While Bengaldom sighed Thursday with the latest twist in the A.J. Green saga, no doubt Ravens head coach John Harbaugh offered a sigh of relief as his team prepares for Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium in a game that appears is going to be played without Harbaugh’s arch-nemesis.
On Wednesday, Harbaugh said he fully expected Green to test a 6-2 defense he hopes is ready to improve on its bottom ten ranking against the pass. On Thursday, Green (ankle) didn’t practice for a second straight day and that all but means an out designation on Friday.
“I was kind of hoping we wouldn’t have a chance to find out,” said Harbaugh, who has watched Green romp to a batch of big days against him, as he spoke to Cincinnati reporters via conference call Wednesday.
There have been two 100-yard games, a 200-yard game, a three-touchdown game, a tying Hail Mary catch at the gun and a 77-yard TD catch as the 2014 opener ticked under five minutes left to give the Bengals the lead for good. No wonder Harbaugh wondered aloud after one of those efforts if his team could cover Green just once before he retired.
They’ve certainly tried ever since Green ripped them for 227 yards in a 2015 game. Since then, they drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round in 2017, traded for another first-round corner a few weeks ago in Marcus Peters and signed a first-round free safety in Earl Thomas III during the offseason. In three of the last four drafts they’ve taken a corner in the fourth round in Tavon Young, Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall, although Young and Marshall are on injured reserve.
Some of that is the Bengals influence. Harbaugh has the fifth best winning percentage of active coaches at .600 with 120 wins in 12 seasons, but he’s 11-12 against the Bengals. The wide receiver on the other side of Green, Tyler Boyd, knocked them out of the playoffs on the last play of the 2017 season on a 49-yard touchdown stunner. And, it may be working despite the passing yards they’ve allowed. In their four-game winning streak they’ve got a defensive passer rating of 72.3 and overall they’re fifth in the NFL at 82.6.
“You start with your division. You have to try to win your division. That’s the first goal most every team has,” Harbaugh said. “They become your rivals. You have to understand who you’re playing against. Cincinnati has had great receivers for many years. Their passing game has always given us trouble Combine that with Pittsburgh in our division and New England, certainly, with (quarterback Tom) Brady and the receivers they’ve had. We’ve been forced to make sure we found enough guys who can cover. Hopefully we have that now, but that’s an ongoing proposition week to week. But it definitely starts with our division.”
After getting beat by Andre Caldwell with 20 seconds left in 2009, tied by Green on a Hail Mary in 2013 and pole-axed by Boyd in the last minute of 2017, Harbaugh is taking no chances. He says Boyd is a No. 1 wide receiver and the other starters, Auden Tate and Alex Erickson, are "playing at a high level." Green will have missed five of the last eight Ravens games, but in the last one he played he had three TDs in the first 17 minutes.
TAYLOR ADJUSTS AGAIN: How many more tests can Zac Taylor be assigned in his first season as Bengals head coach? He’s had his best player for all of 45 minutes this year and on Wednesday morning it looked for all the world like Green was coming back to play Sunday. But after Thursday’s practice Taylor was again giving out another Green medical bulletin instead of answering football questions.
But the man continues to be upbeat.
“We get a chance to figure out and problem solve. That's what I love,” Taylor said. “That's what I love about the staff we've put together. It's a bunch of problem solvers. We're not looking for excuses. We're not looking for reasons why we're not getting it done. We're trying to figure out how to solve the problems and get it done.
“So when we do get it done, it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun, I can promise you that. And we'll look back on this first eight weeks of the season and say 'remember when.' It made us stronger, it made us better, the players in the locker room, the coaches that are in the office. It's all going to make us better.”
Even though this thing has nothing to do with Green being in his contract year, it keeps getting posed as such by the drive-thru pundits. Not only that, Green and Taylor keep getting asked about it. Green indicated Thursday he’s not getting any pressure to play and that both sides have been on the up and up. Taylor agreed.
“I 100-percent believe he wants to be out there,” Taylor said. “But that’s for him to say. From my conversations with him, he’s one of the most genuine and honest players that are around in this league. I trust whatever he says.”
INJURY UPDATE: Green figures to be joined by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) and right guard Alex Redmond (knee/ankle) in the out category Friday. None have practiced this week. Even though left tackle Cordy Glenn (concussion) went through a padded practice full for the first time in months, Taylor indicated it might be hard to play a guy coming off that long of a layoff after just one practice.
But three regulars who have been out of the lineup the last couple of weeks went full and are go. John Miller (groin) figures to play for Redmond, Carl Lawson (hamstring) is back as an edge rusher and Darqueze Dennard (hamstring) is back at slot corner, which means B.W. Webb figures to stay on the outside for Kirkpatrick. Also, left tackle Andre Smith (ankle), out the last three games, figures to start again.