Bengals Rookies Earning Their Stripes

Anatomy of a Play, Cincinnati Bengals, David Neupauer, Inside the Game

After seven years of consistent playoff contention under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals were in danger of returning to Bungles status in 2011. They were coming off a 4-12 season, and had lost high-profile offensive starters Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, and Terrell Owens. Expectations were exceptionally low.

Enter Cincinnati’s top two picks in the 2011 draft: A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.

Andy Dalton (AP)

Dalton and Green were expected to start from Day 1, and they have exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. Six weeks into the 2011 season, the 4-2 Bengals have already matched their 2010 win total. A.J. Green leads all rookie receivers in receptions (29), yards (453), and touchdowns (4). At Quarterback, Andy Dalton has provided production on par with what Carson Palmer gave them last year. In fact, his Quarterback Rating of 84.3 is higher than the 82.4 Palmer posted in 2010. A big reason for Dalton’s success is his ability to trust A.J. Green, and the rookie receiver’s ability to reward that trust.

Against the Colts in Week 6, Dalton posted his 3rd game with a Quarterback Rating over 100. Dalton was efficient, completing 78% of his passes for 264 yards and 1 touchdown. The touchdown to Green exemplified Dalton’s trust in Green.

A.J. Green (AP)

A.J. Green, the 4th overall pick in this year’s draft, has prototypical size for an NFL receiver at 6’4”, 207. He has shown the ability to use that size to dominate one-on-one matchups, and did so again in Week 6 against Jerraud Powers. On the touchdown, Green stemmed his route toward the center of the field, physically muscling the smaller Powers, while forcing him to respect the Post. This created more space on the perimeter. Green used his size to push off slightly when breaking his route to the corner. Dalton’s pass was arced perfectly into that space, allowing his receiver to locate the ball and elevate for the touchdown. Green did an excellent job of snatching the ball at the apex of his jump, and turning away from his defender so that Powers had no chance to dislodge the ball.

With plays like that, it’s no wonder Dalton displays such trust in Green. And with plays like that, the future looks much brighter in Cincinnati than anyone anticipated six weeks ago.

UPDATED: You can now watch Brian Baldinger’s “Anatomy of a Play” about Andy Dalton’s touchdown pass to A.J. Green at the top of this post.

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