Cincinnati Bengals: mohamed sanu

Bengals' Week 2 win by the numbers

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
CINCINNATI -- As we start putting the proverbial bow on the Cincinnati Bengals' second ballgame of the year, here is a by-the-numbers look at their 24-10 win over the Falcons:

10: Number of consecutive regular season home games the Bengals have won dating to December 2012. They do have one postseason home loss during that stretch which came last January.

3: Number of field goals missed by kicker Mike Nugent, from 38 (wide right), 49 (wide left) and 55 (short left) yards. He did bury a 31-yard field goal in the first quarter.

158.3: Career passer rating for Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu, who has three completions in his career. He had one his rookie year in 2012, one last season and another Sunday.

50: Number of yards on Sanu's deep pass to fellow receiver Brandon Tate, who caught it in stride and in bounds just before being tackled.

97: Number of yards or rushing offense the Bengals' defense allowed. It's the second straight game the unit has held an opposing offense under 100 yards.

5.1: Number of yards the Falcons' offense averaged on the ground. That includes quarterback Matt Ryan's 9.3 that came off a trio of scrambles into the middle of the field for big gains.

48.6: Ryan's passer rating versus the Bengals. The week before, he had a passer rating of 128.8 in a win over the Saints.

26.9: Ryan's QBR versus the Bengals. The week before, he had a QBR of 91.9 in the win over New Orleans.

6: Number of times Bengals running back Giovani Bernard was targeted in the passing game. It was the second straight week he led the team in targets. He had 10 against the Ravens last week.

3: Number of interceptions by Bengals defenders. They had three interceptions in three games last year, all at home -- against the Browns, Vikings and Ravens. On Sunday, George Iloka and Leon Hall intercepted Ryan. Iloka did it twice.

25: Percentage of third downs the Bengals allowed Atlanta to convert. The Falcons were 3-of-12.

23: Atlanta's average start of field position; the Falcons' own 23. Their last two drives began at their own 1- and 4-yard lines after successfully downed punts.

9: Number of tackles cornerback Terence Newman had, pacing all Bengals defenders.

2: Number of wins the Bengals have this season. This is their first 2-0 start since 2006.

169: Number of total yards for Bernard; a career high. He rushed for 90 yards and had 79 receiving.

1: Sanu became the first player in the NFL since Rod Smith in 2003 to pass for 50-plus yards and catch for 50-plus yards in the same game.

Data from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this report.

Behind the Bengals' Week 2 snap counts

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
CINCINNATI -- It seemed at times Sunday afternoon that there were more Cincinnati Bengals watching snaps in the training room than there were on the field playing them.

A.J. Green went down early, lost for the game with a toe injury. Vontaze Burfict left before the game ended with a stinger one week after experiencing a concussion. Tight end Alex Smith had a biceps issue in the first half. Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson injured a knee. Guard Kevin Zeitler's right calf forced him to hobble away from a second-quarter goal-line scoring play and into the locker room.

The training staff had its work cut out for it.

Those injuries affected the Bengals' snap counts in Sunday's 24-10 win against the Falcons. Specifically, they hit Green hard, and gave opportunities for other players on the depth chart to step in.

Green was only on the field for six plays, according to Pro Football Focus' snap counts. Devon Still, the former practice-squad defensive end who was filling in for Thompson, ended up getting 16 snaps. For the second straight week, Vincent Rey outpaced Burfict on the number of snaps at linebacker after coming in and relieving him following the stinger.

Players who might not have expected to contribute so early this season have. That's paid many positive dividends for the Bengals.

Depth was a big factor in Sunday's win, but coach Marvin Lewis believes it goes deeper than that.

"Attitude is the most important," Lewis said. "'If it's my turn, let's go. It's why I'm here.' They're all here for a reason, and they're all cut from similar cloth. They know what they're made of."

It will be interesting to see how the snap counts evolve in the next couple of games.

Here are this week's complete snap counts with help from PFF and the NFL's Game Statistics and Information System:

OFFENSE (72 plays)*
OG Clint Boling (72), C Russell Bodine (72), OT Andre Smith (72), QB Andy Dalton (72), WR Mohamed Sanu (71), TE Jermaine Gresham (70), OT Andrew Whitworth (66), WR Brandon Tate (60), RB Giovani Bernard (46), OG Mike Pollak (37), OG Kevin Zeitler (35), WR Dane Sanzenbacher (35), RB Jeremy Hill (33), TE/H-back Ryan Hewitt (28), OT Marshall Newhouse (9), TE Alex Smith (6), WR James Wright (6), WR A.J. Green (6), FB/DT Domata Peko (1).

DEFENSE (69 plays)*
S George Iloka (69), CB Terence Newman (69), CB Leon Hall (69), S Reggie Nelson (69), LB Emmanuel Lamur (65), DE Carlos Dunlap (57), CB Adam Jones (55), DE Wallace Gilberry (54), DE Robert Geathers (51), DT Geno Atkins (46), LB Vincent Rey (37), LB Vontaze Burfict (32), DT Peko (26), DE Margus Hunt (18), LB Rey Maualuga (18), DT Devon Still (16), DT Brandon Thompson (6), CB Darqueze Dennard (1).

