After seemingly exercising their prime-time demons last week by defeating the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, the Cincinnati Bengals returned to form on Sunday Night Football losing the division title to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet another loss in the national spotlight once again sent the vultures in quarterback Andy Dalton‘s direction. While there is no denying that Dalton has struggled in spotlight games, he is hardly the only star Bengal to do so.
Watching AJ Green‘s costly fourth quarter fumble Sunday night got us to thinking, “oh that’s right, it takes more than just one player to lose a game in the NFL“. Much has been written about Dalton’s prime-time struggles, but what about receiver AJ Green? Often referred to as one of the top receivers in the game, Green must at least rise to the occasion in big games…right?
Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Green often goes unnoticed when the Bengals play prime-time games and is hardly a factor in the game’s outcome. Let’s take a look at Green’s statistics in each of the 12 nationally televised games he has played in since being drafted by the Bengals in 2011:
- 1/7/12 (Houston): 12 targets, 5 catches, 47 yards, 0 touchdowns. [playoffs]
- 9/10/12 (Baltimore): 11 targets, 5 catches, 70 yards, 0 touchdowns.
- 10/21/12 (Pittsburgh): 6 targets, 1 catch, 8 yards, 1 touchdown.
- 12/13/12 (Philadelphia): 10 targets, 6 catches, 57 yards, 1 touchdown.
- 1/5/13 (Houston): 11 targets, 5 catches, 80 yards, o touchdowns. [playoffs]
- 9/16/13 (Pittsburgh): 14 targets, 6 catches, 41 yards, 0 touchdowns.
- 10/31/13 (Miami): 19 targets, 11 catches, 128 yards, 0 touchdowns.
- 12/15/13 (Pittsburgh): 18 targets, 9 catches, 93 yards, 0 touchdowns.
- 1/5/14 (San Diego): 9 targets, 3 catches, 34 yards, 0 touchdowns. [playoffs]
- 11/6/14 (Cleveland): 10 targetes, 3 catches, 23 yards, 0 touchdowns.
- 12/22/14 (Denver): 4 targets, 0 catches, 0 yards, 0 touchdowns.
- 12/28/14 (Pittsburgh): 13 targets, 8 catches, 82 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 fumble.
- TOTAL: 12 games, 137 targetes, 62 catches, 663 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 fumble.
For those of you counting at home, that equates to a per game average of 11.41 targets, 5.16 catches, 55.25 yards and 0.17 touchdowns. Not exactly what you would expect from a receiver who averages 1,218 yards and nearly 9 touchdowns per season over his four year professional career. Combine these statistics with Green’s playoff career line of 32 targets, 13 catches, 161 yards, 0 touchdowns in three games and we see anything but an elite receiver.
Dalton-haters will point to Green’s struggles and blame Dalton for his inability to find his receiver. Green-haters will look at these statistics and point out Green’s inability to aid his quarterback in big games. Simply put, both players struggle mightily in the spotlight. However, Dalton is the only player continually lambasted by the media and fans as being unable to win the big games.
Green has 20 career games in which he has 100 yards or more receiving, only one of those has happened during a nationally televised game. Only five times in the 12 prime-time games Green has played in has he been the leading Cincinnati receiver in terms of yards. So why are we absolving Green of any responsibility when it comes to Cincinnati’s struggles in these big games?
There is no denying AJ Green is one of the best talents in the game of football, and there is also no denying that he and his 2011 fellow draftee Andy Dalton both struggle when the Bengals need them both. However, now is the time to hold both accountable instead of placing the blame solely on Dalton and his shortcomings.
For Bengals fans, let’s hope this discussion is no longer on the table next Monday, as that would mean all demons were finally exercised in a playoff win at Indianapolis. If not, there will be a lot of questions in need of answering this offseason. Towards the top of that list will be Green, who is a free agent after the season. If he fails once again to show up next Sunday afternoon, the question then becomes if he really is worth a Larry Fitzgerald/Calvin Johnson-type of contract. It might sound insane saying that, but it is something the Cincinnati Bengals will be forced to consider.
AJ Green could become one of the top two receivers in the NFL, but he has yet to take that final jump into true elite territory. Sunday afternoon against the Colts will arguably be Green’s most important test to date. The Bengals hope his days of disappearing are finally in the past.
Cover Photo: Tony Dejak/Associated Press
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