EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Steve Spagnuolo spent a lot of time this past week talking to veteran cornerback Leon Hall.
The New York Giants defensive coordinator has been trying to find ways to limit the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense on Monday night at MetLife Stadium, and there is no better way than getting first-hand knowledge.
Before signing with the Giants in training camp, Hall spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Bengals. He knows quarterback Andy Dalton and more importantly, he knows A.J. Green, the NFL’s leading receiver this season with 59 catches.
One of the things Hall told Spagnuolo was that Green has a unique ability to wait until the last second to stick his hands out and catch a ball, limiting the time a defensive back can use his hands to defend the pass.
“A.J. has great hands, he is a bigger wide-out, with really good quickness,” Spagnuolo said. “We have to find a way to slow him down. We can’t let him wreck the football game. That is a good football player, but we will have different people on him and do different things.”
The Bengals (3-4-1) aren’t as bad as their record looks. Their losses have been to Pittsburgh, Denver, Dallas, New England and the tie was against Washington in London in their most recent game on Oct. 30. They have had two weeks to prepare for the Giants (5-3), who are seeking their first four-game winning streak since 2013.
The Giants’ defense has led the way, but the Bengals pose a big challenge because they are a balanced attack. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard lead a running game that averages 120.3 yards, while Dalton has had a 100-plus quarterback rating in four of his past five starts.
Green is the big-play threat against a defense that gave up seven plays of 20 or more yards in a win against the Eagles last weekend.
“He’s a big problem,” Hall said of Green. “There’s not a lot he can’t do. He can run the short routes, he’s agile enough to run some bigger routes and stuff like that. He can pretty much do it all. He goes up and gets it, he can run. He’s pretty strong at the point of attack on press coverages and stuff like that. Everyone knows what he can do week in and week out. He’s done that for years now.”
The Giants have had cornerback Janoris Jenkins go against the opposition’s top receiver a couple of times this season. He limited Dez Bryant of the Cowboys to one reception in the season opener.
Jenkins and Green know each other from college. Jenkins played at Florida, while Green was at Georgia.
“He’s fast, athletic and is very quick, that’s everything you want in a corner,” Green said.
The two also faced each other last season when Jenkins was still with the Rams. Green caught two touchdowns in that game.
“One of them was on me,” Jenkins said. “It was a blown coverage, but I don’t think the other one was.”
Hall said the teams that have had the most success against Green mix things up.
“You can’t just keep rolling up to him because he’ll figure that out,” Hall said. “You can’t just play Cover 2 or Cover 1.
“You have to have a variety. At the end of the day, it really starts with the quarterback. You want to keep him on his toes, keep him guessing and hesitant to affect some of those throws.”
The Giants’ pass rush has improved in recent weeks, and they will need it to prevent Dalton from getting into a rhythm.
“Once he gets his timing going, it’s impressive to watch, especially the past few years,” Hall said. “He’s had a lot of options at wide receiver and a couple of threats out of the backfield. Obviously tight end. Once he gets it going and spreads the ball out, it’s pretty impressive.”
The Bengals can’t afford many more setbacks if they want to get to the playoffs for a sixth straight season.
“I don’t feel like we’re desperate, but we know what we have to do,” Green said.
The Giants, who are looking to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, will induct two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Tom Coughlin, former general manager Ernie Accorsi and defensive end Justin Tuck into their Ring of Honor in a halftime ceremony.