For a team that has two first round picks at the tight end position, one would think that the Bengals offense would have one of the most prolific pass-catching duos in recent memory. The Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez comparison was conjured up (minus the accrued injuries and impending legal issues, of course), as they were the shining beacons of production at the position from 2010-2012. Surely the athleticism and hands of rookie Tyler Eifert, and the size and matchup problems that Jermaine Gresham provides would lead this offense to elite.
Except, not so much in year one with both of them on the roster. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden recently admitted that Eifert was "the most underutilized player" on the Bengals team, and we know the ups and downs that we've seen with Gresham, be it from drops, penalties, etc. Still, the potential for two All-Pros at the same position and on the same team is there with these two.
Before Sunday's matchup against the Colts, Gresham hadn't had four receptions in a game since Week Seven against the Lions, and hadn't had more than five catches since Week Two against the Steelers. Eifert, on the other hand, hasn't had more than three catches in a game since Week Five against the Patriots and has only had five catches twice this season. With 75 combined catches at this point in the season, it isn't all that disappointing, but some felt that that number could and should have been a season total in catches for just one of the guys.
On Sunday, we got a brief taste of that potential. True to his word about not being afraid to open the playbook on Sunday even in the face of awful weather, Gruden re-implemented the tight ends into the offense's plans. Gresham and Eifert combined for eight catches, 61 yards and a touchdown. Most of the production came via Gresham, but both players had productive moments.
Spectacular? No, not really. Effective? Most definitely. With the season winding down and the remaining three games all being played outdoors in potentially nasty weather, utilizing the these two (as they were on Sunday) going forward is a must. The ways that they were used should also be noted going forward as well.
Crossing routes, short outs and screen passes were all used to both Eifert and Gresham. The touchdown reception by Gresham was off of play action and was a simple out route into the flat after chipping a defender. With the move of Andrew Whitworth to guard comes the ability for more pulling plays. That ability allows the offense to do more screens and we saw them implement those with Gresham and Efiert on Sunday.
The key going forward is the consistency of keeping these two in the game plan. One and two catches per tight end in a week likely won't help this offense, but if they can remain above a half-dozen combined catches the rest of the way, Andy Dalton will feel comfortable in the availability of quality targets outside of A.J. Green. That will be immeasurable--especially in the postseason against some formidable defenses.