NFL Nation: A.J. Green

CINCINNATI -- A case could be made that through three ballgames the Cincinnati Bengals have the best offensive line in the NFL.

The sole basis of that case?

It's the fact the Bengals' line still has yet to let quarterback Andy Dalton get sacked. No other team in the league can make that claim about their quarterback.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsCincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has not been sacked a single time through three games this season.
In order to understand how good the Bengals' offensive line has been, though, you have to also know how good Dalton and his pass catchers and route runners have been early this season, too.

Strangely enough, as good as the Bengals have been at preventing sacks, they actually aren't the best in the league at completely controlling the line of scrimmage.

That honor goes to the San Diego Chargers.

Using statistics from ESPN Stats & Information, the Bengals actually rank ninth in the league in pass-protection percentage, with a 52.1 percent protection rate. In addition to trailing the stat-leading Chargers, they're behind the Ravens and Titans, two teams the Bengals' own defense got to for a combined five sacks in games earlier this season.

How does one explain that phenomenon? How is it possible for teams that have allowed multiple sacks to have a better pass-protection percentage than a team that hasn't allowed a sack? Because this particular statistic takes into account the percentage of plays the offense controls the line of scrimmage on pass plays, scrambles included. How do you measure how a unit controls the line of scrimmage? You factor in hurries, pressures, hits and blitzes.

When you consider how often the Bengals have been under pressure in these three games, you realize they can't be perfect controlling the line of scrimmage. Blitzes will get through.

Even if they are, the beauty of them as far as Dalton is concerned is that they aren't having an effect. He's performing better against the blitz through three games this year than he did at this point last season.

Per Stats & Information, Dalton was blitzed on 43 dropbacks through three games last year as opposed to 28 so far this season. Sure, the pressure is less overall, but he's also passing fewer times on average than he did last year as the Bengals emphasize the run more this season.

Under that pressure at the start of last season, Dalton was 28-for-40 passing with 286 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a 73.2 QBR. He also was sacked three times. So far this season against the blitz, Dalton is 18-for-28 passing with 330 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and an 87.4 QBR. He also, of course, hasn't been sacked.

We highlight those numbers to show that for as well as the line has blocked, Dalton has been helping himself by making better decisions under pressure and getting the ball quickly to his receivers, who are catching it in space for big gains. Dalton's 76-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu in Week 2 came with a blitz. He also was pressured by a strong front-line rush on the 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green in Week 1.

While the Bengals may rank ninth in pass-protection percentage, they are first in the opponent coverage sack statistic and the opponent coverage pressure statistic. The first stat tracks the average number of sacks that can be credited to tight downfield coverage. The second stat tracks the average number of pressures that can be credited to tight downfield coverage.

Cincinnati, of course, has a 0.0 average in the coverage sack stat. But it has allowed an average of 1.2 pressures per game that can be attributed to receivers not being able to get open. That's the lowest average in the league.

So again, when you think about the Bengals' ability to keep Dalton sack-free, credit the offensive line for good play. But also remember Dalton and his receivers have a hand in that, too.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:58
PM ET


CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 33-7 win over the Tennessee Titans at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: This one's easy. Sunday's 26-point win means that the Bengals are the best team in the NFL on this side of the Mississippi River. The only reason I give that geographic identifier is because there are two teams out West -- the Broncos and Seahawks -- getting set to kick off who are very much in the conversation for best team in the league. But so are the Bengals, and this third straight win -- the most impressive in a string of early-season dominating victories -- proves that. At home these last two weeks, the Bengals have showed relatively few weaknesses. Their offense has been dynamic and explosive, their defense remains suffocating, and their special teams have been adequate enough, spearheaded by punter Kevin Huber. Sunday's win was also the Bengals' 11th straight at home in the regular season, setting a franchise record. It's the longest home winning streak in the league.

Stock watch: Missed tackles were arguably the most problematic issue for the Bengals. One week after they were credited by Pro Football Focus with missing just four tackles, the Bengals easily had four before halftime Sunday. It's possible they may have had four in the first quarter alone. Official numbers won't get tabulated until Monday. But unofficially, veterans like defensive end Wallace Gilberry, safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Adam Jones were among those who struggled to bring down Titans offensive players throughout the ballgame. Many of the misses occurred early on drives when the Titans were showing signs of moving the ball. As much as the Bengals' tackling stock may have dipped Sunday, it wasn't enough to hurt a unit that allowed just seven points and has given up an average of 11 through three games.

Going over 100: When rookie running back Jeremy Hill spoke to reporters earlier this week in Cincinnati, he said the goal for the running backs was to hit 100 yards rushing each game. It would be ideal to get to 150, he said. This week, they at least hit the minimum threshold when they gained 116 yards on the ground. It's the second straight week they've gone beyond 100.

Game ball: Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson gets this week's game ball for the way he called another creative game. Each week it seems he has some new trick up his sleeve that he's willing to show in order to confound defenses that have to face him later this year. In Week 1, he trotted out various formations, including a set that put offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith out in the slot as receivers. Last week, he called a successful receiver pass from Mohamed Sanu to fellow receiver Brandon Tate. This week, it was Sanu's 18-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Andy Dalton that caught attention. Jackson has two weeks to come up with a new wrinkle.

What's next? On deck for the injury-weary Bengals is a perfectly timed early bye week. While they were quick to curse the Week 4 bye when the schedule was released, the Bengals are thankful to have it now. It will give them an opportunity to rest a few of their banged-up stars like Vontaze Burfict and Margus Hunt, and a chance to get ready for arguably the biggest game of the first half of the season the following Sunday at the New England Patriots.
CINCINNATI -- As I watched the Atlanta Falcons recover turnover after turnover and score touchdown after touchdown Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I kept seeing Cincinnati Bengals fans chiming in on social media about how advantageous the blowout was for their team.

