Following last season, if any eyes were on the Cincinnati Bengals, they were on Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Both Green and Dalton were selected to the Pro Bowl last year, making them the first rookie duo to do so. When the Bengals used their third-round pick this past April on Mohamed Sanu, everyone agreed that he had enormous potential.
The only question mark was how long it would take him to develop within his role.
The first six games of the season, Sanu recorded no stats. His first catch was against the Steelers Week 7 when he had three total catches for 27 yards. Since then, Sanu has been a consistent cameo performer in the Bengals offense. In the four games since his debut, Sanu has 13 catches for 127 yards and four touchdowns.
Sanu's five catches against the Oakland Raiders were a career high for the former Rutgers standout. His 47-yard performance against the New York Giants was a career high as well. However, even in my wildest dreams, I'd never imagine anyone having 13 catches on the season and four of them for touchdowns.
What Sanu has shown is that his complement to A.J. Green on the goal line is one that teams overlook and underestimate. Sanu's efficiency in the red zone is a testament to his precise route running, quickness and awareness. All skills that helped him break the Big East all-time receptions record while at Rutgers.
Sanu's progression bodes well for the Bengals.
The last time the Bengals had two productive red-zone receivers was when Chad Johnson worked outside and T.J. Houshmandzadeh worked the safeties and linebackers from the slot. The last three games, Sanu has caught four touchdown passes and has been a crucial offensive option for the Bengals as defenses continue to plot ways to stop Green on the outside.
When Jordan Shipley was drafted by the Bengals in 2010, I saw him being the slot option that the Bengals needed; a Wes Welker-type player that runs whips, curls, options, drags and seams. That never panned out. Andrew Hawkins actually turned out to fill that role perfectly, and it'll be interesting to see him and Sanu work the inside routes when the Bengals have four wide receivers in the game.
With the Cleveland Browns beating the Steelers Sunday, the race for the AFC Wild Card is anybody's game.
The Bengals are in a good position to make the playoffs but, with games remaining against the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the last two weeks of the season, they ought to be playing their best football of the season in December. Which, if you consider the way the 2010 Green Bay Packers and 2005 Steelers both won Super Bowls as six seeds—stranger things have happened than the Bengals making a run to the end the season and into the playoffs.
With an important AFC game at the San Diego Chargers this week and then the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles to follow, the Bengals have a schedule that is favorable for a steadily improving team to appear in the postseason.
In order for them to do any of this, however, players like Mohamed Sanu need to keep playing at a high level. The same can be said for players like Cedric Peerman, Brian Leonard, Orson Charles and Marvin Jones.
Every few games it seems the Bengals have developed a new facet of their offense. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton continue to excel and improve their chemistry. Jermaine Gresham has come alive the last few games and is my vote for hardest to bring down in the league. Andrew Hawkins has found his niche, and now Mohamed Sanu has arrived, bringing an added dimension to an already potent Cincinnati offense.