Ryan Hewitt had his first catch of the year Sunday, but it was his pass blocking that contributed to the win.
Call it The Reggie Kelly Invitational.
That's how the Bengals' 34-21 victory over the Bills panned out last Sunday with both Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan displaying long memories.
Ryan tried an old ploy even before the game when he sent out former Bengals quarterback Josh Johnson as a captain even though he'd been in Buffalo three days. As if to say we've had plenty of time to pick his brain on your offense.
"I noticed that and I was saying, 'Are you kidding me?'" Jackson said Monday. "It is what it is. The guy had been there for a few days. That's (Ryan's) team. He can do what he wants. It sent a message. I heard it loud and clear and it's all good. I just know when people do that, they're saying to you, 'Hey look, we know who you are and we're here to kick your butt.' I don't know if it pumped me up. But I certainly got the message."
The Bengals then proceeded to send their own 34-point set of talking points, drilling the Bills all four times in the red zone and shredding them 58 percent of the time on third down. And Jackson used a ploy stretching back 10 years ago as the Bengals wide receivers coach whenever Cincinnati played the Baltimore defenses coordinated by Ryan.
When Ryan wasn't doing it himself Sunday, a generous helping of tight ends helped defuse Ryan's vaunted blitz as the Bengals shut out the Bills with no sacks. According to profootballfocus.com Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was just pressured six times on 33 drop-back passes.
For those who arrived on the scene with the Green-Dalton Bengals in 2011, Kelly was one of the great leaders of the Carson-Chad Bengals during the previous decade, a tight end that blocked like a tackle. He barely contributed in the passing game. But his work was so good, smart, and necessary in the blitz-mad AFC North that he was the No. 1 tight end and a guy that made Ryan tear his hair out during his Baltimore days because as the extra blocker Kelly always seemed to be able to pick up the extra blitzer.
Kelly is long gone and Jackson has Pro Bowl-type catching tight end in Tyler Eifert. But on Sunday he got enough out of a fullback (Ryan Hewitt), a rookie tight end (Tyler Kroft) and a rookie tackle (Jake Fisher) in the blocking game to keep Dalton clean in another example of just how deep this offense is.
The dichotomy of the last two games is clear. Although the Bengals went mostly with three wide receivers on Sunday's last touchdown drive until Jackson pulled out four tight ends for the scoring play, the Bengals went with more multi tight ends since the opener.
They even conjured up memories of Kelly in the third quarter when they put Eifert in the backfield a couple of time with running back Giovani Bernard to help protect on passing downs.
Hewitt played nearly 40 percent of the snaps against the Bills (24) after playing just 22 percent the week before in the overtime win over Seattle. Kroft (14) doubled his snaps over last week and Fisher took eight snaps, keeping it at his season average of 13 percent. But he did get his second target of the year even though he dropped it.
"Tough catch," Jackson said. "But they saw it. Sometimes the throw is just as important as the catch.
"We have a lot of players with different skill sets and we try to use them. The biggest thing we've done well on is taking the players the organization has given us and tried to incorporate them into what we do. If a guy has a skill and is going to help us win, we'll put him out there and let him see what he can do. The more plays they make, i.e. blocking, running, catching, the more opportunities they get."
Cincinnati Bengal travel to face the Buffalo Bills in week 6 of the regular season
He gave Hewitt high praise, his most versatile player on what may be the NFL's most versatile offense. Hewitt, the second-year free agent out of Stanford, played mainly fullback last season. But with the Bengals easing in Kroft and an early run of pressure, aggressive defenses up front, Hewitt has played more tight end. And he grabbed his first catch of the season Sunday on a nifty 16-yarder over the middle when he snatched it away from the defender at the last instant.
"That's one of the prerequisites, you have to block," Jackson said. "Now Reggie was a special person that way. I mean, there might not be another one like him. But I think Ryan's close, I think the other guys are working at it and getting better. But I think between the three (Eifert, Hewitt, Kroft), we can come up with something.
"(Hewitt) can do it and our personnel groups have dictated that. The teams we're playing, the defenses we've played, the best way to attack them is sometimes different than what we did a year ago. He's very versatile that way. He can line up in the backfield, he can line up on the line. We can motion him out wide. We take advantage of his skill set."
But he's not looking to grind down Eifert, who has played 95 percent of the snaps. And they like how Kroft has same of the same catching ability down the field, but right now the rookie is being used more like Reggie Kelly than Tyler Eifert.
"He can catch a ball. But he can catch a ball when his number has been called. His number hasn't been called that way yet," said Jackson, who says he's getting better as a blocker. "He's growing. He's played six games. Six NFL games and four pre-season games. He's getting better. There's so much football left. You are going to see these guys change hopefully two more times as we go throughout the season. "
Ryan blitzed 30 percent of the time Sunday, according to profootballfocus.com, down from 37 percent coming into the game and nowhere near the 47 percent they came after Eli Manning two weeks ago. It was a tip of the hat to the Bengals' big-play abilities. It was also the third straight week the Bengals forced one of the most aggressive defenses in the league to back off.
"It's been happening quite a bit here lately. That's a sign of respect," Jackson said. "I think everybody respects A.J. and what he brings to the table. They know how fast he can change a game. Obviously, you look at the Baltimore game and I think everybody saw that . . . everybody said, well, can't let that happen. Now you look and here comes Marvin Jones. And here's Tyler Eifert scoring touchdowns all the time. Then you got Mo Sanu tearing you up on the inside and Gio catching out of the backfield. Now you got Jeremy (Hill) catching out of the backfield. I think we are hard to defense."
Especially on third down, a measuring stick for those tight not only catching the ball, but blocking. The Bengals are tied for fourth in the NFL converting 46.7 percent of the time on third down, up from the 39.8 percent of last season.
Dalton is seventh in the league in third-down passer rating but his 10.9 yards per attempt are third and you never know who he's throwing to. The third-down receptions are the most stunning reflection of their depth. Their leaders all have seven and are tied for 16th in the AFC in third-down receiving: Green, Sanu, and Eifert.
"That's the beautiful part," Jackson said. "I don't want people to say, "The ball goes here." We'll be more dynamic and harder to defend if the ball is everywhere for the right reasons."
On Sunday, anyway, the ball got there with the help of those throwback tight ends.