On the day after Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden found himself second-guessing some of his moves in Sunday's 24-21 Opening Day loss in Chicago, his first impression of the new and improved double tight end scheme had him upbeat about the near future for his group.
The Bengals had at least two tight ends on the field for 33 of their 55 snaps, usually featuring veteran Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, and they had three tight ends lined up for six plays. That gave them multiple tight ends on 71 percent of the snaps in a game quarterback Andy Dalton sifted a career-high 79 percent of his passes.
"Good production from both of them. Each had five catches, each had a very good game," Gruden said. "We were pleased in that regard, no question. Everybody played well. But everybody has one or two instances, myself included, that we wish we had back and when you lose a game those are the ones that stick out."
Eifert had 47 receiving yards in his debut and Gresham added 35, bulling for two first downs while seemingly dragging lions and tigers as well as Bears, while Eifert went downfield to catch balls of 17 and 14 yards. And Gruden saw enough that he'll be ready to abandon the run if it got as chopped up as Sunday.
"If we have to throw the ball, let's throw the ball. We have great receivers. A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham, Mo Sanu," Gruden said. "It's not a crime we have to throw the ball more to win it.
"They did some great things, and we're asking these guys to play like grown-up football players at a very early age and they're doing a great job. They really are. Anytime you lose you tend to look at the blunders and people forget about a lot of the great things that they did and that they've done in such an early stage in their career. We're going to continue to be positive and continue to grow. We've got a chance to be a hell of an offensive team this year."
The offense couldn't keep it going after touchdown drives of 97, 91 and 80 yards in the game's first 37:04. In the final 23 minutes the Bengals ran just nine snaps and one of them was a run for one yard as they finished with just 63 yards rushing. A total of nine of the 21 carries went for two yards or less. A fumble by Sanu contributed to the truncated plays, one of three turnovers with another one coming on Green letting a ball bounce off his hands for a pick.
"We were pretty efficient on offense. You take away the fumble and the interception, which were self-inflicted, and we were up and down the field pretty good," Gruden said. "I think we were 7-for-11 on third down and had three drives of 80-plus yards, which is unheard of against Chicago at Chicago. We did some great things. The turnovers really hurt us. And obviously when it's all said and done, Benny (Green-Ellis) averaged (1.8) yards a carry. We have to do better than that."
Gruden also called himself out on Clockgate at the end of the first half. Everyone from CBS analyst Phil Simms to Arnie in Anderson ripped the Bengals for throwing a second-down pass as the clock ticked under a minute while they were backed up and the Bears with just one timeout remaining.
Instead of killing the clock with three runs, the incomplete pass stopped the clock and was the reason the Bears were able to kick a 58-yard field goal with 11 seconds left.
"If you run the ball three times, you're still going to have to punt to (Devin) Hester against the wind. They might not have had as much time. The fact of the matter is, there would have been 20 seconds had we run three plays. They still would have had time to catch the punt, run one play, kill it, and kick the field goal," Gruden said.
"I thought it was more important to get the first down, but hindsight, I probably want to run the ball three times and punt and give them less time. But the guy made a 58-yarder that was good from 70. Great kick. But that was my mistake."
It was a hard topic to get away from Monday. Not when the Bengals had to work so hard to give the Bears three points in a game they lost by three points.
"There's no doubt if I had it to do over again, I'd run it three times, bang, bang, bang and punt," Gruden said. "But the first one threw me for a loop. I didn't anticipate losing four yards on a first down, so I figured I'd try to get seven or eight back on second down and then maybe try to bust a run up on third down. The pass play that I called, really, we've called it 100 times in training camp and we were probably 98-for-100. Now, we're 98-for-101. It was a conservative pass play not designed to get a lot of yards but it had a chance to get a lot of yards if A.J. runs through it, or Tyler runs through back side. So it was low-risk, high-reward type pass. The risk bit me in the (rear end)."
Gruden shrugged. When running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis lost four yards on first down as linebacker Lance Briggs ran through the right side of the line, Gruden admitted that took him aback. But he also couldn't understand the criticism.
"I don't know what the blame is all about. We still would've had to punt. See what I'm saying?" he asked. "They didn't get 20 extra yards because we passed the ball. They gained three yards and kicked a 58-yarder. The two extra plays that they got were incomplete and they kicked the 58-yarder.
"And they would've been anyway, so I don't know what changed. Had we completed a ball to Tyler on a cross-face and gotten a first down we would take a knee and the half is over, everybody is happy. But it didn't happen."
That wasn't the only play Gruden second-guessed. What turned out be Cincinnati's last snap of the game, a third-and-10 from its own 20 as the clock ticked under seven minutes, had him muttering when linebacker James Anderson knocked away a pass over the middle to wide receiver Marvin Jones.
"We adjusted to the blitz. It was a good play by the defense. I was in a tough formation for a good audible," said Gruden, when the Bengals went three wide receivers and an offset back.
But there are also those tight-end packages Gruden can think about while trying to take the sting out of all the rest.
"He played outstanding in the running game and passing game," Gruden said of Eifert's debut. "He'll become more and more of a factor as we go on. He's everything we thought he would be and we'll get more out of him. Jermaine took advantage of all of the reps that he had and the passes that came to him. He ran physical after the catch, blocked extremely well in the run game except for one time. Two solid performances, A-type performances by both of those guys."