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Why Tyler Boyd's role ebbs and flows in the Cincinnati Bengals offense

Charlie Goldsmith
Cincinnati Enquirer

During the first few days of training camp heading into the 2021 season, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd said he felt a sense of responsibility in an inexperienced wide receiver room. Boyd came up with a consistent message that he passed along to the younger wide receivers.

Boyd told Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins what he felt was the most important part of being a wide receiver in the Bengals offense. 

“It isn’t really about making ‘oooh plays’ and spectacular catches and stuff like that,” Boyd told them. 

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) catches a pass in the first quarter during a NFL Week 11 game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

During his six-year career, Boyd has been a borderline Pro Bowler by becoming as reliable as it gets for an eight-yard pickup on third down. Especially between 2018 and 2020, Boyd was the Bengals’ focal point on their most important passing plays, and he gained a reputation as one of the best slot receivers in the NFL.

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Then over the first 11 weeks of the 2021 season, Boyd’s role completely changed. He's getting fewer of the "ooh plays" than he's used to receiving.

“I just feel like this is the best team I've ever been a part of,” Boyd said. “And having so much talent on it, sometimes you might have to sit back and do your job. That's how things go.”

In the Bengals Week 9 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Boyd had only one catch for 11 yards. The game signaled Chase and Higgins’ roles as the top two receivers in the offense, and Boyd has a new role and fewer opportunities than he had over the last few seasons. 

In 2021, Boyd hasn’t been featured as often as Chase and Higgins. He’s getting fewer targets than he's used to getting. And Boyd is averaging his fewest yards per game since 2017.

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“If you look around the whole offense, we’ve got dynamic players,” Boyd said. “That’s how we all win. But at the end of the day, I’m a guy that’s going to sit there and be patient and let the game come to me.”

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) completes a catch and is tackled by Las Vegas Raiders outside linebacker Cory Littleton (42) in the second quarter during a NFL Week 11 game, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

The Bengals’ loss to the Browns stuck out for how Boyd was left out of the game plan. When Bengals head coach Zac Taylor analyzed the first half of the Bengals season during the bye week, he made a point to get Boyd the ball more consistently in the Bengals next game.

In Sunday’s 32-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, Taylor’s game plan made Boyd the team’s most important receiver. Boyd finished with six catches for 49 yards, and Boyd led the team in receiving yards for the first time since Week 4.

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“It’s kind of on me, the (Browns) game in particular, where he was really focused and didn’t get the touches,” Taylor said. “(Boyd) is a big part of this team.”

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) completes a catch as Las Vegas Raiders outside linebacker K.J. Wright (34) defends in the second quarter during a NFL Week 11 game, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Against the Raiders Cover-3 defense that took away the deep part of the field, Taylor scripted several plays for Boyd early in the game. The Raiders defense consistently left a linebacker guarding Boyd in the slot.

Like he has done over his entire career, Boyd took advantage of the mismatch. In the first half, Boyd ran a jet sweep for 14 yards and picked up three more first downs with receptions over the middle. 

“When I face zone coverage, we kind of just let him work the middle of the field on third downs,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said. “He’s a great player that understands what we are trying to do in the zones that we are trying to attack.”

More:What are the Cincinnati Bengals building on the offensive line to protect Joe Burrow?

After falling behind in targets to Chase and Higgins over the last month, Boyd caught six of Burrow’s 20 completions on Sunday. Due to the matchup, Boyd was the best way to take advantage of the Raiders weak defense over the middle of the field.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) is unable to complete a catch in the fourth quarter during a Week 8 NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

That might not be the case this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. When the Bengals played the Steelers earlier this season, Chase was the No. 1 receiver, and Boyd finished with 36 receiving yards.

When the Bengals drafted Chase and Higgins, the trade off was that all three of the Bengals starting receivers couldn’t be featured in every game. Since the Bengals added Chase to the roster, Taylor has stressed that matchups would dictate which receiver gets the most targets in each game. 

While the Raiders game was Boyd’s turn in the spotlight, that likely won’t be the same every week. With the Bengals in the playoff mix, Boyd said he’s accepting that trade-off. 

“It's not basketball, where the ball's going around to everybody,” Boyd said. “Sometimes, it might not go your way. Do I feel that way? I mean a little bit. But it goes like that. I'm a baller. I want to make plays. That's what I'm here for. But I'm here for my teammates as well.”

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) beats New York Jets cornerback Michael Carter II (30) on a catch a run in the fourth quarter during a Week 8 NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.