Remember how hard it was to find five players that impressed us during that four-game losing streak? After Sunday’s complete beat-down of the defending champion New York Giants, I could barely narrow this list down to ten players. So here’s a different twist; five Bengals that impressed against the Giants and how their elevated play could lead the team to the playoffs.
Carlos Dunlap: He was a problem all game for the Giants. Dunlap looked like he did early this year when he was power player that most offensive linemen couldn't handle. His speed to power transition makes him the best pass rusher on the team and if he has truly found his way back into form, the entire defensive line and secondary will play better because of it. Dunlap finished Sunday's game with four tackles, 1.5 sacks, three hits on the quarterback and a fumble recovery.
Rey Maualuga: Easily Rey's best game this season, showing quickness, strength, speed and more importantly, aggression. It started early with a forced a fumble that was called back, but the damage was already done; you could see how confident he was all game. He laid out Ahmad Bradshaw with a couple shots on receivers Hakeem Nicks and Dominique Hixon, daring to run across the middle. Maualuga's advantage was, he was kept clean all game by stellar defensive tackle play from Geno Atkins, Domata Peko and Pat Sims. If you can keep blockers away from Bengals linebackers, they're able to play much better.
Mohamed Sanu: I'm not ready to call him the No. 2 receiver yet because I'm waiting on Marvin Jones to return. But Sanu became a catalyst for this offense against the Giants and hopefully continues to trend that way. He took the second-most snaps at wide receiver on Sunday and was moved in, out, motioned around and even lined up at running back, converting a third down with a run. He's very smart with a knack for finding soft spots in zone defense. His body control, concentration and toughness reminded me of Marques Colston the way he was catching football behind him with defenders draped over his back. Sanu can provide a bigger slot target in the Red Zone like he did on his touchdown catch.
Adam Jones: He's been great all year and Pacman proved it again on Sunday; 2012 is his best season in the NFL. He's making a case to be the AFC Pro Bowl punt returner and his coverage skills are better now than they've ever been during his career. He's become more physical with more aggression, especially against the run. He may only play in Nickel packages (which the Bengals use primarily on defense), but Adam Jones isn't counting his snaps, he's making his snaps count.
Andy Dalton: This was Dalton's second-best performance of the year and it came at a time when I think the team needed it. You could hear Dalton changing protections, calling out blitzers and adjusting into hot routes to beat it. The Giants seemed to be one step behind the entire game. He was well protected against New York's pass rushers and Dalton finally looked calm in the pocket and found his second and third option on a few plays. He needs to play at this level if the Bengals are going to win at least five of their last seven games.
Others of note: Trevor Robinson, Pat Sims, Wallace Gilberry, Leon Hall & Terence Newman