SPECIAL TEAMS (27 plays)**
LB Jayson DiManche (21), S Shawn Williams (21), LB Marquis Flowers (19), RB Cedric Peerman (19), Rey (19), S Taylor Mays (18), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (15), Dennard (15), Wright (15), K Mike Nugent (12), P Kevin Huber (11), LS Clark Harris (11), Hunt (11), Peko (9), Hewitt (9), Andre Smith (7), Gresham (7), Tate (7), Whitworth (7), Pollak (7), Newhouse (7), Nelson (5), Newman (5), Lamur (5), Alex Smith (4), Bodine (4), Jones (3), Zeitler (3), Dunlap (2), Gilberry (2), Hall (2), Sanu (1), Sanzenbacher (1), Atkins (1), Burfict (1), Maualuga (1), Thompson (1).
*Counts come from from PFF.
**Counts come from the NFL's GSIS.
CINCINNATI -- It's still early. Very early.

But the Cincinnati Bengals have many reasons to feel good about the defense of their division title after two weeks.

For starters, they are one of four AFC teams with 2-0 records. If the Eagles beat the Colts in this week's Monday night game, that would make the Bengals one of seven teams in the entire league with 2-0 marks. Of those seven, only three, the Panthers, Broncos and Bengals, were playoff teams last season.

According to our friends at ESPN Stats & Information, since 1990, teams that start a season with a 3-0 record have a 75.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. So the Bengals have to be feeling good about their postseason aspirations if they can breeze into the Week 4 bye undefeated.

To get to 3-0, the Bengals will have to extend their regular-season home winning streak to 11 games next week when Tennessee comes to town. If they win that game, the Bengals will have set a new franchise record for consecutive regular-season home wins. If they continue to roll the way they have through these first two weeks, maybe they will have a chance at redemption from last season's playoff loss by hosting another postseason game this season.

The Ravens looked sharp last Thursday in their short-week showdown against the Steelers, responding well to the Ray Rice drama swirling around them. The blowout win showed two things: that Baltimore isn't going to roll over this season, distractions or not, and that Pittsburgh might be in the midst of another mediocre season under Mike Tomlin. I personally thought the Steelers would be the Bengals' staunchest division competitor this season. But to this point that is not looking like the case.

Cleveland, which lost to Pittsburgh Week 1, seems to have found a quarterback in Brian Hoyer, riding him and a power-running game to a narrow win against a good Saints team on Sunday. New Orleans might be 0-2, but it lost both games on walk-off field goals. The Saints also have yet to play a game inside their intimidating home venue this season.

The Bengals travel to New Orleans in November.

So for now, it's clear Cincinnati has the best team in the AFC North. Heck, for now, the Bengals appear to be one of the best teams in football. They ranked fifth in last week's ESPN Power Rankings, and with the Seahawks and 49ers losing this week, you have to figure they rise at least a spot or two. The Eagles were ranked fourth, so if they lose Monday night, the Bengals have another team they could overtake.

Another reason Bengals fans should feel optimistic: their team won convincingly Sunday without any contributions from A.J. Green, limited help from Vontaze Burfict and Kevin Zeitler, unexpected contributions from defensive tackle Devon Still, who had not played since Week 15 last season, and an offense that featured a rookie and a second-year player at running back. Youth and depth were keys to Sunday's win.

Teams with youth and depth don't just win in the short term.

So hey, while it is still incredibly early, if the Bengals keep playing like they did these past two Sundays, look for them to stay atop the AFC North for several weeks to come.
CINCINNATI -- As Andy Dalton approached the line of scrimmage his eyes panned the field.

Left, right, middle. Short, intermediate, deep. The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback scanned the zones where he wanted to send his receivers, wondering if there was a soft spot for them run into, and if there was a place he could pass to in order to convert a crucial third down.

It was in his pre-snap read of the third-and-6 defense when he saw a safety creep up and the linebackers get even closer. At that moment, it was evident: The Falcons were going to bring an all-out blitz, forsaking the deep portions of the field. If a receiver could get past the safety, he might not only get a first down.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsAndy Dalton ran his record against NFC teams to 10-3.
He could get a touchdown, too.

That was Dalton's hope when he saw the defensive formation called a "Cover Zero." That particular formation is one in which only a safety sits downfield in zone coverage, while the cornerbacks line up in man coverage and the rest of the defense goes in all-out pursuit of the quarterback. Once Dalton recognized what was coming, he made a few tweaks at the line of scrimmage, barking out protection changes and additional blitz pickups.

His adjustments paid off.

Perhaps the most crucial line change was getting running back Giovani Bernard to pick up a blitzing defender. When he did, the block gave Dalton just a split-second long enough to get off his pass without a hand being directly in his face.

"I saw exactly what he saw," receiver Mohamed Sanu said.

When the ball was snapped, Sanu's objective was simple. He needed to run a slant and quickly get enough separation from his cornerback that Dalton could lead him to a spot where only he could get hands on the ball.

That's precisely what happened, and 76 yards and one missed tackle later Sanu was in the end zone with a key touchdown that began the Bengals' separation. The touchdown made it 17-3, and came just before an interception and subsequent score pushed the lead even further barely five minutes later.

"We had a good check on and Mo ran a really good route," Dalton said. "When you're playing Cover Zero and you make one guy miss, there's nobody else in the back end. When [cornerback Robert Alford] fell off on the route, Mo had a pretty good jog into the end zone."

Sanu's touchdown reception showed just how in sync the pair was. With Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green dealing with a toe injury that could keep him out next week against Tennessee, the Bengals will desperately need this pairing to continue to be on the same page.

