A.J. Green swiped control of the AFC North on this catch against the Steelers.
BENGALS WR A.J. GREEN VS. CARDINALS CB PATRICK PETERSON
It has been a tough week for Green. But he lights up about Sunday's Stud Summit (8:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Arizona matching him with Peterson, his 2011 SEC bookend.
"Mano a mano," says Green in a week Carson Palmer gave him the biggest compliment possible when he compared his route running to Chad Johnson.
The 6-4, 207-pound Green, out of Georgia, went No. 4 in the draft. The 6-1, 219-pound Peterson, out of LSU, went No. 5. Both have been named to all four Pro Bowls played since that day.
Green is the only player to rank among the top four in both catches and yards for a player's first four NFL seasons. Peterson, the only defensive player ever to catch a pass and complete a pass in the same game, is the first defensive player named to four Pro Bowls before his 25th birthday.
And the folks in the desert say Peterson is having his best year yet. Green compares him to a guy that once lived in Prime Time and now resides in Canton.
"Great corner. Does everything well," Green says. "Big. Fast. Physical. He's like Deion."
They played each other once on Christmas Eve 2011 during their rookie year in a game the Bengals won at Paul Brown Stadium, but their matchup got Scrooged. Green, with a dinged shoulder, had two catches for 25 yards and drew a 21-yard pass interference penalty on Peterson. Early in the third quarter Peterson picked off Andy Dalton's underthrown ball when he got hit on a blitz, but the pick was wiped away by a roughing call and Peterson left for the day with an Achilles' injury on the same play.
Fast forward to their fifth season. Green has commandeered fourth quarters against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Seattle in piling up an average of 85 yards per game while eying his first 100-catch season, Peterson is ranked third by profootballfocus.com in allowing yards per coverage snap even though he lines up against the other team's best receiver and follows him to hell and back for the NFL's third-best defense.
After a solid month of defenses rotating to his side and sagging off him, Green is looking forward to an old-fashioned one-on-one arm wrestling match.
"When you've got a guy like that," Green says, "you don't need help."
"That's how they play their defense,' says Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban of the Cards. "They can do some (safety help over the top), but their structure is a match-up type of defense. It's not like Houston with a lot of roll coverage (to Green). They're not afraid to play a single safety and say, 'Let's go.' Anytime you put two elite guys like A.J. and Patrick out there, there is going to be a lot of, 'A.J. beat me that time,' and 'Patrick got me there.' We just hope A.J. can come out make a few more plays. I'm going to enjoy watching it."
According to PFF, Peterson defused Megatron Calvin Johnson on three catches for 40 yards on four targets. He shut up Baltimore's Steve Smith Sr., on three targets and two catches for 38 yards. With the help of Landry Jones and Mike Vick, he held Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown to two catches on six targets for 26 yards. St. Louis' Tavon Austin had one catch for minus one yard. In Seattle last week, Russell Wilson didn't bother to go after him. He only threw at him once for an incompletion.
That won't happen Sunday night. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton are too good. Just ask the former Bengal himself.
"A.J. looks like Chad the way he runs routes. He's so quick in his transition and explosive and fast," Palmer says.
Cincinnati Bengals host practice at the University of Cincinnati 11/18/2015
"(Dalton is) just a great player. He can do it all. He can throw all the balls. Extremely accurate. A much better than athlete than people expect of him. He runs around making plays. He extends plays. He takes off and runs. He's just got that element to his game, which makes him so tough to defend because he can stay in the pocket and take hits and make throws. When you have that kind of ability, especially on third down and in the red zone it's such another issue you have to worry about defensively. He's just playing lights out and because we're playing the AFC North I've seen a bunch of their offense on film. He's just making spectacular throws. There's a handful of just kind of 'wow' throws against Baltimore."
That's twice Green's eyes lit up.
"That's good,' he said of The Ocho comparison. "I look up to Chad all the time. One of my favorite receivers growing up. I modeled some of my game after him. I took a lot of that stuff. He ran the best routes with the best feet."
It is that route running that has convinced teams to clog the lanes for him lately. On Oct. 18 Rex Ryan and the Bills dared wide receiver Marvin Jones to beat them in holding Green to 36 yards and Jones did. The Browns blanketed Green on four catches for 53 yards on Nov. 5, so tight end Tyler Eifert also had 53 yards but three touchdowns. Against Houston Monday night the Texans tilted to Green and sagged to take away the deep ball and Eifert was available but dropped three balls in their first loss.
"That comes with the territory,' says Green of double coverage. "Guys keep making plays, Marv, Tyler, they'll loosen up."
One thing that has been a constant is offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's efforts to move Green around in the formations. "We have to," Urban says, "or he's a sitting duck."
Green has been excellent in the slot. He's playing there 20 percent of the time (up from 14 percent last year) and that's where three of his four touchdowns have come. According to PFF, he has the league's fifth best catch rate out of the slot.
Peterson hasn't been asked to do much in the slot this year. He's lined up in there 20 times and has had only three balls thrown at him, but two went for 78 yards and his only touchdown allowed on a blown coverage. Who know how they'll line up Sunday? But Green knows this.
Peterson is his kind of guy.
"He's not a talker. He lets his game speak for itself," Green says.
Green doesn't say much but there's no question that Monday's final snap when he put the ball on the ground with the game on the line is still eating at him. He's one of the biggest reasons they're 8-1 (just ask Pittsburgh after he swiped the game from them in the final three minutes), but he also knows their last two regular-season losses have ended on his fumbles.
"I hate to have stuff like that happen. I wish it didn't happen," Green says. "But it happened. All I can do is go back out there and try and put my team in the best position to win."
It hurt Urban just as much because he knows how much last year's fumble in Pittsburgh in the final minutes of the AFC North title game drove Green during the offseason and how hard he worked to protect the ball. He spoke to him the day after and again Wednesday.
"He's pretty even keel,' Urban says. "He's really worked hard at it. He's highly sensitive about it and you look at it and it's his only fumble this season. But it came at the wrong time. It can't happen and he knows that. I told him the great thing about this game is you get to go out and do it again. You don't have to wait. Here it is. Another Sunday."
Green likes the idea of that and how practice went this week.
"We'll be fine. This team is poised," Green says. "We don't live in the past. No one had their head down. We're 8-1. The season's not over. Let's get that out of the way and come home with some momentum."
Just like he did on draft day, Peterson is getting ready to follow Green.
"Mano a mano," Green says. "I like it."
Cincinnati Bengals host Houston Texans at Paul Brown Stadium in week 10 of the regular season.