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The impossibility of stopping A.J. Green

Neither hell nor high-water nor quarterbacks hanging him out to dry will stop Bengals WR A.J. Green in a pass-favored NFL. So how do you stop the Bengals? Let them rely entirely on Green, who will play less than a week after taking a savage hit against Denver.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Here's the secret the NFL doesn't want you to know. The league wants offense. It wants offense to the point of offending fans.

Nature seemed to recognize that over the last 20 or so years, loading super-fast, long-limbed guys who can suddenly cut and turn like cheetahs on the Serengeti.

Loading the league with receivers who can catch passes at the attic windows over defenders who can only reach the second level is, in a manner of speaking, a combo effort by the scoring-happy NFL and Mother Nature churning out players that didn't seem to exist back in 1982.

Don't believe me? Cris Collinsworth was a rare 6-foot-5 wide receiver in 1981. Is anyone in 2014 drafting 1981 Cris Collinsworth?

He wouldn't help the league's bottom line. Who wants a tight, strong defensive Fantasy Football game?

Teams are aware of it. That's why they draft the deer-like speed and spider-like length of a receiver like A.J. Green in the top five. He earns every dollar he's paid, running around through and over defenders, especially ones wearing No. 24 and sporting a hypocycloid on one side of his helmet.

The Bengals are aware of it. Green has been targeted a shocking average of 16 times a game over the last four contests between the Steelers and Bengals. They're going to get their money's worth from one of the league's best receivers. They're gonna throw to the attic against the mid-story Steelers defensive backs. They're going to abandon a run scheme if necessary to get Green the Ball. Apparently unaware the Bengals have other receivers on the team, they're going to call his number 18 often enough in the huddle rookies may confuse it with the snap count after a bit.

And they should. They should get him the ball 17 times in their Sunday Night Football AFC North championship game against the Steelers.


This is a league that's so dependent on offensive success, Houston's J.J. Watt needs to sell his Most Valuable Player candidacy despite having these numbers (according to Pro Football Focus): 17.5 sacks, 43 hits, 49 hurries, 10 tipped passes, 56 stops

There is absolutely no way any big quarterback, including Big Ben, is impacting his team as positively as Watt is.

You can put a Packers fan, a Patriots fan and a Broncos fan together in a room, and if they survive the middle-aged, weekend-warrior beatings they give each other, there will be a three-way split on their selection for MVP. You put a Colts fan, a Titans fan and a Jaguars fan in the same room and ask them who the best defensive player in the NFL is, they'll begin shaking and experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder episodes thinking about Houston's No. 99.

You could combine multiple players in the NFL and not come up with what Watt is doing. And since a team like the Bengals knows a team like the Steelers does not have a Watt-ian presence on the other side of the ball (Mother Nature's answer to the bump in tall, agile receivers), why not take advantage?

One has to recognize the possibility of an errant Andy Dalton throw ending Green's free roam around the prairie. He almost put him out for the season on a bad throw against Denver. But that's really the only internal issue preventing Green from running all over any opponent.

So what are the Steelers to do? Put three defenders on him? Spike the sideline Gatorade with vodka (lest Drunken Green turns angry, catches touchdowns and socks Dalton square in the junk)? The only thing a team really can do is run with him and hit him as hard as they can.

Just be there to compete every play. Sixteen is a lot of targets, and he isn't going to catch all of them.

He's going to make plays. Perhaps he won't go for miles untouched like he did in Week 14 against the Steelers, but the dude is too big, long, fast and graceful to expect nearly any defensive back to stick with him. And that's why he gets 16 targets a game when he plays the Steelers.

The law of averages suggest he's eventually going to do what he did to the Steelers. They'd also suggest holding him down would be something like eight catches for 109 yards. By intentionally focusing on Green's big play ability, and accepting zero yards on half of the throws to Green, the Bengals can play themselves out of more than a few drives.

Then there's the inevitable Dalton Prime Time Turnover, which is about as solid a bet as there is in the league. Even that trumps what's otherwise been a string of good performances recently against the Steelers. The Bengals defense really should not feel confident in the notion of stopping Pittsburgh's offense. It can, sure, but by using the same logic as the antiquated Randy Ratio against the Steelers, the Bengals have allowed 72 points against the Steelers' offense when Le'Veon Bell has been on the field.

Green will play Sunday night, and so will Bell. Which player appears more instrumental to his team's success in Steelers vs. Bengals games? Ringing the Bell is as sound an offensive strategy as there is in the NFL. Green's going to do what Green does. Clearly, Bell's 235 yards in Week 14 meant more than Green's 224. If neither team can stop the other's key player, the Steelers seem in a better position to win this game.