Collier: Bengals go Green for many reasons

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A.J. Green swears he was on his elementary school juggling team, which I find more of a stretch than his claim that he can ride a unicycle.

Both likely are legit, it's just that I've never heard of intramural juggling, let alone interscholastic juggling in which a busload of 7-year-olds journeys across rural South Carolina in the darkness to take on the hated pin-flippers of some rival grammar school.

Green says he can juggle four items easily -- balls, bowling pins, chainsaws, what-have-you (although that third thing is probably a violation of his contract with the Cincinnati Bengals) -- and it only takes one look at him on a football field to understand that he can do just about anything he wants out there.

Tonight then, in prime time, Adriel Jeremiah Green will crash what's likely the flashiest skill set to come into the NFL since Jerry Rice smack into a Steelers secondary that is currently juggling four things itself: Disappointment, anxiety, disillusionment, and creeping paranoia.

"He's just a real physical, tall guy," Steelers corner Ike Taylor offered as an explanation for why he'd put Green among the league's top three wideouts. "Usually, a tall guy is not going to be as agile as Antonio Brown or Emmnauel Sanders, but he's just as agile as they are, and he's tall."

The Bengals list the second-year gamebreaker out of Georgia at 6 feet 4 and 207 pounds, but further descriptions of him run to startling, sometimes interplanetary lengths. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham has called him "a Martian."

In the nicest possible sense, of course.

Probably Lapham was referencing the popular cephalopod imagery of the many sci-fi movies in which Martians often have multiple appendages, like squid or octupi, all of them easily adaptable to the annual battles within the AFC North, obviously.

And so, in what likely is the most pivotal AFC North confrontation to match teams without winning records, Green figures to be the one figure for whom the Steelers have no answer. In two games against them last year, Green was merely phenomenal. In Ohio last November, he caught a 36-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, but strained a knee in the process and missed much of the balance of that game. Then, in Pittsburgh, three weeks later, he caught six passes for 87 yards. That the Steelers won both games got traced to their superior talent and depth up and down the roster, both of which look highly dubious today.

"You think you've seen about everything A.J. can do, and you've seen so much you don't think twice about his ability," Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said this week. "But then he'll show you something new, something you didn't imagine. You throw him balls that you wouldn't throw to another receiver because he's going to beat his man and come down with it."

Bengalists are still talking about a catch he made last week at Cleveland in which didn't come down with it; he kind of came up with it. Running in heavy Browns traffic down the sideline, he never left his feet and merely let Dalton's pass fall through the atmosphere and the flailing Cleveland defense to a spot only he anticipated -- right in his belly. He never broke stride on that 25-yard play.

If there's a more threatening entity to a Steelers season on the brink than this 24-year-old thoroughbred, I couldn't identify him. Green is, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only man in NFL history to surpass 100 receptions, 1,500 yards, and 10 receiving touchdowns in his first 20 games.

In the event you're still twitching a little from that Rice comparison, know that Green's 101 catches in his first 20 games is 30 more than Rice had, 16 more than Larry Fitzgerald, 18 more than Andre Johnson, and 30 more than Calvin Johnson.

"Yeah, that surprised me," Green himself said upon being shown that list. "Just knowing the careers those guys had, and right now I'm there with them, but I have to keep working -- stay healthy and keep working."

When he gets to work tonight, he'll be trying to add to an NFL-best 628 receiving yards, and stretch a chain of games with at least one touchdown to seven. He is the marquee talent in a Cincinnati pass offense that is eighth best in the league, one that tends to sharpen as the game wears on. Dalton's fourth-quarter passer rating is 133.5. Only Peyton Manning's is better among AFC quarterbacks.

Juxtapose all that against a Steelers team with a defense that has been under fire, particularly in the fourth quarter, against a Steelers running game that's been virtually theoretical, and against the fact that Mike Tomlin's team has this season been the worst show in prime time since Manimal, and you have some urgency.

There's only one thing for Ike and that secondary to do, really. They've gotta go for the juggler.

genecollier


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