By Sam McPherson
While the Cincinnati Bengals had six players this week who did not participate in workouts, the focus for the team heading into Sunday's AFC Wild Card Game on the road against the Indianapolis Colts remains on the status of wide receiver A.J. Green—and his ability to clear the NFL's concussion protocol in time for the playoff contest.
The four-time Pro Bowler suffered the injury late in the team's Week 17 loss to Pittsburgh that relegated Cincinnati to wild-card status for the first weekend of the NFL playoffs, and he still was unable to practice on Friday morning. With 329 receptions, 4,874 yards and 35 touchdown catches over his first four years in the league, Green arguably is the straw that stirs the Bengals' offense. If he can't play on Sunday, the team is going to have to make some huge adjustments if the organization is to win its first postseason game in 25 years.
The star WR missed three games earlier in the year, and the team struggled to one win and one tie in those contests. When healthy, Green is one of the most dominant players at his position in the entire NFL, as evidenced by his 11-catch, 224-yard effort against the Steelers earlier in the season. He missed the regular-season matchup with the Colts, and Cincy lost, 27-0, on the road. There's no doubt he would make a huge difference for the Bengals this time around.
If he can play.
The Bengals might be better served riding their running backs against Indy, anyway. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard combined for 1,804 yards on the ground this season, and the Colts have an average (at best) run defense. But WR Mohamed Sanu and tight end Jermaine Gresham hauled in 118 passes between them this season, and the two RBs also caught 70 passes total. The Cincy offense will still work without Green, of course, but it's obviously better with the two-time All Pro in the lineup.
However, Gresham also is nicked up. He hasn't practiced this week due to a back problem, and his status for Sunday is officially questionable. In addition, WRs Dane Sanzenbacher (concussion) and James Wright (knee) have been ruled out for Sunday's game. Strangely, the Bengals have a third player out with a concussion currently (RB Cedric Peerman).
Cornerback Leon Hall and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth both got some time off this season, but they are expected to play without any complications this weekend.
All in all, the Bengals are somewhat healthy heading into this playoff showdown with the Colts; they just would prefer to do it with a healthy Green on the field. Forcing the Colts to account for one of the best players in the league and opening up opportunities for the other budding stars (Hill and Mohamed, specifically) on the offense as well. All eyes will be on the status of Green going forward, until game time Sunday.
But with a healthy defense, Cincinnati will have to focus on shutting down Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. He laid an egg against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16, getting benched in the process (and killing thousands of fantasy football teams as well, no doubt). The Bengals would like to be able to replicate Dallas' defensive effort against Luck & Co. this weekend—and they're healthy enough to do so.
- Tight end Jermaine Gresham (back)
- Running back Cedric Peerman (concussion)
- Wide receiver A.J. Green (concussion)
- Wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher (concussion)
- Wide receiver James Wright (knee)
For more Bengals news and updates, visit Bengals Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A's. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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