The New England Patriots have faced their fair share of high-quality receivers so far this season, with the likes of Stevie Johnson, Vincent Jackson, and Julio Jones threatening the defense. Each one was contained well enough to take them mostly out of the game, particularly Julio Jones last week in Atlanta by the stellar play of Aqib Talib. Although this week’s match-up of the Patriots against the Cincinnati Bengals will be interesting from many angles, perhaps none more so than the battle between one of the league’s best receivers, AJ Green, against the Patriots’s shutdown corner Aqib Talib.
Against Atlanta, Talib managed to hold Julio Jones to only 1 catch for 1 yard and had an interception. This is an encouraging sign because AJ Green is very similar to Jones. They are only an inch apart in height and they have a 13 lbs difference in weight. Green was drafted 4th overall in the 2011 draft while Jones went 6th to Atlanta after a blockbuster trade for that pick. Despite their similarities, the task of containing Green will be no small feat for Talib. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, widely regarded as an excellent corner, got burned by Green multiple times in the first game of the season, and he tallied 9 receptions on 13 targets for 162 yards and 2 TDs. Against the Steelers, Green had a less productive game, only catching 6 balls on 15 targets for 41 yards. This drop in production was due to the struggles of QB Andy Dalton, who made some very inaccurate throws that particular game. The struggles of Dalton this season has hindered Green’s production in every game after week 1, so much that the Bengals fanbase are beginning to question his legitimacy as a starter.
The best way to help contain Green to “Area 31″ is to pressure Andy Dalton as much as possible and force him to be inaccurate. The task of forcing pressure just got harder for the Patriots now that Vince Wilfork, stalwart of the defensive line, will likely be out for the season with a torn Achilles. Defensive rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano showed promise during the Atlanta game when they stepped in for the injured Wilfork. They will have to face the pressure of a heavy workload in order to disrupt Andy Dalton. A flustered Dalton will hold on to the ball for too long and he will make inaccurate throws, which will help Talib in his task of neutralizing the Bengals’ biggest weapon.