Wide receiver Tyler Boyd is on pace to tie the Bengals record of T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 112 catches in a season and Houshmandzadeh approves. He also thinks he's got the quarterback to do it.
"Go get the record. That's what it's there for," said Houshmandzadeh from Newport Beach Calif., Thursday night. "I'll still be number two."
Houshmandzadeh thinks the Bengals have a shot to be No. 1 at some point with quarterback Joe Burrow, Boyd, fellow rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins and a guy he thinks begins to break out this Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Ravens when A.J. Green begins to find his Pro Bowl ways.
"Joe Burrow is going to be a top ten quarterback in two years and a top five quarterback for the rest of his career," Houshmandzadeh said. "With the way Tee is beginning to play, that's going to be interesting. They solidify that offensive line and it's over. They've got the pieces.
"Tyler Boyd. He can play. I told you that before the season. He can run routes and he can separate. That's the key for a receiver. Separation. Coaches get too enamored with speed. You have to separate. That's all I would work on. Getting separation at the top of the route. That's what he does and now he's got a blankety-blank baller of a quarterback and he'll really take advantage of that separation."
Houshmandzadeh's sticky hands, even tougher catches and a penchant for melting third and fourth downs into firsts mirror many of Boyd's characteristics.
And there's also this similarity:
"I believed I was one of the best receivers in the league and never got the credit because of Chad (Johnson)," Houshmandzadeh said. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves because of A.J. It's crazy stuff. All these different receivers they talk about and they're not better than him."
Houshmandzadeh has his list ready.
"I'm not saying he's better than Jarvis Landry. But at the very worst they're equal and Landry's been to how many Pro Bowls? (Five). Are you kidding me?" Houshmandzadeh said. "He's super underrated.
"He's a better receiver than Julian Edelman, but Edelman has won a ton of games, he's been in the playoffs and he's seen more. I like Cooper Kupp, but the Rams win and he's seen in prime time. I would say that's a push. (Adam) Thielen, the same thing. When they begin to win, he'll get the recognition."
Houshmandzadeh, who went 6-2, 200 pounds, knows he has a lot more in common with the 6-2, 203-pound Boyd than size. He didn't play in the slot as much as Boyd, but they roam inside with the same smart, tough resourcefulness. Of Boyd's 28 catches, five have come on third down (one fewer than Landry, the same as Tyreek Hill, one fewer than T.Y. Hilton) and three on fourth.
"Tell him I'm better looking," Houshmandzadeh said. "Being a reliable guy. The coaches could trust me. If you needed a big play, it was coming to me. A big catch on third and fourth down, I knew the ball was coming my way. The defense knew it and I still made the play.
"The slot is all about understanding coverages, understanding zone and not mind going over the middle and having the linebacker hit you and I wasn't afraid. And he isn't either."
Houshmandzadeh has been telling people Green just needs time to get acclimated after being out for two years. He's convinced Green scored the winner in the opener with seven seconds left before a penalty turned the win into a loss.
"A B.S. call. Yeah, it was offensive interference but the guy grabbed A.J. before that," Houshmandzadeh said. "He just needs to get into a rhythm. Make a few plays. He's still young. He'll be fine. Now that he's had these four games, I think he's ready. He's too good not to break out."
In 2007, Houshmandzadeh got those 112 catches but he ended up overshadowed by Johnson again when he set the team record with 1,440 receiving yards. His advice for Boyd to get to 113 is simple.
"He can do it. Be consistent, have a couple of big games and it's there," Houshmandzadeh said. "And tell him to send me his jersey when he gets it."
WINK'S NODS: Wink Martindale, the Ravens' highly-regarded defensive coordinator, is not surprised Burrow is playing right way. Or that the Bengals went all in right away on using the aspects of the college game (empty sets, run-pass options) Burrow used to have the greatest quarterback season in college history. Rookie QBs no longer sit.
"There's more college plays being run by offensive coordinators," Martindale told the Ravens press Thursday. "And if you watch the college game and you're a fan of the college game, you'll see similar-type things with the RPOs, with the four-by-ones and all those different things. It's been quarterback friendly to those younger quarterbacks. It's very similar, with all the young quarterbacks coming out, that [those are] the kind of things that they're going to do."
Martindale was asked how the Bengals offensive line went from allowing 14 sacks in the first three games to one against Jacksonville. All he had to do was take one look at running back Joe Mixon, a guy he says is "arguably," one of the two best backs in the league.
"They're doing a nice job at getting rid of the ball quicker," Martindale said. "And what they did was, they came with a more balanced attack of running the football and throwing the football, because the game stayed close throughout the game. So, there are a series of events of each game, and that was just that series of events combined there – accumulated – with that game between Jacksonville and Cincinnati. So, yes, I think that you can say that within one game, they've gotten better, because they were able to run the football."
In Baltimore, Martindale is seen as sort of a guru when it comes to identifying college quarterbacks in the draft. He's right there with Burrow.
"He's the first pick of the draft, and he's playing that way. He's making all the right reads," Martindale said. "You can tell he's coached well, and he's doing some things that, normally, guys don't do … He's doing a nice job of running that offense, and he's got a lot of talent to work with [in] that offense – from the running back position, to all the wide receivers – and he's using it well."
DEFENSIVE SHUFFLE: It looks like the Bengals will indeed face Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson Sunday, but whether they'll have defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the first time this season still seems to be up in the air after the Bengals practiced Thursday in Paul Brown Stadium.
According to CBS, Jackson (knee) is expected to play even though he missed practice Wednesday and Thursday. Atkins (shoulder) looked like he had a robust round of individual drills, but he has been doing individuals for the last week and has been categorized as limited.
It looks like Jackson is apparently going to see Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap primarily on third down, which appears to indicate they're changing their approach to playing him.
They've already replaced six of the starters from last season that allowed Jackson a career-high 152 yards rushing in one game and 49 points in the other. In his three starts against the Bengals Jackson has led a rushing attack averaging 224 yards and they seem ready to make even more changes.
When Dunlap Zoomed in a media call before Thursday's practice, he revealed he won't start and that they plan to use him on third down in their efforts to beef up against the notorious Ravens run game. It sounds like they may be turning to a guy like Carl Lawson in Dunlap's spot against the run on the edge.
"I think we got a good game plan, but I would like to be a part of it," Dunlap said.
Dunlap, an 11-year veteran 2.5 sacks away from the Bengals sack record, says he's unclear about his role in the future. And while he's miffed, he has had a pretty good track record as a third-down rusher. That was his role during his first three seasons in the league, when he had 20 sacks. He has not played in a game that he didn't start since late in the 2013 season in a streak at 122 games.
"Evidently, I didn't make enough tackles in the run game," Dunlap said. "Just put two and two together. It's the only thing that would make sense. I don't think it's my performance (and) I don't think I fell down. They just have these game plans and I'm employee No. 96. That's where I am at in the plan."
INJURY UPDATE: Joining Atkins as limited at Thursday's practice was running back Joe Mixon after he apparently injured his shin during the workout. They'll cross their fingers and see how he bounces back Friday.
Rookie linebacker Markus Bailey hurt his neck and was listed as limited. Left tackle Jonah Williams (shoulder) and slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander (hamstring) went in as limited. Rookie linebacker Logan Wilson went full go for the first time after suffering a concussion Sept. 27 in Philly.