Dalton made outstanding decisions throughout the game and was better before the snap than he has been all season. Perhaps adding to his masterpiece was the emergence of third-round selection Mohammed Sanu. Sanu has a the big frame and soft hands that have been sorely lacking opposite Green, and he made many tough catches in traffic that helped give Dalton the confidence he needed to not try overly hard to make the perfect throw, but just throw it.
Again, rookie tight end Orson Charles made his one weekly catch that makes me wish he were more involved in the game plan. Of course, the Bengals senior statesman at tight end, Jermaine Gresham, showed a natural catching ability that has not been displayed all year. His touchdown catch on a post route to split the safeties against Cover 2 was by far his best play of the season, and what Dalton has needed from the tight end position.
But, like every week, A.J. Green was the star of the game. Perhaps entering the discussion as the biggest playmaker in the NFL at the wide receiver position, Green spent much of the game making plays out of the generous cushion that he was provided. What stood out was his touchdown catch in the first drive, when Dalton took advantage of his match-up against Corey Webster, who has a tendency to give up the big play in Cover 3 zone when he lets his eyes wander into the backfield.
As the Bengals lined up for the play action pass that earned them their first score, the Giants had lined up in a Cover 2 shell. Brandon Tate aligned at flanker to the left, Gresham at tight end and Green at the X spot to the right. The Giants were aligned in an over front in order to stop the running game, which had gashed them a couple time so far. The ball-hawking Stevie Brown was deep to the left, and Antrel Rolle was underneath to the right.
Dalton sent Tate in motion to the slot position in the right, and the Giants switched to an under front, with SAM linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka moving Jason Pierre-Paul to play over Gresham while moving back to a deeper position. Against this front, made popular by Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys in the nineties, the linemen and linebackers attack a single gap against the run, causing them to be more aggressive. Dalton probably had to hide a smile, knowing the adjustment was perfect for the play action pass that was coming.
As Tate motioned, the Giants shifted into a Cover 3 shell. Brown shifted into underneath coverage, leaving Prince Amakamura covering the deep third of the strong side, Rolle in the deep middle and Webster to take the deep side over Green.
At the snap, Tate took out the blitzing linebacker and released to the flat. Gresham ran a deep post, crossing Rolle’s face to draw coverage to him and draw him down in coverage. This set the stage for Green to be isolated against Webster.
As Green took off down the field, he threw in a hitch on his go route. Webster has a hard time resisting letting his eyes drift into the backfield and, with the play action, he went ahead and took a peek. With Rolle losing his depth to cover Gresham, Webster was sunk as soon as Green took off.
Jay Gruden’s offense had an outstanding game play to take advantage of the Giants porous zone coverage, and it all started on this play action pass. Dalton and his offensive line deserve the lion’s share of the credit, but Green and Sanu were the final touches that made it complete. With a complimentary playmaker, Green became even more dangerous. Whether this was a true breakthrough remains to be seen, as the Giants have a penchant for giving up the big play, but the chemistry with Dalton, Green and Sanu is a sign of a multi-dimensional offense.