The Cincinnati Bengals are going to be with star receiver AJ Green this Sunday as they host the Carolina Panthers. Green’s status for the immediate future has been thrown into doubt following a visit to a foot specialist on Thursday after being carted off of the practice field on Wednesday with an injury to his big toe.
With Marvin Jones looking unlikely to make his season debut Sunday, the Bengals will be missing their top two receiving targets on the day. Currently the Bengals depth at wide receiver is listed as such:
- Mohamed Sanu (80 career receptions)
- Dane Sanzenbacher (37 career receptions)
- Brandon Tate (44 career receptions)
- James Wright (0 career receptions)
Just to compare, these receivers have 161 combined career receptions – Green has 277 alone. Without Green and Jones, the Bengals find themselves in a very uncomfortable position. While Sanu has been strong so far this season, it is not likely that he will be able to carry an entire passing game by himself.
So where do the Bengals turn in an effort to pick up the lost production?
The Running Backs
Giovani Bernard ranks third on the team in receptions (14) just three behind Green and Sanu (17) on the season. In addition, rookie Jeremy Hill ranks sixth with five receptions. When the Bengals target their running backs in the passing game, they often work to perfection.
Bernard is averaging 11.3 yards and Hill is averaging 18 yards per catch – combined they are averaging over 13 yards per reception. That type of production is likely what offensive coordinator is counting on in the absence of his top two receivers. With Green’s status for the next three weeks uncertain, the Bengals could put a major focus on getting the ball into the hands of their backs.
While these two backs will be important catching the ball, perhaps their single most importance to the passing game will come from their ability to run the ball successfully. If Jackson can establish the running game early, than he will easily control every other aspect of the game. The Panthers rank 24th in the league allowing 129.6 rushing yards per game – it is an area that the Bengals could exploit so long as they are committed to running the ball.
Pray Jermaine Gresham Doesn’t Suck
Everyone remembers the great Gresham blunder of last Sunday – you know, where he dropped one of the easiest touchdowns you’ll ever see? At a point in the game when the Bengals has a rare opportunity to make a comeback, Gresham’s dropped led the offense to settle for a simple field goal.
If the Bengals are going to overcome the losses of Green and Jones, they will absolutely need Jermaine Gresham to play to his potential. We have stated that we expect the Bengals to rely much on their running game, and it is likely that Ron Rivera and the Panthers expect that as well. If the Bengals want to catch Carolina off guard, they could use Gresham to control the middle of the field in the passing game. However, this will only work if the Bengals have confidence in their tight end – and as of late, there is very little reason to believe they do.
For Hue Jackson, the ability to successfully integrate Gresham into the gameplan could be the ultimate factor in deciding Sunday’s outcome. Having Gresham controlling the Carolina linebackers would present ample opportunities for the running game as well as open routes for Sanu and other receivers.
Regardless of how the Bengals move forward without their top two receivers, Jackson and the offense will be forced to use their ultimate creativity to breathe life into a depleted offense.
Cover Photo: Don Wright/Associated Press
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