One of the most important things to keep an eye on this week is the Bengals’ passing game in the home opener against the Broncos. This is due to both Andy Dalton’s passing prowess (ranked No. 1 in passing yards) and the Denver Broncos’ defensive prowess against the pass (ranked No. 2 in passing yards allowed). But, it will specifically be how Tyler Boyd performs in the passing game that will be one of the most interesting aspects of the day.
Over the past two weeks, Boyd has contributed more than you would expect out of a rookie in the Bengals’ system. He’s the third leading wide receiver in catches (8) and yards (102) behind A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell. But, he has been a significant factor through two weeks and was the top wide receiver against the Steelers with six catches for 78 yards.
That said, Boyd has also benefited from favorable matchups through the first couple games of the season. Against the Jets, he was primarily covered by second string cornerback Marcus Williams. Williams did record an early interception during the matchup, but Boyd caught his other two targets for 24 yards. Due to Green’s huge day against the Jets, the Steelers turned most of their attention to stopping Green, allowing Boyd to break out with six catches on eight targets for 78 yards.
When the Bengals host the Broncos this week, Denver will undoubtedly be more conscious of covering all of their bases against the Bengals’ passing game, including the dynamic Boyd. We already know that Boyd’s primary matchup this week will come against Chris Harris Jr.
Over the last two years, Harris has established himself as one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. He has been voted to the Pro Bowl and was second-team All-Pro selection in both of the last two years. But, with a plethora of talent at the cornerback position, Harris primarily focuses on the slot position.
Therefore, it will be up to Boyd to find a way to produce against the toughest matchup of his young NFL career. He can probably take some advantage of the fact that the Broncos will need to play a balanced coverage scheme with a variety of weapons to account for in the Bengals’ passing game. But, he will need to be prepared and focused going into this game if he wants to make any sort of positive impact.
The simple fact of the matter is, if Boyd can take advantage of the small seams that will undoubtedly develop in what is likely to be a conservative approach to coverage from the Broncos, he could light this game up. He is known as more of a strong middle of the field receiver. But, he has proven himself to also be a threat in the deep field with plays like this:
Yes, that play was from the first week of the preseason. But, the point is, Boyd clearly possesses the necessary talent and skill set to make plays like that work, despite being criticized for not possessing those abilities heading into the draft.
So far, five of his eight regular season catches in the NFL have gone for at least 10 yards. He hasn’t been on the receiving end of many deep throws so far. But, he can make it happen if the Broncos’ defense makes the mistake of giving him the chance.
For Boyd to already be consistently contributing as a rookie is, quite simply, surprising. He was a second round draft pick, but many thought he was need time to develop his route running and ability to run after the catch before he could be effective at the NFL level. So far, it seems as though that was either untrue, or he developed really quickly in the spring and summer. But, we will know exactly where he stands after he faces off against one of the NFL’s best secondaries this Sunday.