When the Cincinnati Bengals made wide receiver AJ Green the fourth pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, I was 13-years-old. Quite quickly, he became my favorite player. He had it all… the eye-popping physical ability, the quiet confidence and determined demeanor, the elite production; five straight 1,000 receiving yard seasons, seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, frequent appearances in the NFL Top 100 Players list, and so on and so on. He brought an air of legitimacy to Cincinnati football that had been missing since the days of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco.
To me it was magic, and I clung to every snap, catch, first down, and score as the Bengals marched their way to five straight playoff appearances on the wings of Green’s playmaking.
The thought that #18 might one day put on another uniform never crossed my mind. But Father Time appears to have had other plans, and after several injury-plagued seasons and a franchise tag tender this offseason, I began to accept the likelihood that a split was imminent. But I thought I’d at least have this one last season to enjoy Green in tiger stripes.
Then last week, in that awful beatdown versus Baltimore, he was captured having an emotional conversation on the sideline and appeared to say this:
“Trade me.” – AJ Green
Will anyone want him though?
— Roto Street Journal (RSJ) (@RotoStJournal) October 12, 2020
The brutality in Baltimore was tough on everyone. Joe Burrow was sacked seven times. Defensive linemen D.J. Reader and Sam Hubbard both sustained injuries — Reader’s being a season-ender. Green only had one target.
A lot of people were quick to call the 32-year-old selfish for his alleged comment, but I’m not so sure.
On that frustrating, miserable Sunday, his actions and words mirrored those of so many dedicated fans. Who couldn’t be frustrated? For as many things have looked different with this Cincinnati offense than those in the years before, so many things have looked exactly the same last week.
A futile offense that can’t move the ball past the 50-yard line? Check. An offensive line that looks entirely overwhelmed and outclassed? Check. Wide receivers that fail to get any separation, be it because of poor scheme or poor speed? Check. An avoidable backbreaking turnover? Check.
Forget A.J. Green, man. Trade ME. Trade me from this demoralizing, draining experience.
We were bruised and battered. We had been dreaming of Joe Burrow and an explosive offense for so many months, one that could compete in the AFC North, and we got this? Green had spent two years of grueling rehab dreaming of a comeback season for the ages, and he got this?
Yeah, trade me.
Realistically speaking, Green won’t be traded. He’s making $18 million on the franchise tag and has only produced 119 yards on 14 catches. I can’t imagine a team undertaking that contract for a player who, despite his career pedigree, has been woefully unproductive this season. So, whether or not he said what it looked like he said (which he denied in a presser Thursday), I think we can chalk it up to his frustration with the situation and his inability to perform like he used to.
And realistically speaking for us, there’s silver linings aplenty in last week’s loss. The defense stymied Lamar Jackson and the Ravens like few teams have before. The amount of things Burrow will learn from that tape will make him a better NFL quarterback. That game was most likely (hopefully) the worst the offense will play all season.
But when the battle’s raging and you’re taking more hits than you’re dishing out, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees, especially when it comes to something you care so dearly about.
That’s why we scream at the TV when we watch our young franchise QB take another hit. That’s why we have to take ibuprofen to quell our headache every Sunday evening. It’s why we may even ask for a trade when we’re worked up.
It’s also why we come back every week regardless.
Bruises heal. Usually in about a week’s time. Sometimes even quicker if you get distracted by a win.
The good news for us is that Cincinnati and A.J. Green have a chance to do just that this afternoon as they meet up with the Colts in Indianapolis.
Bengals/Colts talk coming up just as soon as the tests come back clean…
Tests coming back clean, game on. https://t.co/AF2gE9xJ2b
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 16, 2020
Four things to know
1.) This game was in serious question Friday morning. In case you missed it, a couple of days ago, the Colts reported several positive COVID tests and shut down its team facility. Fortunately, those tests turned out to be false positives, ensuring that the game will take place on time this afternoon. No schedule changes this week for the Bengals, but it’s certainly a situation that’s in flux each and every week.
