It used to be relatively simple for the opposing defenses that played the Cincinnati Bengals. Make sure to put a snug double cover on A.J. Green and you would have a chance at slowing down the passing game. But with the return of Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert, defenses have to rework the X’s and O’s.
Marvin Jones is drawing his share of attention and still having a good year. But the matchup nightmare is now Tyler Eifert. He’s getting the attention of Andy Dalton when the other weapons are lost in coverage. He’s no longer a secret for the Bengals. Teams must keep track of his every move on the field or pay the consequences.
Through eight games this season, Eifert has operated with stunning efficiency, catching an NFL-high nine TDs—and that despite being targeted 17 fewer times than the next player on that list. Eifert’s 37 catches and 434 yards are likewise good for No. 2 among Bengals’ receivers in 2015, trailing only four-time Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green.
This is technically Eifert’s rookie season. He missed the entire 2014 campaign with a nasty elbow injury. There’s no need to revisit that carnage. So what Eifert is giving defenses a glimpse of will continue to get better.
“People forget, this is his first season actually playing tight end,” Andrew Whitworth commented, via ESPN. “His first year, he played a lot of fullback. Last year, he played half a quarter. It’s truly his rookie year of playing the starting tight end position.”
With the size of a defensive end and speed that some receivers envy, Eifert possesses essentially the same tools that have made Gronkowski a household name. He’s the other matchup nightmare that plays tight end for the New England Patriots. Both are virtually unstoppable and create headaches in every phase of the game.
During the Bengals’ shellacking of the Browns on Thursday Night Football, Eifert had a Madden NFL 16 kind of evening. Eifert’s three touchdown catches came in various forms and showcased the big man’s versatility.
The first score Eifert put up came in man coverage. Pro Bowl safety Tashaun Gipson had the responsibility of trying to cover him in the slot. As Dalton rifled him the ball, Eifert used his height to block off Gipson and snag the perfectly placed spiral.
The second touchdown was actually a broken play. Eifert was roaming in the back of the end zone and caught a pass that was meant for Jake Fisher. Once again, Eifert’s size was a factor in the catch.
Eifert’s third score was a thing of beauty. He lined up outside as a wide receiver. He used his speed and made the defender bite on an inside move. When Eifert cut back to the outside with a double move, it was too late for Tramon Williams to recover. A big man with little guy moves.
“Oh my gosh — that guy,” A.J. Green said. “Tyler is a wide receiver trapped in a big body because the way he runs routes and the way he’s getting in and out of his breaks is unbelievable.”
As found in The Cincinnati Enquirer, Eifert already tied Rodney Holman and Bob Trumpy for most receiving touchdowns by a tight end. His current pace would make for the most receiving touchdowns in a season by any player since Randy Moss caught 23 in 2007. That’s more than Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski.
While teams are trying to figure out how to stop Eifert, the Bengals keep rolling along and winning games. With the balance that Eifert provides, taking away touchdowns may stop his record year for a moment. But the Bengals will find other ways to utilize the skills of their no longer secret weapon.
[Feature Photo by Ezra Shaw / Getty Images]