For as long as I'm alive I'll never forget the following phrase: "We want to make it hurt."
It was something Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said often before and during his second season with the Yellow Jackets, when he led them to the 2009 ACC championship. I was covering the team for The Telegraph in Macon, Georgia, at the time and got to hear Johnson and his disciples utter the saying frequently.
Because Johnson's team was -- and still is -- a run-focused unit that primarily relied on its varying option plays to generate offense, it was important his quarterback and receivers took full advantage when an opportunity for a deep passing play opened. Since it liked to lull opposing defenses into mostly defending a series of dives and pitches, Johnson's offense "want[ed] to make it hurt" whenever his team did decide to pass. That meant going deep. With current Denver Bronco Demaryius Thomas as his prime passing target, Johnson believed his offense could in fact make it hurt for opposing defenses whenever his team went long.
We'll get to more on that in a bit, but let's first break down this Monday's Bengals factoid; a look at the chunk receptions one of Thomas' old college rivals, former Georgia Bulldog A.J. Green, has had in his NFL career. Specifically, we're looking at his chunk-yard touchdowns: 14.
Throughout his career, Green has caught 14 touchdown passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air before he caught them, according to ESPN Stats & Information. For the purposes of this blog post, we'll consider passes that travel that distance chunk passes. It's a similar definition to what most use to describe explosive plays (passes of 20 yards or more). Certainly a short screen that results in a long gain downfield could be considered a chunk play, but again, in this instance I want to specifically look at how far the passes themselves travel.
Green's 14 touchdown receptions on passes that travel 20 or more yards in the air are the most an NFL receiver has had the past three seasons. Detroit's Calvin Johnson -- a former Yellow Jacket who missed playing in Johnson's run-based offense by two years -- ranked second with 12 such touchdown receptions in that time span. Green Bay's Jordy Nelson had 11.
It's interesting to note Green's career performances on deep passes come with a quarterback whose deep-passing struggles have drawn more attention than his successes. While Dalton is apparently good at throwing corner routes, per ESPN Insider via Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo, he hasn't posted the best numbers overall on passes that have traveled 20 yards or more. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Dalton has a 37.0 completion percentage on those types of passes since 2011, when, like Green, he was a rookie. Dalton also has completed 18 touchdown passes and had 14 interceptions on balls he's thrown 20 yards or more downfield. He has a modest 85.8 passer rating on passes that have gone that distance in the air.
Such numbers put Dalton on the fringe of the top 10 in most of the aforementioned passing categories the past three seasons. He's in the bottom six quarterbacks in terms of interceptions, though. His 14 pickoffs tie him with Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Only Matthew Stafford and Ryan Fitzpatrick have more with 15.
While Green ranks well in terms of touchdowns on chunk-passing plays, he's also near the top in receptions and receiving yards, too. Only Calvin Johnson has more of both on passes that travel 20 yards or more downfield.
So what can we deduce from these numbers? The fact there's evidence Green really is one of the best in the league at going up and catching anything thrown his way deep. Stats show he's also particularly good at converting such catches into touchdowns.
That bodes well for the Bengals because they hope to pride themselves this year on efficient passing. While they will try to achieve their version of "making it hurt" by also using screens, well-timed slants and other shorter routes that can generate big yards after the catch, they also want to rely on the deep ball on those occasions when the defense isn't ready. By putting a little more attention on running the ball, the Bengals believe they'll bring secondaries up a bit, giving them more opportunities to exploit chunk passes deep. If that happens, then Green or any of the other Bengals receivers has a chance to punish a defensive backfield that starts keying too much on running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.
So don't be surprised to see Green add to his 14 chunk-yard touchdowns this season.