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A.J. Green's Dominance Forming Blueprint for Bengals' Success in AFC North

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystSeptember 30, 2016

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 29:  A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals carries the ball during the first quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium on September 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Sometimes the answer is staring you right in the face.

After dropping their last two games, a scrambling Cincinnati Bengals team entered Thursday night's home tilt with the Miami Dolphins, searching for answers as to how to goose their sputtering offense.

The Bengals didn't fully solve the problem in a 22-7 win in which the team far too often settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. But as the evening progressed, something became evidentsomething as important as it is obvious in retrospect.

Throwing the ball in No. 18's direction is a really good idea.

To say A.J. Green had a dominant first half Thursday is an understatement. In the first two quarters alone, Green had eight catches for 123 yards and the Bengals' only touchdown on the night. Here's a look at his 51-yard catch in the first quarter:

NFL @NFL

8 catches 123 yards 1 TD (It's halftime) 🔥🔥 @ajgreen_18 🔥🔥 #MIAvsCIN #TNF https://t.co/NbCAjYtXNf

By comparison, the Dolphins had 122 yards receiving in the halfand 74 of those came on a long pass to Kenny Stills on their second play from scrimmage.

While speaking to the NFL Network's postgame show, Green chalked up the huge outing to doing what had to be done.

"This game was a gut check for us," Green said. "We had to win. The best we could do in the first quarter of the season is go 2-2, and we had to do that."

Quarterback Andy Dalton was a bit more effusive in his praise for his top target in the passing game:

We wanted to get back on track this week. We expect a lot out of A.J., and he proved again to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. He went out and played an unbelievable game, made every play we needed him to make, and that was big for us.

Green, who entered the night with 22 catches for 295 yards and a touchdown, finished with 10 catches for 173 yards and a score. It was his best performance since torching the New York Jets for 180 yards on 12 grabs back in Week 1, and it included a pair of 40-plus-yard receptions.

That huge outing against the Jets was also coincidentally the last time the Bengals won.

And by "coincidentally," I mean it wasn't a coincidence at all. Because it doesn't take long to find a correlation between Green's involvement in the offense and the Bengals' success as a team this year.

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 29:  A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals catches a pass during the second quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium on September 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In Cincinnati's two wins in 2016, Green has averaged 12 targets, 11 catches, 176.5 yards and a score per game. In its two losses, his receptions fell to five a contest, and he averaged fewer than 60 yards. He failed to reach the end zone each time.

At this point, you're probably thinking to yourself: "Well, duh. When Green's successful, the team is. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos just did a great job taking Green out of the game."

To an extent, that's true. Green caught eight of his 11 targets against Denver, but cornerback Aqib Talib and the Broncos held him to a season-low 9.6 yards a catch.

But against Pittsburgh, Dalton only threw at Green eight times the entire game. That should never, ever happen.

In fact, if anything, the Bengals should throw to Green more.

NFL WR Target Leaders
PlayerTeamTargetsRec.Yards
Antonio BrownPIT3824305
Mike EvansTB3721301
A.J. GreenCIN3122295
Jarvis LandryMIA3024314
Larry FitzgeraldAZ3020218
Entering Week 4

Entering Week 4, Green was third in the NFL in targets, per Pro Football Focus, trailing Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brown is considered the gold standard at his position. There are many reasons for that—chief among them is his remarkable talent and prodigious production. 

The thing is, the reason Brown gets to display the former and accrue the latter is because Ben Roethlisberger consistently feeds him the football. Even when Brown isn't open, he's open. Ben just chucks it over there, feeling safe in the knowledge his star wideout will go get it.

That's the mentality the Bengals need to adopt with Green. Open, schmopen. Throw him the damn ball.

Does Green look open on this high-pointed thing of beauty that left second-year cornerback Tony "The Incredible Mr." Lippett in need of a good therapist?

NFL Network @nflnetwork

Fact: Good things will happen when you throw it up in the vicinity of @ajgreen_18. ☑️ #MIAvsCIN #TNF https://t.co/Y3Hw1wT2Hl

Nope. Not even close. The coverage was as good as coverage getsand it didn't matter even a little bit.

The Bengals need to stop overthinking and trying to game-plan opponents to death and face a couple of realities. As things stand, the Cincinnati ground game is so-so. Until Tyler Eifert returns from his ankle injury, the Bengals don't have another receiving option that scares defenses enough to draw coverage away from Green.

Green admitted to Deion Sanders during the postgame show that bracket coverage was part of the issue during his "slump."

"Teams have been playing me a little different," he said. "A lot of rolling [coverage] to my side. But I was trying to make plays today."

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 29:  A.J. Green #18 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates while running off of the field after defeating the Miami Dolphins 22-7 at Paul Brown Stadium on September 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

And that's the thing: Green can't try to make plays, much less make them, unless you throw him the ball. And if you do that, as he showed Thursday, Green will make plays.

Yes, the Bengals have more than one problem. Chief among them Thursday was an inability to convert in the red zonea bugaboo that has dogged them all season.

But the remedy for their red-zone woes might just be the same as the remedy for their two-game losing streak. Throw it up to your best player and let him go get it.

Dr. Green's Touchdown Tonicfilled with tasty goodness.

And a prescription for a sixth-straight playoff trip in the Queen City.

    

Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.

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