"When guys go down like that, that's the mentality that you have to have as a team, regardless of the position," said Dalton, referencing the five Bengals who were lost to injury Sunday, including Green. "Everybody here knows what Mo can do and obviously he had a really good chance to showcase his ability."

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati Bengals

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
videoCINCINNATI -- A few thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-10 win against the Atlanta Falcons at Paul Brown Stadium:

What it means: Sunday's win should have sent a strong message to the rest of the league. That message? That even after having to replace both their coordinators, the Bengals still have a smooth and fluid offense and the same intimidating defense that ended last season ranked third in the NFL. After placing fifth in ESPN's Power Rankings last week, the Bengals certainly proved in this win that they deserve to be considered a top-five team at this early stage of the season. The only problem with Sunday's 14-point victory was that it may have come at a price. The Bengals were attacked by a vicious injury bug during the game as five players, including Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict, were lost with varying ailments. It was the second straight game Burfict left early.

Stock watch: One week after going 5-for-6 on field goals (one was blocked), Bengals kicker Mike Nugent trended in the opposite direction against the Falcons when he made just one of the four field goal attempts he had. Like his first five at Baltimore, all four of Nugent's attempts Sunday came in the first half. The second miss, a 49-yard try, looked the worst. After appearing to be good off Nugent's foot, the ball knuckled at the last second and glided left of the goalposts. His next attempt, a 55-yarder in the final second of the second quarter, fell just short. Nugent's kickoffs weren't any better. All four were just short enough in the end zone that Atlanta's electric return man Devin Hester was able to bring them out. Hester, who had been in a war of words with Bengals punt returner Adam Jones over their return skills earlier in the week, averaged 29.5 yards on the four kick returns he had. His longest was 36 yards.

Run-game revival: After being held to just 79 yards rushing last week, the Bengals performed better on the ground in Week 2. Combined, they rushed for 170 yards, with second-year back Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill leading the way. The pair combined for 67 yards on 18 carries against the Ravens in the opener. This week, they had all but six of the Bengals' yards. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who didn't run any read-option this week, had those other six.

Game ball: Receiver Mohamed Sanu gets this week's game ball after factoring in both the Bengals' passing and receiving game. He caught three passes for 84 yards, including a touchdown and completed a 50-yard pass to receiver Brandon Tate. The pass came on the first play of the Bengals' second drive and set a tone about how well the offense could operate. The Bengals came up dry on the drive, though, as Nugent missed his first field goal at its conclusion.

What's next? Cincinnati will be back in action next week when it hosts Tennessee in an important pre-bye week contest. One week after the Titans come to Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals are off. This will be the Bengals' first meeting with an AFC South team this season, the division that had the lowest combined winning percentage in the league last year. The timing of the bye might be good for the Bengals considering all the injuries they picked up against the Falcons.
CINCINNATI -- Mohamed Sanu had just changed direction on his route and started running at an angle toward the goal posts when his quarterback, Andy Dalton, let go of the pass.

As Sanu sprinted past the cornerback defending him and tried to maintain separation from the closing safety, he looked to the sky.

 What the Cincinnati Bengals receiver saw made his eyes get big.

"I was just like, 'Gosh, what a ball,'" Sanu said, adding a giddy, school-girl laugh.

A catch, two steps and a touchdown dance later, Sanu helped preserve Dalton's perfect passing line at the start of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets. By the time his night was over, Dalton added another Sanu pass and six more to Bengals receivers to finish 8-for-8 with 144 yards, one touchdown and a 158.3 passer rating. Those statistics, combined with his numbers from the preseason opener at Kansas City the week before, make him 11-for-13 with 215 passing yards and a 144.4 passer rating in limited action through the two games.

It's all evidence that Dalton really is playing better and more efficiently than he has at any other point in his career.

"I see it every year, but especially this camp," Sanu said. "I haven't seen him throw the ball so accurate, so efficient. Every time you turn around the ball is just there and you're like, 'Wow."

Dalton contends that nothing has changed from last season. In his eyes, he's still playing the same as he did before and is practicing the same. He may have made a few tweaks and modifications to better his mechanics, but he says everything else is the same. He's still having fun, too.

"When you have a game like I did [Saturday], and you have teammates like I have, it's a lot of fun," Dalton said. "It's not like it just started being fun. It's been fun since I've been here."

It's tough to argue that. From the outside looking in, it certainly seems as if he is more calm and more at ease than he's been at any other point in his career. He seems to trust his receivers more than before and has a better understanding of their routes. And he knows when he delivers the ball a particular way, he expects them to be right there to run underneath it.

Coach Marvin Lewis, bothered by the way players at the back of his depth chart allowed the Jets to overcome a 17-3 deficit to win, didn't have as much to say about Dalton's performance as he probably could have. That had nothing to do with the quarterback. Instead, he was ticked because the back-end play, in his words, tainted his starting signal-caller's strong evening.

"He's on top of his game. He's throwing the football and understands what we want," Lewis said. "Guys are doing a good job with him. He continues to play the way we think he should play all the time. It doesn't surprise me because that's the way he practices all the time. He doesn't have to be flashy, he just needs to be accurate and handle the offense. He does his thing very well."

Next Sunday night, Dalton will be challenged by an Arizona Cardinals defense that ranked sixth last season, allowing a QBR of 39.4. By comparison, the Bengals' defense ranked one spot better at fourth, allowing a QBR of just 39.0 last season.

