FOXBORO -- A.J. Green is second in the NFL in receptions (36) and second in receiving yards (518).
The Patriots will see him Sunday afternoon. In 2014, Darrelle Revis shut Green down back on a night Gillette Stadium was a hornet’s nest for Green’s Bengals.
It would be unwise to presume the same outcome. Virtually every team the Patriots play seems to have a big wideout who can blaze downfield, be physical and create size mismatches.
But Green, in the estimation of Bill Belichick, is “an elite player.”
What sets him apart at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds from the others?
“Quickness,” Belichick answered immediately. “He’s very quick. He has good stop-and-start quickness, very good intermediate route runner. A number of the players that you talked about [I mentioned Sammy Watkins and Demaryius Thomas and would have also included Brandon Marshall, etc. had I gone on] are really just two-level players: short catch-and-run and deep speed routes, build speed routes. Green’s very good at intermediate routes. Comebacks, in-cuts, curls. Routes like that.
“He has great quickness at the top of his routes and excellent hands so he’s able to extend and create separation with his length and his catching skills,” Belichick explained. “He makes some incredible one-handed catches or catches where the defender’s just draped all over him and is able to get his hands a few inches out further than the defenders and make the play. His catch radius is exceptional. But the thing that to me really puts him at the top of the league in receivers is his ability to affect all three levels particularly those intermediate areas.”
Recently, the NFL Network devoted one of its A Football Life episodes to former Bengal (and Patriot) Chad Johnson. The footspeed of Johnson was arresting.
Is Green -- whose average game since entering the league in 2011 is 5.56 receptions and 82.5 yards. -- at all similar to Johnson?
“Chad had very good quickness and Green is probably a little faster long speed,” said Belichick, seeming to indicate there were similarities but that they didn’t run that deep. “Not that Chad was slow but Green is very fast. He’s an elite player. There’s no real weak points in his game; short, intermediate, catch-and-run, deep, ball skills, quickness, ability to really defeat any type of coverage, size, speed, quickness. He’s a hard guy to handle.”
The problem the Patriots face Sunday night is that, even though Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan can be very, very good, they are not quite the eliminators that a motivated Revis proved to be during that game in 2014.
Will the Patriots send Ryan at Green? He had great success against DeAndre Hopkins last season and was only beaten by some terrific catch-and-throws when the Pats played the Texans three weeks ago. Will they double? It’s not that easy.
“They move him around,” said Belichick. “I mean he’s obviously a smart guy. He plays in the slot some. He plays on the perimeter on the single receiver side which causes you problems defensively. You don’t want to get isolated back there on him and if he draws double coverage then you’re really playing nine-on-10, but they also use him so that he’s not back there so you can’t always just double him back there and play nine-on-10. You’ve got to deal with him in the slot. You’ve got to deal with him on the strong side in some combinations so he’s a hard guy to get.”
Aside from Green’s singular brilliance, the 2-3 Bengals have struggled on offense, especially on third down where they’re converting just 30.3 percent of third downs.
The free agent departures of No. 2 receiver Marvin Jones (who is in Detroit and actually leading the NFL in yardage) and slot guy Mohamed Sanu have likely made it easier to know where quarterback Andy Dalton is going on third down. To Green.
“If it’s one-on-one, if it’s a 50-50 ball, he’ll definitely throw it into a 50-50 ball,” said Belichick. “And Green’s come up with a lot of those balls. He’s come up with them high, low, one-handed catches, back shoulders. We’ve seen plenty of plays where when the ball releases you’re saying ‘This isn’t going to be a completion. The defender is right there in perfect position. He’s all over him. How’s he going to catch the ball?’ And he ends up with the ball at the end of the play. Yeah, I wouldn’t say he throws into double coverage but I think even if the defender has good position he’s not afraid to give Green a chance to make a play on the ball and he makes plenty of them.”
Sunday, Job One will be making trying to ensure Green doesn’t make plenty.