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The Bengals Weapon Choice: Tight End

The Cincinnati Bengals arguably have the best tight end duo in the NFL and there's no indication that they've even scratched the surface on what they're capable of.

David Banks

We sent out a tweet on Wednesday that talked up the Cincinnati Bengals tight end duo (if you're on twitter, you can follow me at the official CJ twitter account @CincyJungle).

Here's a combined game-by-game breakdown of Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham.

1 AT Chicago 10 10 82 8.2 0
2 Pittsburgh 14 9 132 14.7 0
3 Green Bay 7 3 34 11.3 0
4 AT Cleveland 10 6 92 15.3 0
5 New England 11 9 77 8.6 0

What's amazing about Cincinnati's use of their tight ends this season is how balanced they're being used.

Quarterback Andy Dalton has targeted Gresham and Eifert a combined 52 throws this season -- 28 have gone to Gresham, 24 to Eifert. Gresham (205) is only seven yards off Eifert, who is currently second on the team with 212 yards receiving.

Gresham has been the most sure-handed of the two, securing catches on all but six passes and converting 54.5 percent of his receptions into first downs. Eifert has been the yardage eater adding a 61-yard reception in only his second career game, and two more 20-plus yard receptions with a team-high (among TEs) 12.5 yard/catch average.

And yards after catch? Gresham is No. 6 among all tight ends in the NFL with 127 YAC, usually with the unique move of stomping on and around people.

"Jermaine is really good at that," said Dalton. "Once the ball is in his hands, he makes guys miss and finds ways to get first downs. I’m really happy with him."

So are we.

Gresham has faced criticism over his three-plus years in Cincinnati, despite putting on a torrid pace to reset many of the franchise's records for tight ends.

For example, no tight end in team history has caught more footballs during his first three years as the starting tight end than Gresham (172). Not Dan Ross (168), not Rodney Holman (106), not Tony McGee (139) and not Bob Trumpy (103). Who has more touchdowns than Gresham (15) during his first three seasons as a starting tight end? No one. Not Dan Ross (10), not Rodney Holman (11), not Tony McGee (5), and not Bob Trumpy (14).

Gresham finds motivation in the memory of dropped passes against the Houston Texans during Cincinnati's one-and-done exit in the playoffs last season.

"My whole intent during the offseason was to make up for where I left off in the playoff game," Gresham said. "There’s no doubt about it, I cost my team the game. My mindset since then has been about getting back to playing the position and catching passes on the field consistently, instead of looking not so healthy out there at times. I had to get my mind right.

"It’s all about me being a professional," he said earlier in July. "I owe it to the fans and people who got me here to do better, because being a disappointment is not what I am. I’m just trying to make up for it. I’m another year wiser and know what’s expected of me. I just have to do my job and not let my teammates down. It’s sad that it has taken so long, but I’m really starting to figure some things out. Things will be different this year."

Eifert isn't far behind. In only his second-career game, the rookie out of Notre Dame posted a 61-yard reception against the Steelers defense with over two minutes remaining in the first quarter. Two plays later, the Bengals took a 7-3 lead on Giovani Bernard's seven-yard touchdown run.

"Tyler, he’s so versatile. He can move all around — outside, inside and line up at the regular tight end spot," said Dalton. "We feel like we've got match-ups with both of our tight ends. Those guys have done a lot of really good things for us. We're going to do all the things we can to get match-ups with those guys."

If you're thinking that the addition of Eifert has limited Gresham's overall contributions, not really. Save for a few less targeted throws, Gresham has 22 receptions after five games for the third time in his four seasons with the Bengals. His average is down and the noticeable goose-egg is broadcasting under the touchdown column.

2013 28 22 205 9.3 0
2012 31 22 238 10.8 1
2011 35 21 208 9.9 3
2010 33 22 158 7.2 1

"I don’t think a lot of people have two tight ends like we have," said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "We are just trying to make it hard for the poor coach on the other team to break us down (in game-planning). We're just scratching the surface here, but I think we’re throwing a lot at defensive coordinators and making them work a little bit."

Tight ends are becoming the more consistent weapon in Cincinnati's arsenal. Comparatively speaking, tight ends have a higher completion rate and average per reception -- the completion rate can be somewhat misleading, considering that throws targeting receivers tend to be low-percentage passes.

TIGHT ENDS 53 39 73.6 417 10.7 0
RECEIVERS 100 59 59.0 503 8.5 4
RUNNING BACKS 21 16 76.2 138 8.6 1

"In Jermaine, we felt like we got the total package, which is why we picked him when we did," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "When we were able to select Tyler where we selected, we felt like we were gaining a guy that already had incredible receiving skills that would grow into the physical part of playing tight end. Tyler came in and was better at that than I even expected. The game is not too big for him. He understands things. He’s probably a little bit ahead of his time with the things that he’s natural at. They’ve been a good complement to each other, and it’s been great. In some ways, they both have learned things from each other."