While not exactly on par with the video-game type of numbers Peyton Manning and the Denver offense are putting up this season, the Cincinnati Bengals are on track to make some NFL history of their own.
Despite being ranked a middling 16th in the league in passing offense at 245.3 yards per game, the Bengals are on pace to become the second team in NFL history to have six players with 500 or more receiving yards.
“We’re not shooting for yardage for a certain number of guys, but the more we get people involved, the more their yards will go up,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. We feel like we’ve got a lot of weapons. You don’t know how it’s going to happen each week.”
Last week at Buffalo it was all of them, with eight different players catching a pass in a 27-24 overtime victory and half of them — running back Giovani Bernard and wide receivers Marvin Jones, Dane Sanzenbacher and Brandon Tate — posting season-high yardage totals.
Bernard and Jones are two of the six on pace to finish with at least 500 yards, along with wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu and tight ends Jermaine Greshman and Tyler Eifert.
Their current and projected numbers are as follows: Green 464, 1,237; Eifert 225, 600; Sanu 218, 581; Gresham 210, 560; Bernard 201, 536; Jones 190, 507.
The only other team to have six players top 500 yards was the 2011 New Orleans Saints, who went 13-3 with a versastile attack featuring Jimmy Graham (1,310), Marques Colston (1,143), Darren Sproles (710), Lance Moore (627), Robert Meachem (620) and Devery Henderson (503).
“That’s what you want,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “That’s the balance that you see the great offensive football teams have, the fact that you don’t need one guy to have superior numbers. Hopefully we can continue down that path.”
Only twice in Bengals history have they had more than three receivers reach 500 yards in a season. The 1986 team with Cris Collinsworth (1,024), Eddie Brown (967), James Brooks (686) and Rodney Holman (570) went 10-6. And the 1981 squad with Collinsworth (1,009), Dan Ross (910), Isaac Curtis (609) and Steve Kreider (520) went 12-4 and advanced to Super Bowl XVI.
“It’s important to get different people involved,” offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. “That’s the whole goal of this offense. It could be Gio one week in the passing game, it could be A.J. a big dose, it could be Tyler, it could be Jermaine. The more our players buy into that, that every play they have a chance to get the ball and they run routes like it’s their play, the better we’ll be.”
While Lewis often likes to point out that statistics are just numbers on paper and what really matters are wins and losses, the ability for the Bengals to diversify and not rely so much on two-time Pro Bowler Green has translated to victories.
Since the start of 2012, the Bengals are 3-0 in games in which Jones catches a touchdown pass. They are 3-0 when Sanu has one. They are 3-0 when Bernard scores. And they are 4-1 when Gresham gets into the end zone.
A few of those games, such as Sunday when both Bernard and Jones scored, overlap, so the composite record when any one of those four players scores is 9-1.
“We’re still scratching the surface,” Jones said. “We still have to put a whole game together and put our foot on the pedal more. When we do that, it’s going to be scary.”
Bengals (4-2) at Lions (4-2), 1 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 7, 12; 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM