Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is the best receiver in football. The vast majority of pundits agree, and most fans do, too. Even the most ardent fans of rival teams would grudgingly concede to that.
But the Steelers' week two opponent and current arch nemesis, the Cincinnati Bengals, have a pretty special receiver of their own in A.J. Green. He may be the best of the big receivers, league-wide.
He's fast. He's shifty. He can block. And he's freakin' huge.
At 6'-4" and 210 pounds, he's in the vicinity of Martavis Bryant. That puts him among the tallest receivers in the league. His arms, at more than 34 inches, give him an enormous catch radius. He doesn't have quite the bulk you'd like to see on a receiver of his height, but that just makes him quicker and faster.
Oh, and did I already mention he can block?
On this play from the Bengals' week-one game against the Jets, Green does everything you could ask of a receiver blocking on the perimeter. He closes the distance to the defender, but rather than lunging in hope of knocking the defensive back off balance, he stop and sets his feet. This gives him a solid base from which to engage. Then, he uses his arms to initiate contact while using that length to keep the defender away from his body. Once engaged, he gets his feet moving, and keeps them going throughout the block. This prevents the defender from having any shot at a good angle to make a tackle.
Our next play is both a highlight and a lowlight. From a purely schematic perspective, this play is designed extremely well, which allows Green to get open in the first place, but then he uses his speed, agility and vision to turn it into a significant gain.
The fake on this play executed to perfection. The line begins as if they are blocking for a zone run to the right, but then several of them peel back to the left to set up a screen to Green. You have to appreciate the hustle of the tight end and the left guard, in particular, to get out in front of this play and throw key blocks. And Green does an excellent job of getting through traffic, too, especially for someone of his length. That gives him a higher center of gravity and, thus, worse balance. But the move he puts on the defensive back to hold him at bay until the tight end arrives with a devastating block is a thing of beauty.
The finish, though, leaves something to be desired. It's as if Green had no idea he was so close to the sidelines. had he not lost track of where he was and gone out of bounds, and with his speed, this was an easy six points.
Finally, we see Green's greatest strength, in his ability to stretch the field.
Ladies and gentlemen, that's Darrelle Revis that just got eaten alive. It's not that Green had him beaten badly, it's simply that Green's superior length let him stretch for a ball that was slightly underthrown. Had he tried to stop short and high-point the ball, there's a good chance Revis, who has solid inside positioning, would have come down with the interception. Instead, Green simply leverages the fact that he's slightly ahead of Revis and lets the ball come in low, snatching it off the ground for an excellent catch.
From a pure football standpoint, there is a lot to like about Green. He's a top-five receiver in the league, has prototypical length and goes about his job without the diva-like qualities of many other star receivers. He's a a throwback to the old days of workmanlike football.
Last week, he accounted for half of Cincinnati's receiving yards with 180 and a touchdown. The Jets' defensive backfield is suddenly suspect, even Revis, but then again, the Steelers still have a lot of questions on the back-end. They aren't going to shut Green down, but they do have the ability to limit him. Holding him to 100 yards or less will put them in good position to win handily. If he comes down with another 180 yards, though, Pittsburgh will likely be in for a shootout.