The nationally-televised game in Glendale, Arizona, also pits Dalton against the man he replaced: former Bengal Carson Palmer. On the biggest stage he'll see this preseason, it'll be interesting to see if Dalton continues to grow.

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are now 0-2 in preseason play following Saturday night's 25-17 loss to the New York Jets.

But it's not the final score Bengals fans should be concerned about. It really wasn't indicative of how well the Bengals' first- and second-team units played in the more meaningful snaps early in the contest. It was more indicative of how wide the chasm is between the Bengals' starters and their last-string backups. Cincinnati was up 17-3 and looking to increase its lead before the lineup changes.

For most of the first two quarters, the Bengals looked nearly flawless. Quarterback Andy Dalton, in fact, was a perfect 8-for-8 on his passing opportunities. False start and holding penalties were about the only issues this group had offensively. Defensively, the Bengals had to watch for swinging arms and hard shoves from Jets linemen. In all, the Jets were flagged six times for committing either personal foul or unnecessary roughness penalties.

Here are a few more thoughts on the Bengals' preseason game Saturday:
  • Not only was Dalton perfect from an accuracy standpoint, but he also passed for 144 yards and rushed for seven. He also had a passing touchdown and has led scoring drives on all four of the series he's been in for this preseason. Two field goals have resulted from drives he's led, and two touchdown have as well. In addition to Dalton's 43-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu on Saturday, Giovani Bernard capped another drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Dalton's three-series day began with a 4-for-4 performance on the opening drive that included Sanu's touchdown catch. That score came when Dalton dropped a well-placed pass into Sanu's hands at the top of a post route. Sanu beat his cornerback and caught the pass as a safety closed on him. At halftime, Sanu said this about the throw: "Andy just dropped it on a dime. All I had to do was stick my hands out and not drop it."
  • The Bengals' no-huddle offense really has taken shape this preseason. It was evident all throughout the game, most notably in the first and fourth quarters. At one point on Dalton's second drive, the Bengals called five straight no-huddle plays before the Jets finally called a timeout. The offense was in sync during that five-play portion of the series, too, gaining 70 yards and getting into red-zone territory after A.J. Green caught a 35-yard pass that he might have tried pushing for a score in a non-preseason game. It seemed as if he stepped out of bounds early to avoid contact. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been coy about how much he plans on using the no-huddle segments of his offense, but it has been clear the Bengals are going to make it a focal point of their more aggressive and rhythm-based scheme.
  • Last Saturday, Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told his team's website that New York "owed" the Bengals for the 49-9 thrashing Cincinnati handed the Jets last October. Apparently his words struck a nerve. The Bengals came out with a slightly sharpened edge defensively, and it seemed to rub off on the similarly anxious Jets, who couldn't avoid committing the aforementioned personal-foul infractions.
  • Injuries were an issue late for the Bengals as several were run from the game. Most notably, rookies Darqueze Dennard (hip), Jeremy Hill (shoulder), Marquis Flowers (ankle) and Jeremy Wright (hip) -- all draft picks -- were banged up. Flowers was the only one of them who returned. Along with them, linebacker J.K. Schaffer (head), running back Rex Burkhead (knee) and quarterback Tyler Wilson (head) were lost for the game, too.

W2W4: Cincinnati Bengals

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
The Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) and the New York Jets (1-0) play their second game of the preseason at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

1. Preseason payback? Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson told his team's website last weekend that he and his teammates "owe" the Bengals for the 49-9 loss they were handed in Cincinnati last October. Richardson felt that no other offense dominated the Jets' defense quite like the Bengals did last season. So even though he'll only be on the field for a few first-half plays, Richardson still wants the Bengals to know that his team is better than it showed last regular season. The Bengals are embracing Richardson's challenge, saying they are glad to face an opponent who will play with a little passion and energy in the preseason. It's very rare teams for teams to display that passion, as players, for the most part, try to tiptoe through the preseason without getting injured.

2. Life without Marvin. The Bengals will play Saturday for the first time since news came this week that receiver Marvin Jones needed surgery to help heal a bone broken during last Saturday's in-stadium practice. This actually will be the second preseason game the Bengals will have had without him after he took last week's game off while making his slow return from an ankle injury that caused him to miss part of training camp. A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu already were expected to fill Jones' shoes, but who else will? Keep an eye out for Brandon Tate, Dane Sanzenbacher, Ryan Whalen, James Wright, Cobi Hamilton and Colin Lockett. All will try to showcase their playmaking ability, even though Tate, Sanzenbacher, Wright and Hamilton stand the best odds of filling Jones' shoes until he returns Oct. 5 against the Patriots.

3. Better tackling. Cincinnati's tackling efforts left a lot to be desired last week at Kansas City. Among the topics coach Marvin Lewis was quickest to highlight following the preseason opener was his team's lack of good, fundamental tackling. It cost the Bengals at times on defense, and really hurt them on special teams. Last week's game was the first time any of the players had tackled live since last season. Lewis and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons are hoping those tackling concerns clear up this week.
CINCINNATI -- It was a simple message.

"Let's go."

When Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson met with receiver Mohamed Sanu in the days after the team first learned it would be without Marvin Jones, those were the only two words he said to the young player.

