Jets have to find a way to limit his touches. If they double team him and force Dalton to go elsewhere, the Jets will be able to shut down the Bengals’ offense.