Personally, I think they're right.

SportsNation

What did the Falcons blowout win Thursday mean for the Bengals?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,873)

If the Falcons, a team the Bengals seemed to get by with relative ease without their best playmaker (A.J. Green), can perform as well against another team as it did in that game, then it has to mean that not only are the Falcons pretty good, but by association the Bengals are, too.

In now two of the three games the Falcons have played this season, their offense has rolled. In Week 1, they put up more than 500 yards of total offense in a 37-34 overtime win over a now 0-2 Saints team that is better than its record indicates.

On Thursday, Atlanta was even more prolific scoring-wise, beating the Bucs 56-14. They were 12 yards shy of 500 on the night and got out to such a large lead that quarterback Matt Ryan and the starters left early.

So what does this have to do with the Bengals?

Well, so far, Cincinnati has been the only team to tame the Falcons' high-powered scheme. Last week, the Bengals' defense held the Falcons to just 212 yards passing and fewer than 100 yards rushing. They also appeared to completely own Atlanta at the line of scrimmage and hounded Ryan to the point that he was sacked three times and knocked down twice as he threw. Two of Ryan's three interceptions in the game also were thrown in spots where Bengals safety George Iloka was in proper position to pick the passes off with few Falcons pass-catchers all that close to him.

The 24-10 final was actually a lot closer than the flow of the game indicated.

Can we then, take the Bengals' performance in that game and apply it to what the Falcons did to the Buccaneers? Can we consider the Bengals a top-3 team (they rank No. 3 in ESPN's Power Rankings this week) because of that? Or have this season's early results simply been a matter of consequence, and it's too early to say if they have any bearing on who the Bengals or Falcons (or Bucs, for that matter) will be this year?

Those are questions I'd like for you to answer in our SportsNation poll. As always, feel free to expand upon your vote in the Comments section below.

Let the voting commence.

Titans vs. Bengals preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET

The Tennessee Titans had trouble stopping the run last week when Dallas running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 167 yards in the Cowboys' 26-10 win over the Titans at LP Field.

The Cincinnati Bengals, paced by the tandem of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, improved to 2-0 last week in part because of the ground game. The running back duo sparked the win over the Falcons when it picked up all but six of the Bengals' 170 rushing yards and contributed in the receiving game.

All that suggests the Bengals have a slight advantage entering Sunday's Week 3 showdown in Cincinnati. Will Bernard and Hill continue feeding off each other and have another strong rushing performance against a poor rushing defense? Or will the Titans buckle up this week and make the necessary changes to prevent the Bengals from pulling a Murray on them?

ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and ESPN Bengals reporter Coley Harvey are here to discuss that and more:

Kuharsky: We'll start with you, Coley. Andy Dalton has gotten spectacular protection. The Titans have eight sacks and have rushed well, with a lot of blitzes from the secondary last week. What has keyed the Bengals in this department, and are they perhaps susceptible to anything they haven’t seen yet?

Harvey: It starts with solid offensive line play. The players on the Bengals' front have done a great job holding their blocks in the first two games. Then you have to credit the Bengals' play calling. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has called plays that get Dalton to throw quickly, delivering the ball to receivers in the type of short and intermediate routes that he mostly excelled with last year. You also have to credit the receivers for running precise routes and getting quicker separation than they did at times last year. That was their key focus during the preseason. Plus, you have to acknowledge the running backs. Bernard leads the team in targets this season, and on at least three occasions he has bailed Dalton out of possible sacks by remaining close to the line of scrimmage after blocks. On each of those broken plays, Dalton yelled out Bernard's name -- "Gio!" -- before dumping off a quick screen that gained big yards.

Along those lines, Dalton deserves an enormous amount of credit for being savvy to do that and for throwing the ball away when he hasn't had adequate passing lanes this year. He is susceptible to getting sacked this week, but playing all 3-4 defenses in the preseason helped prepare the Bengals for this week's challenge.

Paul, Jake Locker and Dalton hail from the famed 2011 quarterback draft class. Locker was picked eighth overall by Tennessee, Dalton 35th by Cincinnati. And the rest has been history. It certainly appears the Dalton experiment has fared better. So what is it about Locker that continues to convince Titans brass that he’s the man for the job?

Kuharsky: Well, GM Ruston Webster wasn’t the primary decision-maker then, but he was on board with the Locker selection and obviously remains so. As he sold Ken Whisenhunt on the job, Webster also sold him on Locker having a chance to be an answer at quarterback under the tutelage of the new coach. Locker works his butt off, says all the right things and has the respect of his coaches and peers. He is capable of a game like he played in Kansas City, where he was poised even under pressure, threw a couple TD passes, distributed the ball well and led a strong effort. He’s capable, too, of a dud of a first half like he posted against the Cowboys, when he couldn’t do a thing right.

The Titans have invested a ton in the offensive line over the past two seasons, and Locker has perhaps the best stable of targets the franchise has assembled since it relocated.

They back him, but he’s not under contract beyond this year. Locker has to stay healthy and win over Whisenhunt with a good body of work or the Titans can turn toward sixth-rounder Zach Mettenberger and someone else next year.

Count me among those who figured the Bengals would drop off at least a bit defensively with Mike Zimmer moving on to Minnesota. How have they dealt with his loss? And mandatory Pacman Jones question: What’s his role, how is he playing, and is he staying out of trouble?

