How will Bill Belichick take away A.J. Green? Take a close look at DeAndre Hopkins

Mike Petraglia
October 13, 2016 - 6:44 pm
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[caption id="attachment_112546" align="alignright" width="350"]Sep 29, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) catches the ball against Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati defeated Miami 22-7. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports All eyes in the Patriots secondary will be on A.J. Green Sunday. (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)[/caption] FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick is the master of taking away the opponent's biggest weapon. When it comes to the Bengals' offense, that clearly is A.J. Green. So how will Belichick go about it on Sunday? A good look at what the Patriots did with DeAndre Hopkins is a good starting point. No one in the NFL comes as close to matching Green's remarkable skill set (especially his hands) than the Texans receiver. Hopkins is listed at 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds. Green is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. Last December in Houston, Logan Ryan was assigned Hopkins for most of the game and allowed one catch for 40 yards on four targets with two pass breakups. Belichick also used a bracket of Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon over the top to provide some backup. What does Green expect Sunday? "I don't know. Every game is different. Bill is a great coach," Green said. "Obviously, he tries to take away the best player so we'll see. I'll be ready for anything." If it is Ryan, someone who hasn't defended Green in New England's two previous encounters with the Pro Bowl receiver. "He's a big, physical guy," Green said of Ryan. "He'll try to get in your face so I've got to be ready for it. I'm going to be ready for anything. You just never know." On Sept. 22, it was Ryan again who was on Hopkins for most of the game and allowed an acrobatic one-handed grab as part of a four-catch night. But that one great catch went for just 16 yards Hopkins had 40 yards on the other three catches. That's four catches on eight targets. If that happens on Sunday, Ryan would have certainly done his job again. But it won't be easy. In Cincinnati's two wins, Green has been a force, catching 12 balls for 180 yards and a touchdown in a 23-22 win over the Jets. He hauled in 10 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown in a 22-7 win over the Dolphins. Of all the big receivers in the game, including Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas and Sammy Watkins, Belichick says Green might be the most elite. "The quickest; very quick. He has good stop and start quickness, he's a very good intermediate route runner. I'd say there is a number of those players you talked about [that] are really just two level players; short catch-and-run, and deep speed, built speed type routes," Belichick said. "Green's very good at intermediate routes, comebacks, in-cuts, curls, routes like that. He has great quickness at the top of his route and excellent hands so he's able to extend and create separation with his length and his catching skills. "He makes some incredible one-handed catches or catches where the defender is just draped all over him and he's able to just get his hands a few inches out further than the defenders and make the play. His catch radius is exceptional. But I'd say the thing that really to me puts him at the top of the league in receivers is his ability to affect all three levels, particularly those intermediate routes. Even with Green (who's nursing a calf injury this week), the Bengals offense has been putrid this season. Their running game is 31st in the NFL and Tyler Eifert hasn't played a single down and is likely to miss Sunday's game. "We've got to start clicking," Green said. "Lot of little things. We've got to be more tight in our assignments. It's not a start we're used. We usually start fast. Right now, we're not playing our best football. We know what we have to do. We have to pick it up or it's going to be rough season. But I think this team is up for a challenge." "He's very fast. He's an elite player," Belichick added. "He's just an elite player. There's no real weak points in his game; short, intermediate, catch-and-run, deep, ball skills, quickness, ability to really defeat any type of coverage, size, speed, quickness. He's a hard guy to handle. And they move him around. I mean he's obviously a smart guy. He plays in the slot some. He plays on the perimeter on the single receiver side which causes you problems defensively. "You don't want to get isolated back there on him and if he draws double coverage then you're really playing nine-on-10, but they also use him so that he's not back there so you can't always just double him back there and play nine-on-10. You've got to deal with him in the slot. You've got to deal with him on the strong side in some combinations so he's a hard guy to get. Coach [Ken] Zampese does a good job of moving him around and [Andy] Dalton does a good job of knowing where the opportunities are, and at times if he's being taken away then that creates a lot of opportunities for other guys." Something else to keep in mind is that Dalton will look to Green, even if he is covered tightly. "I wouldn't say I've seen him throw it into a lot of double coverage, but I'd say if it's one-on-one, if it's a 50/50 ball, he'll definitely throw it into a 50/50 ball," Belichick added. "And Green's come up with a lot of those balls. He's come up with them high, low, one-handed catches, back shoulders. We've seen plenty of plays where when the ball releases you're saying 'This isn't going to be a completion. The defender is right there in perfect position. He's all over him. How's he going to catch the ball?' And he ends up with the ball at the end of the play. Yeah, I wouldn't say he throws into double coverage but I think even if the defender has good position he's not afraid to give Green a chance to make a play on the ball and he makes plenty of them." In their first meeting with Green in 2013, the Bengals receiver had five catches on eight targets for 61 yards. The Bengals won, 13-6. In 2014, with Darrelle Revis on him, Green had five catches on seven targets for 81 yards and a touchdown. Ryan did not play in the 2013 game and played just four snaps on defense in the '14 matchup. Sunday figures to be much different.