|Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu is among a group of inexperienced receivers vying for the open No. 2 WR position opposite A.J. Green. (US Presswire)|
The Pittsburgh Steelers forced anybody but A.J. Green to beat them Sunday night. They clouded safeties to Green's side, ran linebackers at his underneath routes and shadowed his every move with any player within range during a 24-17 win at Cincinnati.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wanted to see if a group of unheralded No. 2 wide receivers could make enough plays to move the chains. They couldn't. A position the Bengals placed back up for grabs last week now moves into further flux as the bye week begins.
Who will start Nov. 3 against the Broncos is anyone's guess.
“It's been an issue,” offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. “Right now we have some guys who can play but haven't taken a major step into that role.”
Over the last four games, no player stationed at the No. 2 WR spot has surpassed 41 yards in a game.
WR Armon Binns (ankle) was the previous starter but was inactive due to injury Sunday. Still, all signs pointed to rookie fifth-round pick Marvin Jones snagging the majority of snaps at the outside spot regardless of if Binns could go or not. Only, before the Bengals could run a play Jones went down with a knee injury and didn't return.
Marvin Lewis confirmed Jones' injury is not severe, but he's expected to miss a week or two. Lewis said Jones has an opportunity to play against Denver.
That leaves Ryan Whalen, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate left to compete for snaps on the outside. Whalen hadn't been active all season but after a few weeks of strong practices moved into the rotation Sunday. He led everyone at the position taking 66 percent of the snaps. He caught four passes for 31 yards.
Gruden walked away impressed with the rookie Sanu, who caught three passes for 27 yards. Tate only played nine snaps and figures to be relegated primarily to his role in special teams.
They comprise the most inexperienced group on the team, but the Bengals need production from the position fast. The Bengals rank 31st in the NFL in third-down conversion rate and much of that stems back to an inability for the No. 2 WR to make plays. As more teams study Pittsburgh's blueprint to bottle up Green, finding an answer opposite him evolves into a larger concern.
They have two weeks to find an answer.
“Hopefully somebody snatches it,” Gruden said. “They all have their qualities that are good. And they all have a quality or two that you question. Someone will step up. It would surprise me if they don't get the message. Step up somebody.”
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter at @CBSBengals.