By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Chasing A.J.: Bengals receiver A.J. Green is the dominant player in Sunday’s Browns game in Cincinnati. Odds are that he will win the game for the Bengals with one catch.
OK, that’s an easy analysis. Browns cornerback Joe Haden is out serving the first of a four-game suspension. So the Browns are grappling with how to cover the most dynamic receiver in the AFC North division, a playmaker soon to be accepted in the class of Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Remember the impact Green made last year in both Browns-Bengals games as a rookie?
In the first, Haden frustrated Green most of the day. It was Green’s first NFL game, and quarterback Andy Dalton’s, too. Green had no catches the first half, and was penalized once for offensive pass interference. Dalton injured a wrist and didn’t play the second half. Haden had an amazing five pass breakups in the game.
Then in the fourth quarter, the Bengals caught the Browns’ defense napping in a huddle and they quick-snapped. Sub quarterback Bruce Gradkowski delivered the ball to Green sneaking down the right sideline for a 41-yard touchdown. That play, Green’s only catch, knocked out the Browns.
In the rematch, Green had a catch for 24 yards to set up a Cincinnati field goal, a catch of 35 yards to set up a touchdown, and then the game-breaker – a Spiderman special on which he left Haden in the dust, soared high to snatch a Dalton floater over the middle, and then ran with it another 25 yards – 51 in all – to set up the game-winning field goal.
In both contests, Haden played fairly well.
“You can never eliminate the one play,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said on Thursday when asked to evaluate Haden’s duel with Green. “The one play, no matter where it is, it could be the first play or the 78th play. They’re all critical in the course of the game.
“As you all know (Green’s) a very talented receiver. Size, speed … he’s got really good hands and they target him, so the ball is going to go to him.”
Always looking: Cleveland fans like to belittle the Bengals as the Bungles and to dismiss Bengals President Mike Brown as a money-hording skinflint who knows nothing about building a winning team. I feel for them.
The reality is Brown acquired a deep appreciation for playmaking receivers from his father, Browns founding coach Paul Brown. Since Paul Brown founded the Bengals in 1968, they have always had a keen eye for receivers. Their heritage at the position includes the likes of Isaac Curtis, Cris Collinsworth, Carl Pickens, Eddie Brown, Chad Johnson and now Green, the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft. In that same period of time, the Browns have produced ... ?
“He has size, he does a good job against bump-and-run, I think he catches the ball extremely well and I think he’s a very competitive guy,” said Browns coach Pat Shurmur. “The one thing he does is there are times when the ball gets thrown up to him when it’s less than ideal situations for the offense and he finds a way to go up and get it. I think that’s a very strong attribute for a receiver.”
Defending A.J.: Haden’s suspension made Jauron’s work week longer. With Haden in the game, Jauron could just assign him to cover Green wherever he lined up. Now Jauron and the Browns have a severe matchup problem.
Dimitri Patterson will take Haden’s place and likely will shadow Green when Green lines up on the outside. Now, Patterson doubles as the Browns’ top nickel back. When teams line up three receivers, Patterson normally drops down to cover the receiver in the slot position.
Green has increasingly lined up in the slot in three-receiver sets to create mismatches in opposing defenses. If he lines up inside on Sunday, Patterson no doubt will cover him. But what happens if the Bengals keep Green on the outside and line up quick and speedy Andrew Hawkins – all 5-7 and 180 pounds of him – who had eight catches against Baltimore on Monday night?
Jauron has to consider keeping Patterson outside on Green. If that happens, Jauron likely would counter with seventh-round rookie Trevin Wade, who will be making his NFL debut, to cover Hawkins.
“We have a number of options with Dimitri,” Jauron said with a slight sigh. “So there is a debate.”
That’s what elite receivers do to even the most experienced defensive coordinators. They make them sigh.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.com
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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