2.) The Colts have a really good defense. I mean really good. Any way you slice it, the Colts have a top-tier defense. They’ve allowed the fewest passing yards of any team and have nine interceptions, two of which were returned for scores. They’ve allowed the fourth fewest rushing yards (432). They’ve only allowed opposing receivers to catch 95 passes and have sacked opposing QBs 11 times. Just when you thought Joe Burrow couldn’t face a tougher opponent than Baltimore…
3.) The Bengals defensive line is shredded. After losing star free agent D.J. Reader to a season-ending quad injury and rising star Sam Hubbard to a hurt elbow, the Cincinnati depth is thin up front. Hubbard will join Mike Daniels on the IR, and its unclear when either will be back in action. Fortunately, Geno Atkins is back and in line for a bigger workload than he got last week. Carlos Dunlap will still be around and Carl Lawson ought to keep coming off the edge. But the usual defensive line rotations will be all kinds of jumbled, which may not bode well against an Indianapolis team that loves to run the ball downhill.
4.) Philip Rivers and the Indy offense has struggled. So far into his Colts career, Rivers has looked every bit of 38-years-old. His passes have fluttered and his footwork has looked clunky at times. He’s thrown four touchdowns to five interceptions, and none of Indy’s receivers have been able to stay healthy. Because of that, they’ve turned to the ground game, where star rookie Jonathan Taylor has seized the reigns in place of the injured Marlon Mack. The Colts are fifth in the league with 149 rushing attempts this season and Taylor has racked up 307 yards and three scores. Because of the struggling Indy passing attack, I suspect this one could be a low scoring game that sees a hearty amount of handoffs.
Three matchups to watch
1.) Jonathan Taylor vs. Bengals defensive front
The rookie has been a rockstar for the Colts, while run defense has been a particularly tough matter for the Bengals. Cincy’s allowed nearly 184 yards on the ground in road games this season. Taylor’s becoming quite a workhorse for Indy, so Cincinnati will have to emphasize stopping him and cutting down that average this afternoon.
2.) T.Y. Hilton vs. A.J. Green: Both veteran receivers are having down years, and the question is whether either of them can get right this week. We’ve already spoken of Green’s struggles, but Hilton hasn’t been much better. He’s averaging 46 receiving yards per game and hasn’t been able to establish a strong connection with Philip Rivers, much like Green hasn’t with Burrow. Will either tandem get on the same page today?
3.) Philip Rivers vs. Bengals secondary
The Bengals have defended the pass pretty well this season, and it isn’t crazy to assume they’ll do so again this afternoon. The Colts’ pass catchers have been banged up and fairly unproductive this season. Indy’s won most games by grinding it out on the ground and playing backbreaking defense. Philip Rivers is an all-time competitor, but he’s prone to some mistakes. How he performs today will be a major storyline.
Two names you’ll hear
1.) DeForest Buckner, Colts DT
After trading the 13th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft for him, the Colts quickly handed the 26-year-old a four-year, $84 million extension. So far, that investment has paid off. Buckner leads the Colts with 15 total pressures, while also topping the defensive line with 10 run stops, per Pro Football Focus. He’ll be a major force in this game and ought to be in Burrow’s face a time or two.
2.) Carlos Dunlap, Bengals DE
After sharing his qualms with the Week 5 defensive gameplan that relegated him to second on the depth chart, Dunlap will be in line for a bigger workload after the injury to Sam Hubbard. He has a chance to make Bengals history, too.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 13, 2020
One way the Bengals can win
First and foremost, Joe Burrow must play better than last week. And if he trusts his eyes more and his protection holds up a little more frequently, he’ll do just that. The way to beat the Colts has been to get out early on them and force them to play catch up. When Rivers has to pass and the offense is one-dimensional, they’re a much weaker team. Granted, that hasn’t been an easy situation for opposing teams to create thanks to their stingy defense.
But if Burrow and company can put together a score or two in the first half and the defense stuffs the run lanes, the Bengals can win this game.
We need to see Zac Taylor and staff come out victorious against a superior coach and team. The same could be said for Burrow. That’s the next step towards turning this franchise around, and this afternoon is as good a time to get it going as ever.
Kickoff’s at 1 p.m. on FOX. See you there.