Sanu, once the No. 3 receiver on the roster, knew exactly what they meant. With Jones injured until October and out of the receiving rotation, Sanu's time had come to attempt to be the best pass-catcher on the team.

The best? Yes.

"I get surprised where people reacted after I made the statement I wanted Marvin to surpass A.J. [Green] a while ago, but it's because they all need to compete," Jackson said. "I wanted Sanu to surpass Marvin, too."

Jackson's philosophy: Keep the pressure high on his top skill players and they'll compete better than they did before. He doesn't just say "no one's job is safe." He actually believes it.

Apparently, the philosophy has been working. Sanu has taken advantage of Jones' absence this preseason, working almost exclusively as the No. 2 receiver in practice alongside Green, the player who continues to get his usual No. 1 receiver reps and looks. In addition to catching, Sanu has been impressive passing and running both on reverses off the edge and out of the backfield as a Wildcat quarterback. Cincinnati won't be looking for him to solely run gadget plays this season, but the Bengals are hopeful he'll continue turning heads when they do.

"He's been all over the place -- outside, inside, moving around -- and he's really done a good job for us," quarterback Andy Dalton said.

Sanu told Jackson when the offseason began that he wanted to come back a different player. In Jackson's eyes, "he's done that."

"It's just the consistency of production in the way he plays," Jackson said. "He plays like a true starter. Not that he didn't a year ago. I just know what I expect our guys to do, and see just what he's done. He blocks, he catches, he runs, he can do it all. We'll try to use some of his vast skills and let him showcase his talents and abilities this year."

The Bengals will get another chance to see those talents and abilities in a live game scenario when they take on the Jets on Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

"I'm going to step up that much more to fill Marvin's shows," Sanu said. "That's to just keep doing what I'm doing. Keep playing and keep being consistent. That's pretty much it. I can't see what's going on in the future, but I know what I can handle and I know what I can control, and that's putting my effort in and doing whatever I can to make this team better."

He won't be alone, he adds.

As the Bengals have been saying all week, with Jones now sidelined through the first three regular-season games because of foot surgery, it's time receivers like Brandon Tate, Dane Sanzenbacher and James Wright fill the void left by the player who was the second-leading receiver last year.

"It's a 'next man up' mentality," receivers coach James Urban said. "That's what we've always had. ... You push them out there and see if we can get the best guys out there that can help us win football games."

You do all that, Jackson said, and then add, "Let's go."
CINCINNATI -- As we've mentioned a few times these past couple of days, it might seem like a monumental task for the Cincinnati Bengals to replace their now-injured No. 2 receiver, but the Bengals think differently about how the next few weeks will go.

They're actually quite calm about the whole situation.


Because as much as they will miss Marvin Jones between now and the Week 5 showdown against the Patriots on Oct. 5, the Bengals believe his replacements will be just fine in picking up the slack. And just how will the Bengals accomplish that in the passing -- and even running; remember, Jones has been a key part of Cincinnati's occasional reverse plays -- game? They'll get work from a host of other wideouts.

With Jones out, Mohamed Sanu, the player poised to be the No. 3 receiver this season, will be forced to step up and execute alongside No. 1 receiver, A.J. Green. The plan had already been to make Sanu a more effective weapon in areas other than pass-catching. He, too, can run off reverses and double reverses. He also can run from the backfield off a direct snap, or pass as a quarterback out of a Wildcat formation. To this point in camp, he's already done some of all of that.

Behind Sanu and Green, the Bengals are looking for some combination of Brandon Tate, Dane Sanzenbacher, Ryan Whalen, Cobi Hamilton, James Wright and Colin Lockett to catch passes in relief of Jones. Tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert will carry their share of the receiving load, as will running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Eifert and Bernard could even line up in the slots or flanked off the line as outside receivers.

All of that is to suggest this: the Bengals believe they'll be just fine during the three games they'll miss Jones.

"It's 'next man up' mentality," receivers coach James Urban said Tuesday. "That's what we've always had."

We'll have more on the blog later Wednesday and Thursday about a few of the candidates most expected to fill Jones' shoes. Specifically, we'll look a little closer at Wright and Hamilton; two players who seem to be battling the hardest for the final spot in the receiver's portion of the roster. Tate and Sanzenbacher appear to have another battle brewing that in part hinges on the perceived value they have as return specialists. Here's more on Tate's fight for a roster spot from earlier this week, just before news of Jones' foot injury.

Sanzenbacher an option? Sanzenbacher remains one of the receivers who continues to quietly impress in the position battle. Against Kansas City last Thursday he caught two passes for 46 yards, including an impressive, pylon-diving 26-yard touchdown reception. The effort he had finishing that catch and score was duly noted.

Along with his offensive play, Sanzenbacher also returned three kicks, averaging 29.3 yards on them. His longest was a 34-yard kickoff return, and he had a 52-yard punt return negated because of a blocking penalty on Wright. It's safe to say very few around the Bengals agreed with the referee's opinion of Wright's block. Sanzenbacher's return was good, in their eyes.

Just like for everyone else, Jones' injury opens up an "opportunity" for Sanzenbacher to show he can serve as an adequate replacement.

"We talked about it in our room the other day when Marv got hurt," Urban said. "I said, 'Look, Marv, we're supporting you, we love you, we want you to get healthy, but for the next guy up, this is a great opportunity.'

"They're going to get more reps, more reps with the 1s and more opportunity to show what they can do."

