BENGALS WR A.J. GREEN VS. BRONCOS CB CHAMP BAILEY
Two first-ballot Hall of Famers 13 years apart?
Green, the NFL's first Pro Bowl rookie receiver in eight years last season, faces Bailey, an 11-time Pro Bowler and a first-ballot lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And Bengals Radio Network analyst Artrell Hawkins says it's time to keep trying to get the ball to Green no matter who is covering him as he comes off a career-low one catch for eight yards against the Steelers two weeks ago.
"I see. You see. Everybody sees what this guy can do with the ball in the air," Hawkins says. "It's really super human."
But Hawkins also puts Bailey on the list for capes and powers.
"It looks to me like the guy hasn't lost a step after going at it with Marques Colston (last) Sunday night," Hawkins says.
It will be recalled that the buzz at the last NFL scouting combine in the 20th century had the Bengals matched up with Bailey out of Georgia with the third pick. But in the end they took Oregon quarterback Akili Smith at No. 3. The Saints found a trading partner for Ricky Williams with the Redskins at No. 4 and Washington took Bailey No. 7.
It will also be recalled that Hawkins started at cornerback for the Bengals the moment he came out of the University of Cincinnati in the second round in 1998.
"I could have been with him; that would have been interesting," Hawkins says.
Instead, Bailey joined a Washington secondary that already had Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green, and Hawkins says Bailey was already the best player in it. And after watching him shadow Colston and hold him to five catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns, Hawkins says not much has changed.
"He's their best player and they've got a good, young secondary," Hawkins says. "Their secondary is way better than it gets credit. Tony Carter, No. 32, plays football the way it's supposed to be played. (Broncos head coach ) John Fox says he's one of the best cover guys he's ever had. Free safety Rahim Moore is a guy that tackles well in space and they've got Tracy Porter, Jim Leonhard. It's a who's who of defensive backs."
But the man is still the 34-year-old Bailey and the Broncos are getting back to last season when in their first year under Fox they often used Bailey one-on-one on the other team's best receiver. Earlier this year after Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson caught a 60-yard touchdown with 6:28 left in the first quarter, the Broncos moved Bailey on him and he caught one ball for 12 yards the rest of the way.
"It will be awesome, it will be fun to watch. I know Champ is looking forward to it," says Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "He has shut down a lot of receivers in his day. This should be another notch on his belt, I'm sure. I think he's been in the Pro Bowl more years than A.J. has been playing active football. So, it will be a great matchup and I know A.J. is very much looking forward to it. He looks forward to every matchup, but this one is I'm sure special."
While Hawkins played against Bailey, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis coached Bailey in 2002 as the Redskins defensive coordinator.
"A stud," says Lewis, who also doesn't see much difference from back in the day. "He's been through a bunch of different coordinators (in Denver) and schemes and styles, but you still see that length and that athleticism and the feet. With his vision on the ball and the receiver, he's got a great knack of being able to play the receiver and have vision back to the quarterback.
"I trained him as a safety as well. A lot of times I'd move him inside—he and (Fred) Smoot and Darrell out there—and he'd be safety on the inside. So we could blitz and do things off the slot and keep the base defense out there. He can handle all that. He can play quarters coverage and different things. He was a great blitzer for me."
So A.J. Green has been hearing about it all week and as a fellow University of Georgia product, he's heard plenty about Bailey and it's got his competitive juices going.
"He's always in great position. He's great in the running game so I'm going to have to work in the run game as well. He's been around this league awhile so I'm just going to have to work him," Green says. "He's fast. He can still run. He's kind of long. Long arms. He likes to get his hands on you. He's been around the block a lot."
Hawkins says Green has to use the same approach when he caught his one pass against Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor for an eight-yard touchdown on a slant.
"If A.J. can study the tape and find opportunities. Champ doesn't have a lot of flaws, but go back and look how A.J. attacked Taylor on his one catch," Hawkins says. "It was because he understood how to release against what Ike does. He countered what Ike did from a pressure standpoint really well. He got inside him right now, attacked him. That's the best formula to beat Champ and guys like that. At the end of day, he can get his hands on you, but when the ball is in the air, and you've got to turn, you have to give A.J. the nod just because of his hand-eye coordination."
After going back and watching the Steelers game, Hawkins is surprised quarterback Andy Dalton didn't take more than six shots at Green. Hawkins believes Pittsburgh didn't do anything that unusual beyond the usual two-man (coverage underneath with one), Cover 2 and man-to-man.
"To me, it looked like there were a lot of predetermined reads. That (Dalton) was going through his progressions and at times was quicker than he should have been," Hawkins says. "He has to settle in and understand at the quarterback position it takes, sometimes, taking a sack is not always a bad thing. It's not a great thing, but you let defenses off the hook when you don't go through the progression and find the hole."
But Dalton and Green have a good vibe going against Denver. The one other time Green bounced back from a one-catch game, the first of his career in the 2011 opener, Dalton found him the next week in Denver for what is still his career-high 10 catches to go with 124 yards. Bailey was hurt and didn't play that day that Green and Dalton became the first rookie QB-WR combo to hook up for 10 catches in a game.
One thing about Green and Dalton? They have tremendous confidence in the other guy.
"We expect Champ to follow A.J.,and that is going to be a good matchup," Dalton says. "But I'll take A.J. against any of those guys. He's got the talent. He's one of the best receivers in the NFL."
And if it's one thing Gruden has, it's his confidence that Dalton can get the ball to Green.
"He's fine," Gruden says. "When we are winning everybody is happy with the way he leads. When we lose, things need to change a little bit. We just need to pick up our intensity level, convert on some third downs, make some plays happen and everybody will be happy."