Harvey: Let's get to the Jones question first. When he arrived in 2010 after his time in Tennessee and Dallas, part of the way he tried to reinvent himself was to drop his nickname in favor of his given name, Adam. Teammates still refer to him as Pacman at times, but people around the team have respected his desire to mostly go by Adam. In turn, he has respected them by mostly staying on the right side of the law. He had one verbal run-in last fall with a police officer that resulted in a citation. Also last fall, a judge found Jones not guilty of assaulting a woman at a Cincinnati nightclub in June 2013. The judge didn't think either party acted appropriately but noted that surveillance video showed where Jones had first been assaulted by the stranger with a beer bottle. Since then, Jones has gotten married and doubled his efforts to put his past behind him and not receive the type of notoriety that defined his days in Nashville.

As far as his role, that relates to the reason there hasn't been much drop-off following Zimmer's departure. The Bengals may have lost the beloved coordinator, but they lost only one regular starter from last year's defense in the offseason -- defensive end Michael Johnson. They remain chock-full of veteran talent with players, such as the 30-year-old Jones, who are playing the best in their careers. Cornerbacks Terence Newman and Leon Hall are playing at high levels in a defense that has the same scheme and foundation as before. It also helps that new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was already on the staff and was in charge of calling many of the blitzes that made Zimmer's scheme hum.

Although last week’s loss to Dallas was certainly deflating to a Titans defense that stopped the run well in Week 1, what was it that made Tennessee’s pass defense so effective last week against Tony Romo? How will Tennessee try to make Dalton's life as tough as Romo’s was last week?

Kuharsky: Don’t let the numbers fool you. They were "good" in pass defense against Dallas only because they were so busy getting run on that the Cowboys didn’t need to throw the ball. Dez Bryant had his way with them on the crucial drive that re-established who the better team was after the Titans closed to 16-10 in the third quarter. With top cornerback Jason McCourty out in the second half with a groin injury, Romo made the throws he needed to against Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Coty Sensabaugh and the rest of the secondary.

The Titans have rushed well, so Alex Smith and Romo didn’t have a lot of time to pick them apart. But Smith lacked weapons, and Romo lacked necessity. The Titans have limited big plays, which is a huge theme under defensive coordinator Ray Horton. If they can keep that up, the Bengals might have to earn their yards in smaller chunks.

What are the biggest differences between Jay Gruden’s offense and the one Jackson is using in his first year as coordinator with Gruden at the helm in Washington? If the Bengals are without A.J. Green, how dangerous can they still be?

Harvey: All you need to know is this: Dalton averaged 39.9 dropbacks in 2013. Through two games, he has averaged just 31.5 dropbacks. In short, the Bengals are passing less and running more. That was Jackson's charge this offseason when he said he wanted to instill a more physical, aggressive brand of offense from what the team had before. When the Bengals rushed 45 times last week with all but 10 of their carries coming inside the tackles, you could see exactly what Jackson was referring to. He wants to bruise defenses up front to open up the pass downfield.

Being without Green, as it appears they will be, will be a big loss. But considering the fact that Green was lost just six plays into Sunday's game and the Bengals still held up offensively, they should be fine passing to Mohamed Sanu, tight end Jermaine Gresham and the running backs. If it plays like it did last week, the Bengals offense can still be dangerous sans Green.

How fast is Delanie Walker, Paul? Outside of the AFC South we just see a physical, stodgy bowling ball of a tight end. But can he really be as dangerous in space as he seems to think?

Kuharsky: He was a terror last week. On his 61-yard touchdown catch, he bounced off a corner and galloped a long way, outrunning four Cowboys. Walker is a tough, smart player who was a good find. And Whisenhunt, a former NFL tight end, is finding ways to use him just as Mike Munchak and his staff did in 2013. Walker can be a big matchup problem, depending on how a defense chooses to defend receivers Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Justin Hunter and backs Dexter McCluster and Bishop Sankey. Tennessee has another tight end who can do some damage as a receiver. Taylor Thompson was a defensive end in college, but he finally has caught on to what it takes to be effective on offense in the NFL at the position he started at.

CINCINNATI -- As Andy Dalton approached the line of scrimmage his eyes panned the field.

Left, right, middle. Short, intermediate, deep. The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback scanned the zones where he wanted to send his receivers, wondering if there was a soft spot for them run into, and if there was a place he could pass to in order to convert a crucial third down.

It was in his pre-snap read of the third-and-6 defense when he saw a safety creep up and the linebackers get even closer. At that moment, it was evident: The Falcons were going to bring an all-out blitz, forsaking the deep portions of the field. If a receiver could get past the safety, he might not only get a first down.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsAndy Dalton ran his record against NFC teams to 10-3.
He could get a touchdown, too.

That was Dalton's hope when he saw the defensive formation called a "Cover Zero." That particular formation is one in which only a safety sits downfield in zone coverage, while the cornerbacks line up in man coverage and the rest of the defense goes in all-out pursuit of the quarterback. Once Dalton recognized what was coming, he made a few tweaks at the line of scrimmage, barking out protection changes and additional blitz pickups.

His adjustments paid off.

Perhaps the most crucial line change was getting running back Giovani Bernard to pick up a blitzing defender. When he did, the block gave Dalton just a split-second long enough to get off his pass without a hand being directly in his face.

"I saw exactly what he saw," receiver Mohamed Sanu said.

When the ball was snapped, Sanu's objective was simple. He needed to run a slant and quickly get enough separation from his cornerback that Dalton could lead him to a spot where only he could get hands on the ball.

