Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green still shaking off the rust after 18 months away

A.J. Green said he’s still shaking off some of the rust from not playing for 18 months. Joe Mixon believes he’s doing everything he should be out of the backfield but just can’t get explosive plays to pop.

Earlier this week, center Trey Hopkins put the onus on the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive line to turn things around for rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, but the team could use a little magic from its biggest weapons.

The Bengals (0-2) travel to Philadelphia to play the Eagles (0-2) on Sunday, looking to get the running game going and for deep shots to open up things up for the offense.

“I like to work, I like to feel comfortable,” said Green, who is playing his first games since Dec. 2, 2018, because of toe and ankle injuries. “Not even having an offseason, I missed a lot of training camp (because of hamstring tightness). Then we didn’t have any preseason, so that’s a lot of time to miss and then go into the first game and feel comfortable. But I make no excuses, I just go out there and work. I know it’s going to be tough, but I accept the challenge. That’s part of being great.”

Cincinnati opened last week’s game against the Browns with a 35-yard pass to Green down the left sideline, which he caught, but the play was reviewed and reversed as being out of bounds. The Bengals still moved the ball downfield but they settled for a field goal and ended up playing catchup after the Browns scored touchdowns their first two drives.

Burrow has completed one of 12 pass attempts for more than 20 yards, and Green knows he’s the veteran who should be stepping up to make those plays. His longest catch so far is 15 yards, and he had just three receptions for 29 yards in Week 2, despite 13 targets. Green said he and Burrow just need to keep getting together and doing some extra work after practice, and the chemistry will come, but a lot of it is just him needing more game reps.

“I’m still rusty,” Green said. “I’m still learning this system. I’m still trying to get comfortable with the routes I’m running, just little things like that. I knew it was going to be growing pains, but I want to be great and I won’t accept failing, so for me, all I know is keep working and I know I’ll get better each week.”

While Green is preaching patience and expected “growing pains,” Mixon appears more frustrated, especially after figuring things out in the second half of 2019 to overcome a slow start.

The Bengals were hoping to build off that strong finish, which pushed Mixon over 1,000 yards rushing for a second straight season, but again Cincinnati has found itself playing from behind and not in position to run the ball more, late into games. Mixon has 115 yards rushing through two games and only 35 carries. Burrow threw 61 times in last week’s game alone.

“It’s tough,” Mixon said. “I’m trying to make a play, but at the same time for me it’s just playing football in general. I’ve always been taught that you always have to make the first man miss no matter what. I felt like throughout the years I’ve done a good job of doing that. Stuff happens. Right now, it seems like in those kind of looks we’re outmatched with three receivers out there, and they have eight men in the box and they come down and play the run hard, because they see they’re outmatching us in numbers. At the end of the day I always have to make something shake so you’ve got to put it upon myself to make something happen.”

Asked if there is something he could do differently, Mixon said it’s just “little things.”

“I feel like I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do,” Mixon said. “I have to keep my eyes true to my read. I’ve got to go and hit the holes wherever they’re at or go make a play out of something. I’m trying to do whatever I can at least put is in a cool position to be able to move the chains. At the same time try not to do too much, stay true to the game and to my responsibilities and everything else will take care of itself.”

The Eagles have been solid against the pass, ranking fifth best in the league, but teams have found some success running the ball against them -- 135.0 yards per game on the ground. Left cornerback Darius Slay likely will match up against Green, while strong safety Jalen Mills has been solid against the run and pass.

Up front, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham make things difficult as well.

Mixon said the Bengals are in a better position this week after a “mini bye” and extra time to recover and prepare, thanks to the Thursday Night Football game against the Browns.

“Oh-and-two that’s unacceptable for us,” Mixon said. “That’s not what we should be right now but that’s the situation we are in right now. End of the day, you always want to go out there and just win one day at a time. The way we preparate during the week we have to go ahead and apply it to the game. Can’t be playing from behind, can’t be having mental mistakes, mental errors and penalties. Stuff like that. Ultimately, it cost us. We have to dial in on that and be more disciplined. Everybody has taken accountability with themselves and each position room. I believe we will be in a good spot this week. We have to do it one play at a time and one day at a time.”

About the Author