Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban doesn’t expect anyone to step in and be an A.J. Green, but there is no question he needs more production out of his other players.
It’s something the team has been saying since the start of the season while replacing the No. 2-4 receivers from last year, but with Green still recovering from a Week 11 hamstring injury, the Bengals have been forced to find other ways to move the ball through the air.
Urban called Sunday’s game against Baltimore “a step in the right direction” for his young receivers in their first full game without Green to count on, but the sixth-year coach said they need to take a bigger step this week, as the Bengals (3-7-1) host the Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) on Sunday looking for their first win since Oct. 23.
“There wasn’t anything in terms of effort or energy — that was fine,” Urban said Wednesday. “We need to do things a little better, a little tighter and just make more plays, but the whole team has to make more plays. The players know, the first thing I tell them every year is, ‘This is a production business.’ At this point, we’re not producing in the red zone. We didn’t this past weekend, we’re not scoring enough points, and when opportunities come we have to make the most of the opportunity.”
Quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 283 yards and one touchdown to tight end Tyler Eifert in a 19-14 loss at Baltimore on Sunday, but just 12 of his 26 completions went to wide receivers. Running back Jeremy Hill and Eifert combined to account for 11 of them.
Despite missing almost two full games, Green still ranks fourth in the NFL with 964 yards receiving, and no one else on the team has even half that. Green did some light work on the rehab field Wednesday but is unlikely to be available this week.
“For us, everybody has to be on the same page,” Dalton said. “We have to get our timing down. We have to make more plays.”
“I think it’s tough for our offense when you lose a guy like A.J., a guy I obviously have a really good connection with,” Dalton added. “For us, the next guys have to step up, and we have to make sure we have that timing down with them, because those are the guys that are in there playing now.”
Third-year player James Wright, who missed all of last season after undergoing microfracture surgery to repair a knee injury suffered in November 2014, got the nod Sunday for just his second career start, playing opposite veteran Brandon LaFell. He had a season-high three catches on six targets for 23 yards while seeing action on 49 of the team’s 75 offensive snaps (65 percent).
Wright has 73 yards on nine catches for the season but hadn’t been targeted more than twice in any game prior to Green’s injury.
“James got a lot of opportunity (Sunday),” Urban said. “He played a bunch the game A.J. came out with the hamstring, and he played a bunch this past week. James is dealing with hamstrings and knees and all these things, but he’s a tough kid who battles his tail off, and he needs to do a much better job on a couple of those routes, and he knows it, but he made some plays.”
Rookie Tyler Boyd was the most productive receiver Sunday, catching five passes for 62 yards while playing 55 snaps (73 percent) as he continues to show improvement. He now has 411 yards this season, while LaFell adds 457 yards to lead the available receivers.
Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said the talent is there, but the team needs to find “more creative ways” to get the job done. The Eagles’ pass defense ranks 11th in the league while allowing 236.5 yards per game.
“They’ve all caught the ball well and they are all enthusiastic, excitable guys that like to play,” Zampese said. “That’s encouraging. We will put them in roles where they can be successful and turn them loose like we did. Boyd had some chances and got his hands on the ball. We weren’t able to work the ball to Wright quite as much as we wanted to.”
Dalton said it takes time to develop chemistry with new receivers, and Green was the only wide receiver he had much experience with prior to this season.
However, Urban doesn’t let his position players use that as a crutch — especially in Week 13.
“If you let that stuff creep in, in my opinion you’ve already built an excuse,” Urban said. “No excuses from anybody associated with it. We’re going to run the route exactly the way it’s supposed to be, so he knows exactly where you’re going to be, and you’re going to be there.”