Posted November 25, 2012

Mohamed Sanu emerging in Bengals’ offense

Cincinnati Bengals

Mohamed Sanu’s first TD catch of Week 12 — a one-handed grab — was worthy of highlight reels. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Just last week, I wrote on here that A.J. Green might be the best receiver in the NFL. So it has to be a little scary for NFL defenses that Green, finally, is getting some help.

The biggest boost recently has come from rookie Mohamed Sanu, who found the end zone twice in the first half Sunday against Oakland to give him four TDs over Cincinnati’s last three games. Not coincidentally, the Bengals scored 31 and 28 points in winning the first two of those games, and went into the half against Oakland with 24 and a huge lead. The soon-to-be three-game winning streak has come at the right time for the Bengals, who had lost four straight before that and had their playoff future in serious qustion.

It’s also quite a turnaround for the rookie receiver — he struggled throughout camp and did not even make a reception until Week 7.

With Andrew Hawkins out of the lineup, though, Sanu has claimed a starting spot. He was on the field for 63 snaps in Week 11, matching Green’s number, and earned another starting nod Sunday.

Tempering the excitement over Sanu a bit: His last two outings have been against Oakland and Kansas City, bottom-feeders in the NFL this season. Still, any uptick in performance from the second receiver spot is welcome for Cincinnati. Entering Sunday, Jermaine Gresham was No. 2 on the team in receptions (43), behind only Green; Hawkins (34) sat in third, followed by a big drop-off.

But Sanu’s performance is exactly what Cincinnati had in mind when it used a third-round pick on him in April.

Counting Green and Sanu, the Bengals have used four draft picks on receivers over the past two seasons — they also selected Ryan Whalen in 2011 and Marvin Jones in 2012. Neither of the latter two have panned out yet, making it all the more necessary that someone else step up.

Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis’ task in the near future will be balancing his new-found depth out wide. Jones recently returned to practice after an injury, and Hawkins should be ready to go in the near future.

The extra bodies could be viewed as good or bad, depending on how staunchly Lewis tries to force his way back into his old rotation.

He’ll have a tough time limiting Sanu, however, if the talented WR keeps up his current pace.

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