The Cincinnati Bengals overhauled their offensive line over the last two years, topping it off with the addition of Orlando Brown Jr. this offseason.
Joe Burrow has a talented corps of wide receivers to throw to, with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd providing the core. Trenton Irwin also emerged as a difference-maker a year ago. Now they drafted two more receivers with great promise in Charlie Jones and Andrei Iosivas.
But... they didn’t address the tight end position.
In the immortal words of the great Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”
Although I coveted Sam LaPorta as much as the next guy, judgment has been cast too quickly on this tight end group.
The trio of Irv Smith Jr., Drew Sample, and Tanner Hudson combined for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 10 catches against the Buffalo Bills.
Hayden Hurst had two touchdowns in his career as a Bengal and never even approached 100 yards in a game. C.J. Uzomah had two touchdowns a couple of times but never broke 100 yards.
So is this Franken-tight end the answer?
Let’s take a look.
Irv Smith gave the Bengals an early lead with this impressive grab in the corner of the end zone. The coaching staff has talked about Smith’s unique receiving ability and how he brings something new to the offense. He had an injury and is still getting to know Burrow. We could see a lot more out of him in the second half of the season.
Awesome play design and technical execution from the Bengals offense on this 17-yard catch for Tanner Hudson. Masters-level quarterbacking from Joe Burrow.— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) November 7, 2023
1. Tanner Hudson lines up wide covered by S Micah Hyde, Ja’Marr Chase is in the slot. Bengals set up a… pic.twitter.com/Lo720CVcWD
After promoting him to the active roster this week, the Bengals clearly wanted to get the ball in Tanner Hudson’s hands. He had four catches for 45 yards, giving him more production than Chase for the game.
Hudson looked impressive in the preseason, and it was a bit of a surprise that he didn’t make the initial roster. Hudson could absolutely emerge as the guy over the next few weeks, and if he does... well, I think his namesake said it best in the movie Aliens: “Game over, man.”
Drew Sample doing Drew Sample things pic.twitter.com/iEHbXQ5IVm— Matt (@CoachMinich) November 7, 2023
Drew Sample has made the term “blocking tight end” more notorious than Biggy, but he has always been a guy whom the coaching staff liked. In this game, he had three receptions for 30 yards and this impressive touchdown off the check-down.
I recently pondered if Sample could fill the role of third-down back, and this seems to give that idea some credence. Just remember, you didn’t hear it through the grapevine. You heard it from me.
That brings us to the other complaint about the Bengals — the running back position. While Joe Mixon’s night was not head-turning, he did have a couple of highlight plays that made a big impact on the game.
He picked up a nice chunk of yards on this throwback screen. While he only had 37 yards on the ground, he added another 31 receiving yards, but it’s not just about how many. It’s where and when those yards came.
After two incomplete passes, it looked like the Bengals may have to settle for a field goal on their second drive. Then Mixon followed closely behind a double team by Cordell Volson and Ted Karras and didn’t stop until he was doing a jungle jump into the stands.
This was a huge play in the game, but perhaps not his biggest...
Making future Hall of Famer Vonn Miller miss in space and converting this 3rd-and-3 run sealed the deal for the Bengals’ win on Sunday night.
While he may not have crazy production, Mixon steps up and makes plays in the clutch. With any luck, rookie Chase Brown will return and make an impact alongside Mixon in the latter part of the season.
The Bengals' stars may be at wide receiver, but they have some talented players at tight end and running back who will be a big part of the team’s late-season push.