Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer gave cornerback Leon Hall the Cruz Control Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium and Hall responded by driving Zimmer's game plan to virtual perfection when he held Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz to three catches for 26 yards during Cincinnati's 31-13 victory over the Super Bowl champs.
Hall covered Cruz out of every formation but New York's infrequent two receiver sets, so he pretty much shadowed Cruz on a day quarterback Eli Manning only targeted him four times.
(You don't think the New York media will have fun with this during the bye week? According to profootballfocus.com, Cruz came into the game with the third-most targets in the NFL with 95.)
On the first play of the fourth quarter Cruz shook wide open for a bomb that he dropped at the goal line, but that was about the only air he got as the man who came in leading the Giants with 57 catches and seven touchdowns didn't make his first catch until less than three minutes left in the first half. Even that one appeared where Hall dropped into a zone.
"It all started with Zimmer's game plan," Hall said. "We gave them different looks, not only to him but to the quarterback. We were in different coverages. We were in one look where we play one coverage but make it look different. We worked together as a team. The backers would show pressure or back off. "
It was a classic case of where the pressure helped the coverage and the coverage helped the pressure. Or as cornerback Adam Jones said, "The (line) helped us get there a second quicker and we helped them," making Manning hold the ball a little longer while the Bengals sacked the NFL's best protected quarterback four times.
"You've got to take your hat off to the DBs; they covered their butts off," said left end Robert Geathers, who had one of the sacks. "Eli had to pump the ball. I'd say that's how we got our sacks."
Hall watched defensive tackle Pat Sims get a pick with right end Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins torturing Manning, and safety Nate Clements get another one with Atkins and left end Carlos Dunlap all over Manning.
"That was huge, they were the cause for a lot of those turnovers and those turnovers were the difference in the game," Hall said.
SANU EMERGES: Rookie wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, Jersey Guy, had his coming out against the G-Men with a versatile intriguing performance.
"That's my best friend's favorite team," said Sanu, the South Brunswick High product. "He's probably going to bust my chops about it, but it was pretty awesome."
He not only caught his first career touchdown (a 10-yarder on third-and-four), but Sanu caught first downs on third-and-eight and fourth-and-two, as well as running for one on third-and-two when he lined up next to quarterback Andy Dalton in the shotgun.
"You know Mo; he's a big body," wide receiver A.J. Green said of the 6-2, 210-pound Sanu. "A lot of people are talking about how he's not fast, but you know what? He catches everything. He's always running after catches. He's got a big body to tackle. You see him in the backfield lining up as a running back sometimes. It's good to have a guy like that that who can play everything."
Sanu may have lined up all over the place Sunday, but he played like a power forward and boxed out defenders, particularly 6-0, 207-pound cornerback Prince Amukamara on his TD. While running a post pattern, Dalton hit Sanu on the back shoulder.
"I felt him on my back; I knew I had to use my body well," Sanu said. "Andy is going to put the ball where the defender is not; you just have to make sure you make that play."
Sanu has now thrown a TD and caught a TD, and he may be ready to run one in. His three-yarder came when Dalton appeared to check into it after he surveyed the line and Sanu followed rookie center Trevor Robinson up the middle with left guard Clint Boling pulling and taking out linebacker Michael Boley.
"Hats off to Mo Sanu; he played his butt off," said wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. "He was excited. He played hard and he made the plays. As a rookie, that's tough to do. I'm extremely proud of him. He's a big, strong guy, but the big thing about him is his heart."
That's an insight into how the Bengals receivers see a roster that has yet to yield a stable No. 2 to Green. Hawkins scored his first touchdown since Sept. 23 on a wondrous one-handed grab on an out route at the Giants 5 for an 11-yard touchdown ("I got my head around late," he said) on third-and-10.
"We've always said we're receiver by committee," Hawkins said. "The next week it could be somebody else."
But Sanu and Hawkins on the field at the same time on some occasions is interesting. Both are seen as classic slot receiver types, but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's system can change it up and Hawkins found himself lined up a few times outside Sunday.
"We didn't run any new formations," said Hawkins, who lined up in the slot for his touchdown inside Green. "The formation I was wide was a variation of the same ones. We might have been it a little more today. They played it a little differently than other teams do. I don't know if I was lined up wide as opposed to we were in the formation where I'm outside the X the receiver."