One of the keys in Sunday's important AFC North game between the Bengals and Steelers is whether the Steelers can contain Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Actually, the better question is whether the Steelers will have anyone healthy enough to cover one of the top receivers in the NFL.
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who held Green to one catch for a career-low eight yards earlier this season, has been ruled out for a third straight game with an ankle injury. That means Keenan Lewis, who leads the league with 21 passes defensed (two more than anyone else in the NFL), will take the assignment of holding Green in check.
Well, Lewis is now a question mark, too. Already dealing with a hip injury from Sunday's game in Dallas, Lewis injured his knee during Wednesday's practice in an accident that shows how bad things are going for the Steelers these days. Lewis hurt his knee by stepping in a hole in practice, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This knee injury, and not his hip, is the more troublesome issue for Lewis heading into Sunday's game, the paper reported.
"He’s another long cornerback," Green said of Lewis. "He has long arms. He is playing very well. I am going to have to be patient on my releases and keep his hands down."
If Lewis is sidelined along with Taylor, Cortez Allen would presumably be the next cornerback to take Green. Allen had a full practice Wednesday after missing the last game with a groin injury. There's a chance that the Steelers might have to start their nickel back (Allen) and a player who wasn't on the active roster at the start of this month (Josh Victorian).
Green ranks seventh in the NFL with 1,208 yards receiving. His 11 touchdown catches are second in the league.
The problem lately hasn't been opposing defenses for Green. Quarterback Andy Dalton has been missing him on throws. In addition to his five-yard touchdown catch in Philadelphia, Green was targeted two more times in the end zone. But Dalton underthrew him on one incompletion and mistimed a back-shoulder pass on another.
"He is extremely talented," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Green. "We are familiar with him and what he is capable of. He is big, fast and quick to speed. He plays to his size down the field. He plays the ball above eye level. That’s going to be a challenge for our defensive backs."
It's going to be a bigger challenge if the Steelers are down to their third- and fourth-best corners.