Saturday's Week 2 preseason game against the Jets will be the first time we get an idea of just how the Bengals might replace Jones.
CINCINNATI -- As the Cincinnati Bengals get going with Day 14 of training camp, here are three items we are going to be watching:

Sticking with Sanu. Like head coach Marvin Lewis said Monday evening, "nothing's changed" with respect to the Bengals' receiving rotation following news earlier that day about Marvin Jones' injury. The Bengals will revert back to the way things were up until last Monday, when Jones had just come back from an ankle injury. They will operate exactly the way they did when training camp started with Mohamed Sanu receiving the bulk of the No. 2 receiver receptions and duties. Sanu has performed well all training camp, turning heads for exhibiting noted improvements and displaying morecomfort in the offense than he did during much of last season. We'll be looking for Sanu to keep playing his complementary role.

Monitoring Peko. Among the latest injuries to watch, defensive tackle Domata Peko's could be among the most concerning. Lewis didn't sound as if trainers anticipated Peko being on concussion protocol for long, but the fact that the lineman has now missed two straight practices while two off days mixed in, it's worth monitoring how long he might end up being out. That's now two starters who are on concussion protocol. Right offensive tackle Andre Smith has be under it for the past two weeks. We'll keep an eye out to see if Peko practices.

Position battle: safety. Now that we're nearing the halfway point of the preseason, it's time to start paying close attention to the numerous position battles that could be decided up to the day 53-man roster cuts have to be made. For Tuesday, we'll be on the lookout for the battle at safety. Taylor Mays has had a strong camp and had a similarly solid spring practice season. But is he at risk for getting cut because the Bengals want to keep the veteran Danieal Manning? Might Shawn Williams become expendable, despite his special teams versatility?
CINCINNATI -- It was quite telling when, during the Cincinnati Bengals' kickoff luncheon two days before the start of training camp, recently promoted defensive coordinator Paul Guenther railed against those who considered the Bengals' No. 3 overall defensive ranking the past season a true success.

"We've got to understand how to define success around here," Guenther said.

His point: No. 3 defensive rankings don't matter. Neither do No. top-10 total offense rankings, nor high special-teams rankings. The only ranking he believes the Bengals ought to be concerned about is the one that gets decided in Arizona on the final Sunday of this season's football calendar. Winning a Super Bowl is success. Statistical rankings are not.

So far in camp, that belief seems to have spread among the players. It's started with the coaches.

Head coach Marvin Lewis sat his assistants down during the offseason and implored them to get more urgency from their players. To this point in camp, it seems they have worked. Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese has been among those who has noted a different intensity in the practices, specifically in the types of routes receivers are running for his quarterbacks.

"When there's the amount of detail that they put in and the consistency that they're striving for right now, you can throw with anticipation and you throw better balls," Zampese said.

Better throws have meant better play for Andy Dalton. Better play has helped calm him, and spiked his confidence and helped him be a better leader. When the Bengals signed Dalton to a massive contract extension Monday, they sent a message that said they believe in the quarterback and think he gives them a strong chance to finally get the organization back to the Super Bowl.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Andy Dalton
AP Photo/Al BehrmanAndy Dalton will be leading a Bengals offense that is looking to be more physical than in recent seasons.

1. Cincinnati's offense has been a source of angst the past three postseasons. Dalton, who has started all three of those playoff losses, has completed just one touchdown pass in the playoffs, compared to six interceptions. He and the rest of the offense haven't shown much past Week 17. One reason: A now extinct emphasis on passing instead of running. While we haven't seen a complete offensive overhaul to this point in training camp, we are seeing where newly promoted offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's push for a more aggressive and physical offense is taking shape. Tight end Tyler Eifert has gotten involved in the offense, catching more passes from Dalton. It appears the Bengals are going to try to get him and Jermaine Gresham more involved this year. Jackson also promised the offense would be faster and more rhythmic than in years past. Through the first two weeks, the Bengals have incorporated more no-huddle and are playing at a slightly quicker pace than they did under former coordinator Jay Gruden.

2. The Bengals incorporated a two-back scheme last season, when Giovani Bernard was the lightning to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' thunder. While rookie Jeremy Hill appears poised to take Green-Ellis' place in that rotation this year, we haven't seen much from him in that regard. Early in training camp Bernard has regularly been part of one-back sets with the first-team unit. Hill, like Green-Ellis and the other backup running backs, has played more with the second-team. The hope will be that Hill eventually grows into being a regular contributor, but for now, he's just trying to make it through camp. Fumbles have been problems for the first-year player who didn't lose a single ball while in college.

3. While many teams endured near-complete defensive overhauls this offseason, the Bengals have been in the advantageous position of bringing back virtually all of their defensive starters. Defensive end Michael Johnson was the biggest loss, but the Bengals had already prepared for his possible departure when they drafted Margus Hunt in 2013. After spending a year as sort of "redshirt," Hunt appears poised to be a regular contributor in the end rotation this season. He and Wallace Gilberry have traded time at the left defensive end spot all throughout camp. Coaches have remarked, as has Hunt, about how much better he seems to grasp the defense this year. The concepts make much more sense to him now a year into the league.


1. Rookie center Russell Bodine has struggled in camp with several snaps flying over Dalton's head. Considering how much Dalton struggles when facing pressure, the exchange between center and quarterback can't be faulty. "It's going to get eliminated," Dalton said. "We can't have that. That's the easiest thing you do on the football field is get the snap." With some injuries on the offensive line, Bodine's quick development will be important.

