CINCINNATI — Tight end Tyler Eifert lined up by the sideline — a spot customarily occupied by A.J. Green — and made a move that had the Bengals’ Pro Bowl receiver marveling.
Eifert faked a cut toward the middle of the field, freezing Cleveland cornerback Tramon Williams, then broke outside and into the clear for a 19-yard touchdown catch that put the finishing touches on Cincinnati’s 31-10 victory Thursday night.
With his third touchdown catch of the game, Eifert tied the club record for TD catches by a tight end with nine. He also took over the NFL lead in the category.
The numbers are impressive. How he did it was even more notable. Each of his three touchdowns came off different pass routes, showing he can do it all as well as any receiver.
“Oh my gosh — that guy,” said Green, the Bengals’ top receiver. “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.”
The third-year tight end has been a big part of Cincinnati’s 8-0 start and emergence as one of the NFL’s most diversified and dangerous offenses. He’s second on the team with 37 catches for 434 yards and ranks among the NFL’s top tight ends in catching passes.
“He’s phenomenal,” receiver Marvin Jones said. “If they’re going to put one person on him, he’s going to have a field day. He’s like a 6-foot-6 wide receiver, that’s what it is. He practices with us (receivers) like he’s one of us.
“It’s cheating when you have somebody like him running down the field like a receiver does.”
The Bengals drafted him 21st overall in 2013 from Notre Dame, looking to add a pass-catching tight end to an offense that already had depth at receiver. He caught 39 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, and then suffered a season-ending elbow injury in the opener last year.
He’s healthy this season and showing why the Bengals thought so highly of him coming out of college. Andy Dalton trusts him enough to put the ball up and let him out-jump a shorter defender.
“He’s so good and has such a great feel for getting open,” Dalton said. “He scored touchdowns on three different types of plays. He’s a big body that can go up and make tough catches. There’s not much he can’t do.”
Their chemistry was evident during training camp, when Dalton quickly got accustomed to having him back in the offense. He’s an especially good option in the end zone because of his ability to go up and make catches in tight spaces over smaller defenders.
“I think he trusts me,” Eifert said. “There’s not a lot of room to work with, so they’re precision throws but they’re really not in-stride throws. Sometimes they’re jump balls and things like that. It goes back to that trust factor.”