Most good things take time. That phrase fits a Bengals' passing attack finally turning the corner 23 games into Zac Taylor’s tenure. They've scored 30-plus points in three of their past four games, in large part because of Joe Burrow and the three-headed monster forming at wide receiver.
Things got off to a rocky start, especially with A.J. Green.
Over the first five games of the season, Green's production was lopped in half, averaging three catches and 24 yards per game on a 41% catch rate.
Green averaged 5.4 receptions and 80.2 yards per game on a 58% catch rate from 2011-2018. His peculiar exit against Baltimore was rock bottom. That's the thing about rock bottom—it can't get worse.
Green could have packed it in after that game, demanded a trade like Carlos Dunlap and brought his time in the Queen City to a close. Not so fast. He hadn’t played live football in two years and wasn't a part of Taylor's offense last season, but he’s starting to find his way.
"I’m just still rusty. I’m still learning this system, I’m still trying to get comfortable in the routes that I’m running," Green said last month. "Just little things like that. I knew there were going to be growing pains, but I want to be great and I accept the challenge."
Taylor didn't know what kind of player he was getting in Green. Inconsistency should've been expected over the first month.
Green had been a complete route tree player his whole career, but Taylor has streamlined his concepts over the last few games. The 32-year-old is running more quick-breaking and comeback routes to take advantage of his size and experience advantage against most corners.
Finding these wrinkles and leaning on them has helped bring Green back to life over the past two games. He's averaging 7.5 receptions, 89 yards and has a 62.5% catch rate over that span.
The change in routes has opened up Green's open field prowess. The Georgia-product has 99 yards after catch over those two games. He only had 16 total YAC on the season following Week 5. Green's future with the Bengals is up in the air, but he'll have to light up the stat sheet over the next nine games to get anywhere near the $18 million he's making this season. If Green plays well, then chances are he'll get a few more seasons with Tyler Boyd.
Boyd has been punching the clock in 2020 like it's been a normal year. He's first in the NFL with 42 slot receptions according to PFF. His 48 total catches through seven games is tied for third in the NFL.
READ MORE: An Open Letter To Carlos Dunlap
Boyd has been a top-15 wide receiver since that electric touchdown against Baltimore in 2017. Only six players have more catches than him since that game-winner.
Sunday was arguably Boyd's best game of the season in what's been a special year for the Pittsburgh alum. He's averaging career-highs in yards (73.9) and catches per game (6.9). He's formed a special bond with Burrow and the rookie is taking advantage. Boyd's moved the chains for a first down 33 times this season, which is second in the NFL behind Cardinals' receiver Deandre Hopkins.
The feasting should continue against Tennessee, who allows the third-most fantasy points per game to slot receivers. Boyd, 25, is signed through the 2023 season. He still hasn't hit the peak of his prime.
While Boyd was a known quantity for Burrow to utilize, the third receiving option remained a mystery in the offseason. General sentiment had the Bengals rolling out John Ross III, but Tee Higgins had other plans. The rookie receiver has burst onto the scene, helping form a three-headed monster at wide receiver in Cincinnati.
Higgins has 27 receptions for 410 yards and three touchdowns this season. He's been the most efficient downfield option for Burrow and the Bengals.
The rookie quarterback has a 117.4 passer rating when targeting Higgins, which is first on the team (min. 20 targets). The Clemson-product ranks top-three for all rookie receivers in yards, touchdowns (3), and yards per catch (15.2).
The ability to stretch the field is what Cincinnati fans can fawn over. The Bengals found the deep threat needed for Burrow to reach his ceiling. For rookies with 20-plus targets, Higgins leads them all with a 13.2-yard average depth of target. We got a taste of that skillset against the Colts.
This pass was Burrow's longest completed air distance this season (45.6 yards) according to NextGen Stats. Rock Ya-Sin gives Higgins plenty of space at the snap, but Higgins was too much for the corner.
Defenders are respecting him as a game-breaker. He ranks third among all rookies with 6.5 yards of average cushion at the snap. Higgins is just scratching the surface of what he can become in the NFL. Should that potential bust through, Cincinnati will have a top-tier trio of receivers for their franchise quarterback.
For more on the Bengals, including the latest NFL news, go here!