That's precisely what happened, and 76 yards and one missed tackle later Sanu was in the end zone with a key touchdown that began the Bengals' separation. The touchdown made it 17-3, and came just before an interception and subsequent score pushed the lead even further barely five minutes later.

"We had a good check on and Mo ran a really good route," Dalton said. "When you're playing Cover Zero and you make one guy miss, there's nobody else in the back end. When [cornerback Robert Alford] fell off on the route, Mo had a pretty good jog into the end zone."

Sanu's touchdown reception showed just how in sync the pair was. With Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green dealing with a toe injury that could keep him out next week against Tennessee, the Bengals will desperately need this pairing to continue to be on the same page.

"When guys go down like that, that's the mentality that you have to have as a team, regardless of the position," said Dalton, referencing the five Bengals who were lost to injury Sunday, including Green. "Everybody here knows what Mo can do and obviously he had a really good chance to showcase his ability."

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
4:16
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-10 win against the Atlanta Falcons at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: Sunday's win should have sent a strong message to the rest of the league. That message? That even after having to replace both their coordinators, the Bengals still have a smooth and fluid offense and the same intimidating defense that ended last season ranked third in the NFL. After placing fifth in ESPN's Power Rankings last week, the Bengals certainly proved in this win that they deserve to be considered a top-five team at this early stage of the season. The only problem with Sunday's 14-point victory was that it may have come at a price. The Bengals were attacked by a vicious injury bug during the game as five players, including Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict, were lost with varying ailments. It was the second straight game Burfict left early.

Stock watch: One week after going 5-for-6 on field goals (one was blocked), Bengals kicker Mike Nugent trended in the opposite direction against the Falcons when he made just one of the four field goal attempts he had. Like his first five at Baltimore, all four of Nugent's attempts Sunday came in the first half. The second miss, a 49-yard try, looked the worst. After appearing to be good off Nugent's foot, the ball knuckled at the last second and glided left of the goalposts. His next attempt, a 55-yarder in the final second of the second quarter, fell just short. Nugent's kickoffs weren't any better. All four were just short enough in the end zone that Atlanta's electric return man Devin Hester was able to bring them out. Hester, who had been in a war of words with Bengals punt returner Adam Jones over their return skills earlier in the week, averaged 29.5 yards on the four kick returns he had. His longest was 36 yards.

Run-game revival: After being held to just 79 yards rushing last week, the Bengals performed better on the ground in Week 2. Combined, they rushed for 170 yards, with second-year back Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill leading the way. The pair combined for 67 yards on 18 carries against the Ravens in the opener. This week, they had all but six of the Bengals' yards. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who didn't run any read-option this week, had those other six.

Game ball: Receiver Mohamed Sanu gets this week's game ball after factoring in both the Bengals' passing and receiving game. He caught three passes for 84 yards, including a touchdown and completed a 50-yard pass to receiver Brandon Tate. The pass came on the first play of the Bengals' second drive and set a tone about how well the offense could operate. The Bengals came up dry on the drive, though, as Nugent missed his first field goal at its conclusion.

What's next? Cincinnati will be back in action next week when it hosts Tennessee in an important pre-bye week contest. One week after the Titans come to Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals are off. This will be the Bengals' first meeting with an AFC South team this season, the division that had the lowest combined winning percentage in the league last year. The timing of the bye might be good for the Bengals considering all the injuries they picked up against the Falcons.
CINCINNATI -- The war of words between the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons has already started, and it doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon.

So don't be surprised if Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium if the two teams play with an edge that's uncommon for an early season, cross-conference matchup like this one.

[+] EnlargeAdam Jones
Patrick Semansky/Associated PressAdam Jones has been engaging in a war of words with Atlanta's Devin Hester this week.
Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, for a chippy game.

For the past two days, boastful barbs have been lobbed back and forth between the locker rooms as players on both teams have used the media to state their case at positional supremacy. Primarily, it's been two of the four men in Atlanta's talented receiving corps who felt compelled to respond to one of the players who will be charged with stopping them. Bengals cornerback and punt returner Adam Jones levied the first blow in this verbal battle on Wednesday.

"He's a good returner," said Jones about Atlanta's receiver/return specialist Devin Hester, "but he's not better than me. He played more games than me, way more games than me. I don't feel like there's anybody better than me when I'm right there. I've said that a long time before now."

Hester has an NFL-record 18 combined kick-return scores in 124 career games, including an NFL-record 13 punt-return touchdowns. Jones has five career punt-return scores in 85 career games. Last week, Hester had a kick return for 21 yards and gained a yard on a punt return. Jones had one punt return for 45 yards.

In the career sense, Hester was right. So how did he respond?

"Every return man is going to try and compare himself to me," Hester told ESPN's Vaughn McClure in Atlanta on Thursday. "That's just the way it is. If you look at the stats, I'm on the top of the list. So everybody, when it's time to play me, is going to try and want to be the next Devin Hester."

Added Falcons receiver Roddy White: "Oh my God. You're talking about a Hall of Famer and then [Jones]. I don't even know how many Pacman's got. It's like apples to oranges, man. Devin, everybody knows what he can do in the return game."

Even if they tried to laugh them off, the two Falcons clearly weren't happy with Jones' remarks.

Atlanta's cornerbacks might not like what Bengals receiver A.J. Green said Thursday while noting the considerable height difference between he and the cornerbacks who will go up against him. Green said, "those guys are chippy, man. Chippy little guys, like little gnats."

At 6-foot-4, Green is athletic with tremendous leaping ability. His likely matchups, Robert Alford and Robert McClain, are 5-10 and 5-9, respectively. The best way to beat them, Green said? To be physical.