2. Guenther wasn't happy with the communication process and how quickly plays were being called during the scrimmage. There were good things the defense did, such as filling running lanes, but getting plays in and making pre-snap checks are still works in progress. Even his radio communicator went out during the scrimmage. "That's part of why we do these things, these mock games so to speak," he said. "It's so that we can get the stuff ironed out and that we get it right."

3. Another reason for pessimism? The tight-end gauntlet the Bengals have to go through this year. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Cameron and Dennis Pitta are just a few of the big-bodied pass-catchers they'll have to defend. Although linebacker Emmanuel Lamur's return from a serious shoulder injury will help the Bengals defend such athletic players, they have struggled in camp matching up with similarly-built players. Eifert has been one of the best players in camp for his ability to get open both from his tight end position flanked off the offensive line, or from a split-out receiver position.

[+] EnlargeMohamed Sanu
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsThe versatility of receiver Mohamed Sanu could be key for the Bengals in 2014.

  • Like we mentioned earlier, Dalton just signed a six-year contract extension that will pay him more than $90 million more than he earned on the first three years of his rookie deal. The deal leaves some room for the Bengals to start figuring out ways to retain receiver A.J. Green, who said earlier this camp he's not worried about his next contract. He believes his "body of work speaks for itself." So far that body of work has looked quite strong. He set the tone for a strong camp when he caught a 50-yard bomb from Dalton near the end of the first day.
  • Marvin Jones might have emerged as the No. 2 receiver behind Green last season, but be on the lookout for the Mohamed Sanu renaissance. With Jones having nursed an ankle injury the first nine practices of camp, Sanu has been used in a variety of roles alongside Green early in camp. Sanu has passed, caught passes, ran and worked as a Wildcat quarterback in the offense. Jackson believes he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. It will be interesting to see how that changes after Jones' return Monday.
  • Linebacker Vontaze Burfict might have been the league's leader in tackles the past season, but he's been leading in a different way, according to coaches. Guenther has used him often this camp to teach his defense to teammates who have called Burfict the smartest player on the unit.
  • The Bengals didn't make many free-agency additions this offseason, but they were smart about who they added. Safety Danieal Manning gives them depth in the secondary and an additional weapon at kick returner. He also provides a measure of knowledge and experience that reminds some of free-agent Chris Crocker, who signed with the Vikings on Monday. Manning told me he likes the gesture but isn't a fan of being compared to anybody. His versatility has paid off so far. In addition to lining up at safety, he also has returned kicks and been a voice of reason for younger teammates willing to listen.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 6

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • There's only one place to begin Wednesday's practice report: with the fireworks. Twice, members of the offense and defense had to be pulled apart as emotions and tensions ran high outwardly for the first time. First, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and offensive guard Clint Boling came to blows at the end of a goal-line drill. Lamur was seen grabbing Boling's face mask as pushing and shoving ensued around them. A.J. Green then came in, appearing to help calm and subdue Lamur in the back of the end zone. The linebacker misinterpreted the Pro Bowl wideout's actions and swung a punch at him. Fans who saw the blows started shouting, "No! Not on A.J.!" Later, linebacker Marquis Flowers and center T.J. Johnson exchanged words briefly, but that scuffle was stopped quickly before it became anything bigger.
  • After practice, Lamur walked up to a grinning Hue Jackson and gave the offensive coordinator a hug. Lamur also exchanged a jovial fist-bump with Boling as he walked off the practice fields. When Lamur was asked to comment on the near-brawl, he simply said: "It's over." Defensive end Wallace Gilberry said it's just a sign the Bengals are ready to get to their first preseason game next week at Kansas City. "We're ready to hit somebody else, but at the end of the day, we're a team first and foremost," Gilberry said. "Coach [Marvin Lewis] hates it, but it gets us fired up."
  • Flowers, a noted trash-talker, told me he doesn't want to rein in his on-field actions too significantly, but he added that he wants to monitor what he says and does a little better. In addition to all the smack he was talking to his offensive counterparts, the rookie began practice with a pop when he gave receiver Cobi Hamilton an unexpected forearm shiver as Hamilton ran out of the backfield in a low-speed drill. The hit was so hard, it sent Hamilton to the turf instantly, caused fans nearby to gasp and made noted hard hitter Vontaze Burfict holler his support. "I've got to watch it," Flowers said. "I thought the run was coming at me, but obviously I didn't want to do that. I just wanted to tag off. We don't want nobody on the ground, but at the same time, I was just trying to protect myself."
  • Flowers said that after his interview, he was headed straight to Hamilton's locker to apologize. Flowers' actions probably are best chalked up to first-day excitement. After beginning camp on the active physically unable to perform list, he was medically cleared along with defensive tackle Geno Atkins earlier in the day. While Flowers had a chance to mix into some of the team drills, Atkins was noticeably absent. The bulk of his work came just before practice, when the team walked through position-specific drills. For now, the Bengals plan on taking things slowly with Atkins.
  • Mohamed Sanu was the clear MVP of Monday's practice, passing the football, catching it and running with it out of the backfield. He didn't do all of that Wednesday, but he still began the workout in a unique way, taking the ball on a pitch from Green on a double reverse. The Bengals also tossed in a flea-flicker during their opening drills. Plays like that are all to show those watching that Jackson's offense has the potential to showcase several bells and whistles this season.
A look at a few Cincinnati Bengals offensive players who have made strong impressions through the first five practices of training camp:

Andy Dalton: The team's top signal-caller was praised by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on Monday for beginning to make strides with his decision-making. He's seemed to have better velocity and accuracy on some of his deeper passes, too.

