Even though Andy Dalton‘s four touchdowns, to Eli Manning‘s two interceptions, will appear to be the most significant statistic emanating from the Cincinnati Bengals‘ shock 31-13 victory over the New York Giants this week, it’s another offensive player who should be pushed into the spotlight. It may have taken until Week 10, but the Bengals look to have finally found their second starting wide receiver, Mohammed Sanu.
Prior to today, Sanu’s biggest, and only real contribution to the season came against the Washington Redskins when he threw a touchdown pass to AJ Green. Sanu had only been active in six games prior to the victory over the Giants and he had totaled just five receptions and 56 yards along with one rush for seven yards. Importantly, each of those five receptions had come in the past two games.
Sanu is a 23-year-old receiver who was taken in the third round of this year’s draft. In his three seasons at Rutgers, Sanu caught 210 passes for 2,263 yards, scored 19 touchdowns and gained 3,019 all-purpose yards. Even though the Bengals were in need of a second starting receiver at the time, as they have been ever since, Sanu wasn’t expected to be that player because he is primarily a slot receiver.
Today was no different for Sanu as his best work came from the slot. The Bengals are still desperate to establish a legitimate threat across from AJ Green who can work outside the numbers. Sanu won’t be that guy, at least not this season, but the team has become so desperate for a second wide receiver threat, that Jay Gruden is more than willing to work around his limitations to enhance his talents. Gruden did that today and allowed Sanu to make a big impact on the result of the game.
Sanu was second on the team in receiving yards and receptions today, with four receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. Gruden worked around Sanu’s limitations outside the numbers by keeping him inside of Green or stacking the receivers together in two wide receiver sets. Moving forward, the Bengals will have plenty of innovative ways to make use of Sanu, largely because of tight end Jermaine Gresham‘s ability to line up outside as a receiver. Importantly, both Gresham and Andrew Hawkins had big plays today also to help share the load behind Green.
Even as just a slot receiver, Sanu proved today that he can still make important plays in the right situations. With the Bengals’ offensive line excelling as it did today, the offense can afford to spread the field with multiple receivers as often as they like. On a play today when the Bengals lined up with four wide receivers, two to each side, Sanu scored his first career receiving touchdown. Sanu was lined up in the left slot against zone coverage. Two defenders were matched up to his side of the field, one covering a deep outside third of the endzone and the other playing underneath zone coverage. Sanu split the duo by first faking a deep out to the pylon before cutting back inside to extend fully and catch the football infront of the defender in tight coverage.
The Bengals will still likely need to rely on multiple receivers and tight ends to properly complement Green in the receiving game, but at the very least Sanu showed today that he was capable of being a difference maker at this level.
Cian Fahey tweets mostly NFL @Cianaf