Sanu, Jones looking for better down the stretch
NOV 25, 2013 8:37p ET
Sanu was taken in the third round, Jones in the fifth. They each flashed a glimpse of what they could do as rookies but rarely did they do it on the field at the same time. They only played in the same game four times last season because of various injuries, including a foot fracture that ended Sanu's season at this same point a year ago.
This season has been different. Sanu has started 10 of the Bengals’ first 11 games opposite of Green and is third on the team with 36 receptions. Jones has played in every game, is second to Green in receiving yards and leads the team with seven touchdown catches.
Yet neither has played as well or as consistently as they expect or is expected of them.
“Obviously we could be better but we’ve been doing good and we’re glad how far we’ve come,” said Jones, “but there is always room for improvement and we’re looking to this week to take another step.”
The Bengals return from their bye week seeking to replace the inconsistent offense of November with the one more resembling October’s efficient machine. Sanu and Jones are like everyone else on the offense: they’ve been pretty good but they can be better.
“We’ve just got to continue to work on our consistency from our route discipline standpoint, protection standpoint, quarterback throw standpoint,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. “Everybody can be a little bit more consistent. We had a chance to go back and look and see whatever tendencies we had or didn’t have and continue to build off of what we’ve been doing.”
The NFL bye week is one of those all-magical elixirs for teams. At least it is hoped to be. It’s a time for self-assessment and self-scouting. And healing up.
The Bengals are positioned well after their off week. They’re 7-4 and in first place in the AFC North by two games over Pittsburgh and Baltimore, teams that play each other on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore, and have a shot at controlling their postseason fate in the next five games.
The biggest question facing them at the beginning of the season hasn’t changed through the first 12 weeks of games: how quarterback Andy Dalton fares is going to determine how far this team goes. Dalton was the AFC Player of the Month in October as the Bengals went on a four-game winning streak, passing for 300-plus yards in three of the games and tossing 11 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
October seems like a distant memory as Dalton has thrown eight interceptions against five touchdowns the last three weeks.
As important as Dalton’s play is to the Bengals’ success, it’s not all on him. The running game is averaging just 3.7 yards per game, which is No. 27 in the league. They have converted just six of 35 third-down chances in the last two games against Baltimore and Cleveland. Green’s 67 catches for 1,020 yards and six touchdowns make him Dalton’s favorite target but Dalton has tried to spread the ball around as much as possible.
Dalton has thrown Green’s way 123 times, well above any other receiver. Sanu is second with 59 targets, followed by tight end Jermaine Gresham with 53 targets and then the trio of Jones, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovanie Bernard with 50 targets apiece.
Sanu and Jones played in just four games together last season as rookies and it’s only been the past three games – since the return of Andrew Hawkins from the injured reserve list – that the Bengals have had their full complement of offensive weapons.
“We haven’t really been together, all of us, at one point,” said Sanu, who caught his first touchdown pass of the season against Cleveland. “It should be interesting to see how the last few weeks play out with all of these guys. We have to do a great job of executing and being available for Andy and contributing to this offense, making sure we move the ball well.”
Last year provided glimpses of what Sanu and Jones could do; Sanu had 16 catches for 154 yards but four of those receptions were for touchdowns. He also completed the only pass he attempted for a 73-yard touchdown to Green at Washington when he lined up at quarterback in a Wildcat formation. He completed a 25-yard pass to Bernard last week against the Browns, dropping the pass into a tight window despite good coverage by Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
Jones had 18 catches for 201 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. He’s shown to be an explosive player this season, averaging 14.9 yards per reception. He set a franchise record with four touchdowns against the New York Jets on Oct. 27 as part of an eight-catch, 122-yard performance but he’s had just six catches for 77 yards and no touchdowns since. He did have a would-be 50-yard touchdown pass against Miami called back because of a penalty.
“He's doing fine. He's had great practices up to the games. Just sometimes in the course of the game, some people will get shut out, so to speak, not because of their lack of playing good, it's just maybe the ball's not going there,” said Gruden. “We like where Marvin's at. He's a solid No. 2 for us right now, him and Mo both. I think all the receivers behind A.J., they've all shown flashes of being very good. It's just we have a lot of guys that are kind of in that mode where a different guys can help us each week, that it might not be the same guy each week.”