A.J. Green is a matchup problem every week.
But on Sunday against the Houston Texans, the Cincinnati Bengals wideout may be a nightmare.
This season, the Texans have allowed, on average, 10.2 catches per game and 94.4 yards per game to opposing No. 1 wide receivers, according to Football Outsiders. That ranks 30th in the NFL.
Green, who stands at 6-foot-4 and clocked a 4.48 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, has emerged as one of the game’s top receivers, making the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons.
Despite a toe injury he suffered in Week 2 that has cost him four games, Green, 26, is still very much a threat in the Bengals passing game. His 84.7 yards per game is above his career average, and his 17.5 yards per catch is a career-high. Overall, Green has 29 catches for 508 yards and four touchdowns.
“Their receivers are big, physical, fast,” head coach Bill O’Brien said on Wednesday. “A.J. Green’s one of the best in the league.”
No. 1 wide receivers in the NFL are supposed to make life tough for their opponents, but the top receiving options on the Texans schedule have proven to be maddening this season. Victor Cruz went for 107 yards and a touchdown on five catches for the New York Giants in Week 2. Dez Bryant caught 9 balls for 85 yards and a score for the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5. T.Y. Hilton erupted for 223 yards and a touchdown on nine grabs for the Indianapolis Colts in Week 6. Antonio Brown went for 90 yards on nine catches for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7. Jeremy Maclin had 158 yards on six catches and two touchdowns for the Philadelphia Eagles three weeks ago.
The commonality? Every time a top wide receiver had a big game, the Texans have lost.
As Houston, now 5-5 and just one game back of the Indianapolis Colts for first place in the AFC South, looks to make a push for the playoffs, their postseason lives may very well depend on their ability to do in Week 12 what they haven’t done all season: shut down an elite pass catcher.
Part of the problem for the Texans in stopping big play wideouts in 2014 has been health in the secondary. Cornerback Darryl Morris, a waiver wire pickup this season, has missed five games with an ankle injury but was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice. Cornerback Kareem Jackson is still out with an MCL sprain he suffered in Week 10 against the Eagles.
But the Texans will have to make due with whoever is out there. Johnathan Joseph. A.J. Bouye. D.J. Swearinger. Kendrick Lewis. Jumal Rolle.
They’ll also have to handle Cincinnati’s No. 2 wide receiver, Mohamed Sanu. This season, Sanu, a third round pick in 2011, leads the Bengals with 44 catches and 671 yards and, like Green, has four touchdowns. He’s a more than competent compliment to Green, and a play maker in his own right.
If they can’t, their playoff hopes might be toast.
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