KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is a marked man virtually every game and defenses are well-aware wherever he lines up on the field.
The extra attention, however, doesn’t affect Green, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who currently ranks fourth in the NFL with 335 yards receiving and averages an eye-popping 18.6 yards per catch.
“I just go out there and play every week,” Green said Wednesday during a conference call with Chiefs beat writers. “And just go out there and have trust in the preparation I do through the week and the offseason, and I think I’ll be fine.”
It is safe to say Green is more than fine when considering the ability to know how to defend him compared to actually implementing a scheme are entirely different matters.
Fresh off Week 3 performance of 10 catches for a career-high 227 yards and two touchdowns, Green, the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week, presents numerous challenges.
The Chiefs will experience those obstacles Sunday when the team takes on Green and the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
“He’s playing at a really high level,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “And obviously the quarterback (Andy Dalton) and him have a great chemistry together, a great trust, because he’ll just lay it up there and expect A.J. to come down with it.”
Green, of course, isn’t a one-man show.
The fifth-year pro, who played collegiately at Georgia, is part of a Bengals passing offense that includes Dalton, tight end Tyler Eifert and wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
Anchored by Green, the Bengals aerial attack ranks sixth in the league, averaging 285 yards per game.
“They use him very well, move him around enough where you can’t say he’s this or that,” Sutton said. “He’s surrounded by a lot of good players, so it’s hard to say we’re going all-in on A.J. Green and cut all these other guys loose. They’re really too good to do that all the time. You got to balance it and I think everybody in our league will say the same thing.”
Green, the first player in Bengals history to record four straight 1,000-yard seasons, is one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers.
And Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has enjoyed watching the star receiver grow in Cincinnati, while winning more than a share of battles against some of the league’s top cornerbacks.
“As long as A.J. comes out on top, it’s a lot of fun,” Lewis said Wednesday in a conference call. “Obviously, the corners in this league are guys that are really good players. We always have to have our work cut out for him and A.J. has to go into every game with that kind of mindset.”
Green’s success doesn’t come as a surprise to two former Georgia teammates, both of whom will watch from the opposing sideline as members of the Chiefs.
Green hosted Chiefs rookie wide receiver Chris Conley’s campus visit in 2010, and Conley offered a scouting report on what makes Green difficult to defend.
“He’s a long, lanky guy who can run really well, but also has great body control and can catch the ball wherever it’s thrown,” Conley said. “When you put those things together, it’s a dangerous combination. There are a lot of people in this league that have one of those traits, but not many people have all of them.”
Conley said it was common for Green to turn heads with circus-like receptions during his time in Athens, Ga.
“I’ve seen that guy make some catches watching in practice where he’s contorted his body and moved it in a way in the air and made a catch that nobody else would’ve got to,” Conley said. “That’s what makes him difficult to stop. And also after the catch, he can run with the ball like he’s a smaller guy. And he’s a 6-4, 210-pound guy, a big guy who can move like a smaller guy.”
Chiefs backup quarterback Aaron Murray, who played one season with Green in 2010, agreed with Conley.
“His ability to get in and out breaks, and then accelerate that first step is what separates him,” Murray said of Green. “When you look at his 80-yard touchdown last week (against the Baltimore Ravens), it’s catch, burst and he’s gone. He’s country strong. We called him country strong. When you look at him, you’re like, ‘This is a tall, skinny dude.’ But his length, his arms, he has some strength to him, too.”
Murray recalled a moment in college when he discovered how special it was to throw to Green.
“If you go back to when we played Colorado that season, he jumped over a guy, one-hand catch in the back of the end zone,” Murray said. “That was my first touchdown I threw to him. I was like, ‘Wow. This is going to be a nice season just throwing it up to him.’”
Green went on to record 57 catches for 848 yards and nine touchdowns in his only season with Murray, who totaled 24 touchdown passes in 2010.
While it is a difficult task controlling Green, the Chiefs have a defensive player who matches up well with the Bengals wideout.
Sean Smith, who at 6-3, 218 pounds is the biggest cornerback on the Chiefs roster, returns from a three-game suspension and could line up against Green.
There is history between the two from Week 5 of the 2012 season when Smith played for the Miami Dolphins. Green had nine catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, while Smith totaled eight tackles and forced a fumble on Green. The Dolphins defeated the Bengals, 17-14.
“A.J. is a special talent, a rare talent,” Smith said. “He’s big, athletic, he can make any catch. If you put the ball around him, he catches it.
“It’s definitely fun to go out there and compete with a guy like that who you know you have to go out there and bring your A-game every snap because you know Dalton is going to throw it over there regardless of it there’s one or two or three defenders over there. So you have to stay on your toes.”
For his part, Green said he never wavers in his preparation when he knows the opposing team’s top cornerback could match up against him.
“I know and I read every DB,” Green said. “I try to focus on things I need, what they do well, so I can take that away.”
The Chiefs have options other than Smith to defend against Green, including standout rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, who measures 6-0, 197 pounds.
But no matter how the Chiefs scheme to defend Green, the matchup carries high interest.
“I’m interested to see what we do with him, or who we put on him,” Murray said. “It’s nice having Sean back – a nice, big body – just because he is 6-4, a big receiver.”