It's much the same kind of physicality he said was necessary to handle Falcons safety William Moore, a "big, physical linebacker [type of] safety." Green said that when Moore is on the field a receiver or tight end must always be aware of where he is.

See? There's respect here despite all the mid-week trash talk. Players on both teams train together in the offseason, and their coaches have crossed paths several times before. Green also makes Atlanta his home in the offseason, and has been revered in the area since starring at Georgia. An East Point, Georgia, native, Jones also has strong ties to the area.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said it best when describing the relationships on both teams.

"I've got a lot of friendships with a lot of people, but this week we're competing," Lewis said. "We can go back to being friends next week again."

The players might be friendly at the end of Sunday's game, but this early war of words gives them reasons to be anything but during it.
CINCINNATI -- You're probably going to hear, read and see a lot the next few days comparing A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

The irony is, you've probably already heard, read and seen much of what will surface.

Green
 
Jones
 The two Pro Bowl receivers have been linked since they were in high school, when they were All-America standouts in their respective native states South Carolina and Alabama. In college, a sort of rivalry formed when they competed in the SEC. Green played at Georgia. Jones was at Alabama.

When the 2011 draft rolled around, the question wasn't if either would be top-10 draft picks. It was who was going to go first.

At No. 4, the Cincinnati Bengals were the first team on the draft board that year with a dire need for a receiver. The Atlanta Falcons, at No. 27, had enough of a need for another pass-catcher that they ended up jumping all the way to No. 6 when they pulled off a draft-night trade with the Browns.

Green was chosen by Cincinnati. Jones was the Falcons' choice with the sixth pick. The rest, as they say, is history.

One look at both their careers, and it's clear the moves worked out well for both teams. Upon examination of last season, it's clear Jones gave his team slightly better overall production than Green. This Thursday factoid delves into this number: 116.0.

That's the number of yards per game since last season that Jones has averaged. That figure is only outpaced by Josh Gordon, who averaged 117.6 yards per game for the Browns in 2013. Unlike Jones, Gordon hasn't played yet this season as he awaits a possible reversal of his yearlong suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Green isn't trailing Jones by much in the average yards per game since last season's statistic. The Bengals' star receiver has averaged 91.6 yards per game in that span. That includes his six-catch, 131-yard performance in Sunday's 23-16 win over the Ravens. Only Gordon, Jones, Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown have higher per-game-averages in that time.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis didn't need to see those numbers nor those rankings to know how good both Green and Jones were.

"They were in the top four players we felt that year," Lewis said, referring to the draft. "We knew we were going to get a good player when we stayed at No. 4 and picked."

A case could be made that Green has had the more overall impact in his career. Injuries have been an issue at times for Jones, and they're the reason he's only appeared in 35 games as compared to Green's 48. Green has only missed one Bengals game in his career. He's trying to avoid making it two this week as he tries to recover from a foot injury that has slowed him so far this week. He was limited Wednesday because of it, and didn't practice at all Thursday.

How much more productive has Green been over Jones?

Green has caught 266 passes compared to Jones' 181. Green has 3,964 yards receiving, compared to Jones' 2,853. Green's 30 touchdowns overshadow Jones' 20. It would be interesting to see how much closer that gap would be if both had the same number of games played.

It also will be interesting to see how their stats compare Sunday when they square off in their first regular-season meeting.
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BALTIMORE -- At first it was shocking. Then it was galvanizing.

When A.J. Green stalked the Cincinnati Bengals' sideline with about six minutes remaining in Sunday's season opener against the Ravens, he did something he doesn't normally do.

He opened his mouth.

"Hey, we got one play," Green said, looking in Giovani Bernard's eyes.

"Let's make that play," Green followed up as he turned toward Mohamed Sanu.

Momentum had just escaped the Bengals as cornerback Adam Jones got crossed up on a go route the Ravens completed to Steve Smith. The 80-yard touchdown put Baltimore on top 16-15 and gave the Ravens their first lead of the game.

That's when Green got involved.

"I've never seen A.J. talk during the game," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "He told every single offensive guy that it only takes one big play to get this thing back going the other way.

"And he did it."

Exactly 51 game seconds after Green gave his surprising pep talk, he crossed the goal line with his own go route touchdown, one that put the Bengals back ahead and gave them the game's final lead and the comfort of knowing they can close out a game when they have to.

The reception occurred on just the second play of the Bengals' penultimate drive and came in part thanks to a pregame Ravens roster change. When cornerback Lardarius Webb was declared inactive because of an achy lower back, Green had every reason to believe this was going to be his day to shine.

Green's six catches for 131 yards were a sign he did exactly that.

With Webb absent, the Ravens had just three corners. They mostly rotated them, but on some occasions safeties had to be lined up on receivers. During Green's game-changing reception, fourth-year backup corner Chykie Brown was on him. When the play began, Brown got pushed to the outside by Green, who got inside leverage. Once that happened, quarterback Andy Dalton had a lane to pass.

"We had the look we wanted," Dalton said. "A.J. had been telling me that he felt they were playing him soft and that he could get by them."

As Brown tried to recover, a finger hit the ball. The ball went in the air along with Green's hands. With his back partially turned to the line of scrimmage, Green caught the pass before turning up the field. As Ravens safety Darian Stewart sprinted up, Green juked once to his left and once more to the right before cruising into the end zone untouched.

"There was no way I was going down," Green said. "Like I was telling the guys before that play, 'If we want to be great, we've got to take that next step.' The whole past of the Bengals is that we'll get here and we'll [crack] in big games. One of the biggest things for us was setting the mindset of going into every game [saying] that we can win."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Darian Stewart, the Baltimore Ravens' new starting free safety, wasn't on the team last year. So you have to take that in consideration when hearing his response about the challenge of covering Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green.

