CINCINNATI -- When it came to expectations about the Cincinnati Bengals offense at the beginning of the season, no one expected a major concern to be quarterback Andy Dalton connecting with wide receiver A.J. Green on deep passes.
With the Bengals sitting 2-2 though and a big test awaiting against unbeaten New England on Sunday, that is becoming a problem.
After three of Green's nine receptions went for 20 yards or more in the opener against the Chicago Bears, only two of the next 17 in the past three games have been for plus-20.
Green had seven receptions for 51 yards against the Browns. The 7.3 yards per catch was the second lowest he had in a game with seven or more receptions. Only two of the catches went for 10 yards or more.
The biggest concern is simply getting Green open deep. Through the first four games, he was targeted 12 times on go routes but only had three catches. Last year at this point he had seven receptions on go routes out of 14 targets.
Green is second in the league in targets with 50, but his 26 receptions are tied for 10th and the 300 yards are good for 20th. Of those receptions, 11 have been on hitches or comebacks.
"That's just the way everybody plays me now, " Green said. "Outside leverage so they're really taking away the outside and I have to run a lot of slants and keep them honest. I have to go inside a lot more, run more in and breaking routes to open the deep routes back up."
Green equated the current misses on the deep passes to being in a shooting slump in basketball, but that you have to keep shooting.
Even Andy Dalton acknowledged that if teams take scheme to take it away, they still have to take their shots. One of the problems has been even when his was open, they didn't connect. Dalton's accuracy rate on balls over 20 yards in the air is among the worst in the league.
"We have to find ways when we do get our chances to hit them," Dalton said. "You don't want to be forcing the ball to him. You want to get him his chances in the game because he can make a big impact. You've got to know when you can take your chances with him and when to go to the other guys."
With the offense ranked 22nd and not scoring a touchdown against the Browns, the Bengals need to break out of their current slump on Sunday against New England. At 2-2, Cincinnati is in a three-way tie atop the division.
"There are going to be games like that where the game plan is to put you away. I have to be able to make plays when the ball is thrown to my side," he said. "I think the biggest thing is we can be a balanced offense run and pass. We continue to have all the weapons to be a great offense, but haven't showed it."