Giovani Bernard: So far, he's picked up where he left off last season, serving as the dynamic playmaker in the Bengals' offense. Cincinnati plans to use him in a greater variety of ways this season. Look for him to run a bit more and catch passes both from the backfield and after having been split-out wide or placed into the slot.

Jeremy Hill: Pass-blocking was among Hill's greatest traits as a college back at LSU. When the Bengals first incorporated those drills Sunday, he performed well, holding off linebacker Vincent Rey in blitz pickup. The rookie still appears in line to play the role of No. 2 back behind Bernard.

A.J. Green: He's been to the Pro Bowl every year of his career. Aside from a very rare drop in goal-line work Monday, he's looked well on his way to receiving a fourth selection to the all-star game.

Mohamed Sanu: With Marvin Jones out through the first five practices, Sanu has had more opportunities to prove himself as one of the "three amigos," the group he referenced Monday that includes him, Green and Jones. Sanu wasn't happy with his production last season and hopes to use his versatility as a receiver, passer and rusher to help ignite the Bengals' offense.

Brandon Tate: While much of the chatter surrounding Tate's apparent spot on the roster bubble has revolved around his lack of receptions with the Bengals (he has 14 in his three seasons in Cincinnati), he has tried during camp to prove he's more than just a kick returner. Once on Monday, he drew rookie Victor Hampton into the middle of the end zone before breaking off and peeling in the opposite direction, where he easily caught a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. Veteran moves like that will help him keep his spot on the roster as a receiver.

James Wright: Another player whose receiving numbers were down last year, the rookie has been among the biggest head-turners in camp. The seventh-round draft pick is fighting for a roster spot, and has so far done well in that regard. The ball has very seldom hit the ground when thrown in his direction. Cobi Hamilton also had a strong Monday, adding some intrigue to this battle for one of the final receiver spots.

Tyler Eifert: Much like Sanu who has taken advantage of Jones' absence, Eifert has benefited from Jermaine Gresham's training camp injury. As the current No. 1 pass-catching tight end, Eifert has been among Dalton's top targets so far.

Marshall Newhouse: It's not so much that Newhouse has played incredibly well or anything, but he's worth highlighting since he is getting a number of snaps in place of injured left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The increased reps in Cincinnati's offense will only be a positive for the veteran swing tackle who was added in free agency this offseason.

Trey Hopkins: The undrafted free agent has had his share of reps, as well, giving reason to believe he has the best chance of making the team of all the undrafted free-agent linemen the Bengals signed.

Russell Bodine: The rookie continues getting practice time just as he did in the spring. He still needs to hone his snapping ability after a miscue earlier this week.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 5

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:

  • The Bengals had barely finished stretching at the start of Monday's practice before Mohamed Sanu made his presence known. The receiver went in motion on one of the first plays of an 11-on-11 drill before he was handed the football. Right after taking it from quarterback Andy Dalton, Sanu stopped, pulled up and threw a pass -- one of the few he has even attempted, in practice or otherwise, since college -- to fellow receiver A.J. Green. The throw fell easily into Green's hands well down field and set the tone for what ended up being a strong day overall for Sanu. "Coach had me doing a little bit of everything," Sanu said about offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
  • In addition to throwing that pass, Sanu ran the ball once and, naturally, caught a few passes of his own from Dalton and other quarterbacks. While Sanu nor Jackson nor head coach Marvin Lewis will dare provide specifics about how they are using the receiver, they are all glad to have such a versatile playmaker on the roster. With Sanu a threat to do almost anything on the field, the Bengals know how big a challenge covering him, while also having to account for Giovani Bernard and Green, among others, can be.
  • Much of the Bengals' second fully-padded practice of training camp was spent working on short-yardage and goal-line situations. Running backs had to plow ahead on each play while defenders were charged with stopping them. It seemed like regularly during the third-and-short and fourth-and-short plays, the running backs were able to slither free for the first-down gain. On the goal line, however, the defense had its share of wins, breaking through and knocking down passing attempts, stopping running backs at the line of scrimmage or flushing quarterbacks out of the pocket and into forced throws. The units seemed split on the amount of time they respectively won battles in the trenches.
  • While the overall contact stepped up a notch Monday, the physical play that occurred Sunday may have been just a bit too much for several defenders. Linebackers J.K. Schaffer and Sean Porter got a little dinged after the first fully padded practice of the camp. That caused them both to stay in the training room Monday, while defensive end Robert Geathers and cornerback Adam Jones may have been receiving veterans' days off after the intense Day 4 workout. Neither was dressed Monday, but both were out on the practice fields. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick also was at practice but not participating after apparently tweaking a hamstring on Saturday.
  • The Bengals did lose one player to injury Monday. Offensive tackle Andre Smith ran into the locker room in the middle of the practice for an unspecified injury. Jackson said after practice he wasn't positive what the injury was but felt comfortable in affirming that the lineman shouldn't miss too much time. An off day couldn't have come at a better time for the Bengals. They won't practice Tuesday and will be back in action Wednesday.