"I don't consider it a challenge. He's just one guy," Stewart said. "We have to make plays when it comes to us and just be aware of where he's going to be at all times."

[+] EnlargeAJ Green
AP Photo/David KohlAJ Green has made the Ravens nuts, as the Pro Bowl receiver tends to have big games against Baltimore.
That "one guy" just happens to be the best young receiver in the NFL, and that "one guy" single-handedly drove the Ravens' safeties crazy last season.

Consider this: The Ravens allowed seven completions that traveled at least 40 yards in the air last season, and Green accounted for three of them.

Here were Green's three big plays against the Ravens last season:

  • On Nov. 10 in Baltimore, Green made a leaping circus catch for 43 yards near midfield. Even though Green was double-covered, quarterback Andy Dalton trusted his three-time Pro Bowl receiver enough to throw the ball anyway. Green made a juggling grab around Ravens safety James Ihedigbo, who was in position to break up the pass.
  • Green sent that same game into overtime with a 51-yard touchdown on a last-second Hail Mary toss. After the ball bounced off Bengals receiver Marvin Jones, Ihedigbo tipped the pass into the air instead of knocking it down. The ball landed in the hands of Green, who finished with 151 yards receiving.
  • In the regular-season finale, Green put the Bengals up 7-6 in the first quarter with a 53-yard touchdown. Ravens safety Matt Elam was burned so badly that he tried to hold Green to stop the Pro Bowl receiver from getting downfield and missed on that, too.

The Ravens aren't alone when it comes to struggling to contain Green. Since he entered the league in 2011, Green leads the NFL with 14 catches on passes that have traveled at least 40 yards in the air. He has scored touchdowns on six of them.

The challenge in covering Green -- and, despite what Stewart says, it's a big challenge -- is trying to match his size, speed and athleticism.

"There’s nothing he really doesn’t do well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

The Ravens have wanted to improve their coverage skills at the safety position because they've given up too many big pass plays. That was one of the major reasons why the Ravens cut Bernard Pollard in 2013 and didn't re-sign Ihedigbo this past offseason.

Many thought Terrence Brooks would be the team's starting free safety this season, but the speedy rookie didn't develop quickly enough. The Ravens have gone with Stewart as their starter throughout spring workouts and training camp.

While Stewart isn't the prototypical free safety, he is considered a better fit than Ihedigbo. Stewart said his main job is to keep receivers in front of him, and that begins with Green on Sunday.

"I know the guys up front are going to do their job, so it's up to me to do mine," he said. "I'm counting on me to make plays back there."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It took the Cincinnati Bengals three tries, but they finally walked away with a preseason win Sunday night when they knocked off the Cardinals 19-13 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

While the preseason primarily is about the players and their ability to impress coaches in order to earn spots on the 53-man roster, it is also about generating some cohesion, confidence, rhythm and momentum for the entire team entering the regular season. That's the main reason why coaches and players alike were desperate this week to claim a win after two fruitless attempts to start the preseason.

Thanks to the win, momentum was generated. Confidence? Perhaps it was instilled, too. Only time will tell. As for cohesion and rhythm, it seems the Bengals still have some work to do in those areas. At times Sunday they seemed very out of sync both offensively and on special teams. The no-huddle offense that was so fluid last week against the Jets was syncopated against the Cardinals. At times the first-team offense hummed smoothly along. At others, it had trouble getting settled into its normally quick tempo because of penalties and apparent issues with communication.

Here are a few more thoughts on the Bengals' preseason game Sunday:
  • We might as well extend the story line of Cincinnati's arrhythmic starting offense a little further. Here are two occasions when quarterback Andy Dalton didn't seem on the same page with his receivers. Once at the end of the first quarter, A.J. Green opened up to his left after running wide open into the flat. Dalton, seeing Green break open, threw over his right shoulder, clearly expecting the wideout to turn a different way. The pass fell incomplete and stalled a drive on third down. In the second quarter, tight end Jermaine Gresham cut off a route that Dalton proceeded to throw 15 yards downfield. The quarterback expected Gresham to extend the route. Some of the miscommunication could be attributed to the Bengals' mixing of lineups. Backups were inserted as early as the second play of the game as they rotated with starters for individual evaluation purposes.
  • In addition to their sporadic issues with rhythm, the Bengals had difficulty figuring out where and how to run the football early. Starter Giovani Bernard began the game dedicated to bouncing the ball to the edge. Those carries largely proved worthless. Of his 10 first-half carries, five went to the left and right edges. They gained just 3 yards. The other carries in the middle of the field resulted in 14-yard gains. Those runs came around the same time late in the second quarter when rookie Jeremy Hill came in as a backup. All four of his first-half carries went between the tackles. They amassed 23 yards. Power-run football is part of what offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's new offense hinges on, and it's clear the Bengals were better Sunday doing that than when they went away from it.
  • Field position also was an issue for the Bengals who couldn't seem to get out of the shadows of their own end zone. Of the 10 drives they had, seven started at their own 20 or inside it. Of those, four began inside the 10-yard line. With poor field position, the Bengals' starters had trouble moving the football and converting third downs. They were 4-for-15 on third down.
  • As it has for most of the preseason, the Bengals' defense was sound. The starters primarily played through the second quarter, allowing just one Arizona field goal in their time on the field. The base first-team defense has now allowed just four field goals in its three preseason games. Among the defenders of note: defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who saw extended action for the first time this year after returning from an ACL injury from last season.
CINCINNATI -- If you had the opportunity to watch the Cincinnati Bengals' open training camp practices earlier this month, you probably heard one word shouted more frequently and more emphatically than any other.

