When the team drafted Tyler Eifert in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, glorious visions of two-tight formations raced through Jay Gruden's head. Fingers interlaced against the back of his head in a position of perpetual day-dreaming, Gruden became obsessed about the possible match-up problems with the opposing defenses.
"Whether you have two tight ends in the game at a time, or three possibly it creates problems for defenses — that personnel group — because they want to leave their base defense on the field, so you get him matched up with a linebacker, most likely," Gruden said after selecting Eifert in the first round.
The Bengals have played two-tight formations on 43.32 percent of their 254 offensive plays this year, with Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert combing for 30 receptions for 340 yards receiving (not all out of duel-tight formation). On the other hand, only four teams have used a full back less than the Bengals (1.12 percent). But that much was easily concluded after the team choose a special teams player in Orson Charles over John Conner, using Domata Peko as the team's short-yardage full back.
At first Eifert didn't even know that the Bengals were interested.
"I had no idea they were leaning toward taking me," said Eifert last month. "During the pre-draft process, I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that no one was interviewing me. I supposed they had seen enough during the NFL Combines."
Eifert had a strong start, posting a career-high five receptions against Chicago then adding a momentum-building 61-yard reception against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, he's gone quiet with only four combined receptions and 46 yards receiving. But it's not so much the individual nature that promises their production, as much as their combined effort.
"(Eifert) and Jermaine have been a great complement to each other," Lewis said. "In some ways, they have both learned from each other."
Now the Bengals will face New England, who many consider as the original duel-tight end threat in recent years. Of course, the band broke up during the offseason but the insight of their overall production could translate for two of the league's more talented tight ends.
And Patriots head coach Bill Belichick takes notice.
"They’re good vertical players," said Belichick earlier this week. "Those guys, at times they split them out, sometimes they’re in there together, sometimes they’re on opposite sides. They have different combinations. You have to find them but they attack you down the field. They both block, they’re good catch-and-run players. When they see bad matchups there, they go to them."
New England's head coach recognizes that defending Cincinnati's tight ends isn't necessarily enough.
"If you take them away, then you’re probably having trouble matching up against the receivers. If you’re matching up against them, then [Giovani] Bernard can kill you. He’s a very good space player. They have gone to him quite a bit in the passing game, on option routes, screen plays, shovel passes, things like that, get him the ball. He’s a quick, playmaking guy. BenJarvus [Green-Ellis] gives them a lot of power, gives them tough yards. Those two guys complement each other well. They have a good, well balanced offensive team."
Of course the issue is always about quarterback. Despite putting together a near-flawless second half against the Green bay Packers, Andy Dalton is taking a lot of heat for his performance against the Cleveland Browns.
"He handles himself well back there; he does a good job of making changes in the offense at the line of scrimmage," said Belichick. "They give him that responsibility, he does that. You can see him do it a number of times on film. Again, I think he utilizes all of his weapons offensively: the tight ends, the backs, the receivers, the deep balls, the intermediate, going to check-downs and secondary and third receivers – he does all that. I think he’s a good, solid player for them at that position with very good skill players around him and an experienced offensive line. Like I said, it’s an explosive offense."
Well, it could be. But we need to see it first.