The Cincinnati Bengals have had a number of hurdles this season, to be sure, in terms of getting their offense back on the track that helped them become a 12-win division leader a year ago. Losing their offensive coordinator was a big blow, as was the free agent departure of their second and third wide receivers. But having tight end Tyler Eifert sidelined for the first six weeks may have been the biggest factor of all.
Keep in mind that last season, in 13 games played, Eifert led the Bengals, and the league, with 13 touchdown receptions, so that is a lot of trips into the end zone left on the table while the 2015 Pro Bowl tight end has been on the sidelines for the first six weeks.
Not that he has been on the Physically Unable to Perform List, which is what the Steelers are dealing with back in Pittsburgh, although Eifert, too, had been sidelined while recuperating from offseason surgery on his ankle, which he underwent late in the proceedings after the team’s medical staff concluded that it would not heal sufficiently on its own.
The former first-rounder was all set to make his return two weeks ago, in fact, only to see him suffer a back injury early in the week of practice. While going out for a pass on an uncovered route, Eifert was said to have tweaked his back in a non-contact scenario, and that has extended his down time beyond what the ankle would have otherwise mandated.
He has now missed the past two games not because of his ankle, but because of his back. But he did finally return to practice on Friday, as a full participant, albeit in a glorified walkthrough, which is what all teams’ Friday practices entail, so full participation on a Friday doesn’t mean the same thing as full participation on a Thursday.
For his part, though, Eifert said that he feels as though he is ready to return, and his head coach said that it will not be a game-time decision. Perhaps prior to the time that this article goes live, it will already have been announced by one of the NFL gurus who get texted all their information whether or not he will play.
As of this writing, however, it does seem as though he is more likely than not to make his season debut today against the Browns, which, admittedly, is a pretty favorable opponent to get yourself re-established after missing time due to multiple injuries. Cleveland also just lost a safety for the year and their top cornerback is doubtful to play.
The Bengals are trying to bounce back from a 2-4 start, and they have been held to under 20 points in all four of their losses, and being held to under 25 in all six games. If there is any one change they can realistically expect to see this season that can get them over the 25-point hump, it has to be getting Eifert back.