Finish!

[+] EnlargeBengals offensive line
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanThe blocking by the Bengals' offensive linemen won't just be focused at the line of scrimmage in 2014.
It was a command most often given by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, receivers coach James Urban and running backs coach Kyle Caskey. Their goal: to get the skill players on offense to continue running downfield even if they had been "tackled" or stood up by a defender or series of defenders who had touched them down. That encouragement was referenced in this ESPN.com story last month on running back Rex Burkhead, the now-injured back who was upheld as an example of finishing practice-play runs even after he got knocked down.

Running backs and receivers weren't the only ones prodded to keep going, though. Offensive linemen were, too. If the 300-pound blockers get up and down the field the way they have so far this preseason, the Bengals believe they will be in good shape when the regular season starts.

"It's an emphasis every team has this time of year, but the key is we're working hard to actually get it done," right guard Kevin Zeitler said. "As you know, we had a couple of fumbling issues at times last year and it would have been nice if we had been there to pick them up."

Fumbles and the possibility of having linemen there to help scoop them up aren't the only reasons behind the added push to get linemen downfield. By getting linemen automatically running downfield, the pace of the Bengals' no-huddle offense could get quickened, too. Additionally, Jackson believes that by getting all of his players to flow to wherever the football is, he'll enhance the intensity and aggressive nature he's trying to instill in Cincinnati's offense.

"That's how you get bigger runs," he added.

In a recent film session he showed evidence of what downfield blocking can do. He put on screen one lengthy Bengals run that was sparked in part by receiver A.J. Green, who rode a defender into the sideline, helping open an alley.

"To me when our star players do that, it shows that they're into it like everybody else," Jackson said.

"It's just got to be the mindset. It's my mindset," he added Monday. "You've got to become that and do it every day. It can't be a sometime thing. I told the guys this morning, if you're going to play on our offensive football team, you've got to demonstrate those characteristics, and they have."

One of the in-game instances of finishing that Zeitler was proud of came in the first quarter of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets after he and center Russell Bodine had trouble holding off defenders at the line of scrimmage. As a result of their issue at the snap, a screen pass to the right to tight end Jermaine Gresham very nearly resulted in a lost-yardage play. But because Zeilter and Bodine didn't resign themselves to the play being over, they cleared a post-catch hole that Gresham scooted through to turn an apparent negative play into a 9-yard gain.

Quarterback Andy Dalton has noticed the extra attention his linemen have made in trying to get down the field even after the ball has been thrown, and believes it's paying off. So does veteran leader and Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who echoed Jackson's sentiments when he pushed Jackson's desire to get the entire unit to showcase that scrappy style of play.

Whitworth would rather point to some of the less recognizable intangibles like players finishing to Jackson's liking, as a theory behind why the first-team offense has looked so impressive through two preseason games. Dalton's stats, including his perfect passer rating last weekend, are good, Whitworth said. But they wouldn't be so high if it weren't, in part, for some of what Jackson is reinforcing.

"That kind of thing," Whitworth said, "is the kind of mentality that helps you win football games."

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are now 0-2 in preseason play following Saturday night's 25-17 loss to the New York Jets.

But it's not the final score Bengals fans should be concerned about. It really wasn't indicative of how well the Bengals' first- and second-team units played in the more meaningful snaps early in the contest. It was more indicative of how wide the chasm is between the Bengals' starters and their last-string backups. Cincinnati was up 17-3 and looking to increase its lead before the lineup changes.

For most of the first two quarters, the Bengals looked nearly flawless. Quarterback Andy Dalton, in fact, was a perfect 8-for-8 on his passing opportunities. False start and holding penalties were about the only issues this group had offensively. Defensively, the Bengals had to watch for swinging arms and hard shoves from Jets linemen. In all, the Jets were flagged six times for committing either personal foul or unnecessary roughness penalties.

Here are a few more thoughts on the Bengals' preseason game Saturday:
  • Not only was Dalton perfect from an accuracy standpoint, but he also passed for 144 yards and rushed for seven. He also had a passing touchdown and has led scoring drives on all four of the series he's been in for this preseason. Two field goals have resulted from drives he's led, and two touchdown have as well. In addition to Dalton's 43-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu on Saturday, Giovani Bernard capped another drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Dalton's three-series day began with a 4-for-4 performance on the opening drive that included Sanu's touchdown catch. That score came when Dalton dropped a well-placed pass into Sanu's hands at the top of a post route. Sanu beat his cornerback and caught the pass as a safety closed on him. At halftime, Sanu said this about the throw: "Andy just dropped it on a dime. All I had to do was stick my hands out and not drop it."
  • The Bengals' no-huddle offense really has taken shape this preseason. It was evident all throughout the game, most notably in the first and fourth quarters. At one point on Dalton's second drive, the Bengals called five straight no-huddle plays before the Jets finally called a timeout. The offense was in sync during that five-play portion of the series, too, gaining 70 yards and getting into red-zone territory after A.J. Green caught a 35-yard pass that he might have tried pushing for a score in a non-preseason game. It seemed as if he stepped out of bounds early to avoid contact. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been coy about how much he plans on using the no-huddle segments of his offense, but it has been clear the Bengals are going to make it a focal point of their more aggressive and rhythm-based scheme.
  • Last Saturday, Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told his team's website that New York "owed" the Bengals for the 49-9 thrashing Cincinnati handed the Jets last October. Apparently his words struck a nerve. The Bengals came out with a slightly sharpened edge defensively, and it seemed to rub off on the similarly anxious Jets, who couldn't avoid committing the aforementioned personal-foul infractions.
  • Injuries were an issue late for the Bengals as several were run from the game. Most notably, rookies Darqueze Dennard (hip), Jeremy Hill (shoulder), Marquis Flowers (ankle) and Jeremy Wright (hip) -- all draft picks -- were banged up. Flowers was the only one of them who returned. Along with them, linebacker J.K. Schaffer (head), running back Rex Burkhead (knee) and quarterback Tyler Wilson (head) were lost for the game, too.

