One of my primary concerns entering today’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals was whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers defense would have enough in them to limit wide receiver A.J. Green, especially now as he was virtually the focal point of their offense.
The Bengals have already placed Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert on injured reserve. Wide receivers John Ross and Tyler Boyd were both inactive for the game. Only Brandon LaFell has been really consequential outside of the star wide receiver, who entered the week with the second-most receiving yards in the league behind Antonio Brown for the Steelers.
In fact, neither of the star receivers had huge games, though Brown’s was far more significant. He caught four passes for 65 yards and scored the opening touchdown of the game. On the other hand, Green was limited to three receptions for 41 yards. And all three of those receptions came in the first quarter.
He caught a 15-yard pass on the Bengals’ second play of the game on offense, and followed that up two plays later with a 10-yard reception for another first down. That drive ended in a punt, but on the next one, set up by a short punt by the Steelers, he made a big catch for 16 yards on third and five that set up first and goal and led to a touchdown.
But then…that was it.
He was targeted three more times in the game, all of them generating incomplete passes. Early in the second quarter, Andy Dalton took a deep shot in his direction, but pressure from T.J. Watt on the play prevented him from getting off a good throw.
Worse still, in the middle of the third quarter, Dalton misfired wide to his talented target, the ball bouncing off of his outstretched hand and hovering dangerously for Joe Haden to pick off—at one point off of Green’s back—for the interception.
He was targeted one final time in desperation near the end of the game, facing a fourth and two at the 33-yard line with 3:33 to play and no timeouts. In reality, this wasn’t even a target. Dalton was pressured by Ryan Shazier, among others, and inexplicably threw the ball away. On fourth down. That is not something that you do when you are losing.
While the Bengals were able to move the ball some in the first half, with Green a comparatively big part of that—only Joe Mixon had more yards from scrimmage than his 41—their offense was pretty well stifled in the second half, and Dalton could not get the ball out to his playmakers. The Pro Bowler came into the game averaging over 100 receiving yards per game, but he was quiet against this Steelers defense.