|Bengals WR Armon Binns has soaked up most of the snaps opposite A.J. Green, but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden suggested that could be about to change. (US Presswire)|
WR A.J. Green has already evolved into a defensive coordinator's nightmare while on a pace for 112 receptions, 1,675 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Whether singled by Joe Haden, doubled near the line or facing a safety clouding the second level, he has found a way to beat it.
The only problem of late for the Bengals has been that very few other receivers can say the same.
After an explosive first three weeks of the year, the Bengals' offense sputtered the past three weeks in a win at Jacksonville and in losses to Miami and Cleveland. Much of the blame shifts to the young, inexperienced group of wideouts hoping to take the heat off Green.
The Bengals can't shake the worst third-down efficiency in the NFL (26.7 percent), and it's taken a harder downturn of late. It's difficult to look beyond the other wide receivers. That includes current starter Armon Binns (75 percent of offensive snaps), slot WR Andrew Hawkins (60) and Brandon Tate (21).
While Green's production stays the same, the other three have slipped in production the last three weeks.
Targets-Receptions-Yards (first 3 games) // Trgts-Rcptns-Yrds (last 3 games)
Armon Binns: 13-12-157 // 16-6-53
Andrew Hawkins: 16-12-208 // 21-13-121
Brandon Tate: 5-4-74 // 3-1-11
TOTAL: 34-28-439 // 40-20-185
Third downs: 11 of 36 // 9 of 39
A.J. Green: 34-21-311 // 33-22-317
- The production of A.J. Green stayed nearly identical between the two time frames.
- The other three receivers dropped dramatically in their catch percentage. They went from catching 82 percent of targets through the first three games to 50 percent of targets through the last three.
- In six more targets, they've produced 254 fewer yards.
- Not coincidentally, the Bengals' third-down conversion rate dropped from 31 percent to 23 percent.
By film, live or on the stat sheet, coordinator Jay Gruden recognizes a growing concern of his offense. Meanwhile, rookies Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, along with second-year receiver Ryan Whalen,continue to impress in limited game action and practice, and they were also impressive in preseason.
“We have a good group of guys here, we just have to find the right core,” Gruden said. “Maybe we change them around. I feel confident they can all do the job, but right now we are not getting it done.”
Jones was inserted into the rotation for the final two drives of the loss to the Browns, and this could be a sign of things to come. Gruden stated Binns wore down during the Cleveland game, plus Tate was ultimately responsible for giving up on his route for Sheldon Brown's pick-six interception.
Hawkins plays a predominant role on special teams, and the Bengals increased their three-wide sets in recent weeks so the 5-foot-7, 180-pound slot star experienced wear-and-tear. He was limited during Wednesday's practice to rest, and keeping him spry is essential considering his style of play and importance on third downs.
“He needs to be fresh,” Gruden said. “And we've got to do a better job of keeping him that way so that when he comes in he's the dynamic Hawkins. Because when he's tired or run down, not much is right.”
Gruden indicated that beginning a rotation that would keep all the non-Green receivers energetic could benefit everyone Sunday against Pittsburgh.
“I think they might have too many plays,” Gruden said. “Maybe we need to get some other people in there to keep those guys rested. We have enough receivers where these guys should be fresh and running and challenging the defense and attacking them. Marvin is going to get more snaps, no doubt. Whalen might get more snaps, too. We will see. The thing about all those guys is they've all proven that they can play in the NFL.”
Gruden assured he's not giving up on any of his wideouts, regardless of struggles. For now, sticking with the status quo would be repeating the same mistakes. But with young players backing up young players, this could mean regressing in reliability during one of the season's most critical junctures.
“Problem is, these guys are getting quality reps on game days and then they are learning on the fly and you take them out and start them over and bring another new guy in who is going to make his young mistakes,” Gruden said. “So, it's a tough call.”
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter at @CBSBengals.