W2W4: Cincinnati Bengals

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
12:00
PM ET
The Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) and the New York Jets (1-0) play their second game of the preseason at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

1. Preseason payback? Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told his team's website last weekend that he and his teammates "owe" the Bengals for the 49-9 loss they were handed in Cincinnati last October. Richardson felt that no other offense dominated the Jets' defense quite like the Bengals did last season. So even though he'll only be on the field for a few first-half plays, Richardson still wants the Bengals to know that his team is better than it showed last regular season. The Bengals are embracing Richardson's challenge, saying they are glad to face an opponent who will play with a little passion and energy in the preseason. It's very rare teams for teams to display that passion, as players, for the most part, try to tiptoe through the preseason without getting injured.

2. Life without Marvin. The Bengals will play Saturday for the first time since news came this week that receiver Marvin Jones needed surgery to help heal a bone broken during last Saturday's in-stadium practice. This actually will be the second preseason game the Bengals will have had without him after he took last week's game off while making his slow return from an ankle injury that caused him to miss part of training camp. A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu already were expected to fill Jones' shoes, but who else will? Keep an eye out for Brandon Tate, Dane Sanzenbacher, Ryan Whalen, James Wright, Cobi Hamilton and Colin Lockett. All will try to showcase their playmaking ability, even though Tate, Sanzenbacher, Wright and Hamilton stand the best odds of filling Jones' shoes until he returns Oct. 5 against the Patriots.

3. Better tackling. Cincinnati's tackling efforts left a lot to be desired last week at Kansas City. Among the topics coach Marvin Lewis was quickest to highlight following the preseason opener was his team's lack of good, fundamental tackling. It cost the Bengals at times on defense, and really hurt them on special teams. Last week's game was the first time any of the players had tackled live since last season. Lewis and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons are hoping those tackling concerns clear up this week.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 9

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
4:45
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • The results of Saturday's scrimmage inside Paul Brown Stadium were mixed, and the split followed offensive and defensive lines. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wasn't pleased with his unit's communication. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was beside himself with glee, giddy about his starting quarterback's calm, measured and "sensational" play that capped the first week and a half of training camp. He had good reason to be happy. Andy Dalton and the first-team offense picked apart the second-team defense to the tune of 17-for-20 passing, about 200 yards passing, one touchdown and another three potential touchdowns that either were negated by borderline penalties or referee decisions. With players wearing shoulder pads and shorts, there was no tackling, so officials were just signaling about where they thought a player would be tackled.
  • Tight end Tyler Eifert was Dalton's favorite target. Six of the 17 completions were caught by the tight end, most of them in the seams or on some similar deep pattern. Eifert had about 120 yards receiving (these are statistics I kept while trying to chart each play from the sideline. It's tough to get exact figures). He also caught Dalton's lone touchdown pass (35-yards), and probably would have had another two had referees not marked him down short of the end zone. In a game situation, it's quite probable that he would have broken any of the single-coverage tackle attempts he faced in those situations, and would have scored. Eifert was a popular go-to for Dalton much of this week. "Our progressions are taking us to him," Jackson said. "Sometimes he's the first choice, sometimes he's the second choice and things have worked out that way. But again, that's what happens when you have good players. People are going to take A.J. [Green] away, we have to throw it to somebody else."
  • Green caught two passes for about 30 yards. A third, a 50-yard touchdown reception, was negated when one of the league referees on hand to teach the updated rules, called him for offensive pass interference. The NFL this season is forcing receivers into avoiding pushing off at all costs. Green, the official ruled, pushed off just before settling under the well thrown pass to the goal-line by Dalton. "I'm not changing my game," Green said. "It's going to be tough [to enforce]." When I asked Dalton if he thought it was pass interference he gave me a look that suggested he was miffed we were even discussing it. "Come on, it was a touchdown," Dalton said. "There were a couple of those where we'll have to go back and look at those and see what kind of calls they were. He did a good job of getting open and making a play."
  • Guenther thought his defense did a nice job of plugging running lanes and had good, tight coverage, but he wished plays and changes had been better relayed at times. The most glaring communication issue the defense had, he told me, came late in practice during a one-minute situation where his radio communicator went out as the play was getting called. "Half the guys got the call, the other half didn't," Guenther said. "That's part of why we do these things, these mock games so to speak. It's so that we can get the stuff ironed out and that we get it right."
  • The Bengals had several one-minute drills during the practice. During his, Dalton went 6-for-6, connecting with Eifert twice and Giovani Bernard twice more. Cobi Hamilton and Brandon Tate caught the other two passes as the offense moved the ball from midfield to within field goal range. They didn't actually attempt a kick, but coach Marvin Lewis told officials when the clock stopped at eight seconds that he would have gone for the field goal in that particular situation.
  • Up next: The Bengals have Sunday off before returning to action at 3 p.m. ET Monday afternoon. They will begin their first game prep of the year next week ahead of Thursday's preseason opener at Kansas City.

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