Zac Taylor largely escaped blame for last year’s 2-14 season by the Cincinnati Bengals, but the team’s level of improvement in 2020 may come down to the second-year head coach.
It sounds like A.J. Green will be back, although that isn’t certain. Last year’s first-round pick, Jonah Williams, will finally see the field in 2020. He could fortify an offensive line that improved late in 2019. Joe Mixon is a stud that has posted consecutive 1,100+ yard rushing seasons. Tyler Boyd has 166 total catches in the last two years. Guys like John Ross and Auden Tate have shown flashes of brilliance.
A second-year head coach could do a lot worse in terms of weapons to work with. However, the team still went 2-14 last year.
Injuries can be blamed to some extent, but every franchise deals with them. The Steelers were trotting out a starting offense that belonged in the second week of the preseason pretty much all year long. They found a way to go 8-8 and keep their playoff hopes alive until Week 17.
The defensive personnel Taylor inherited wasn’t the best, but it hardly mattered last year. A team that scores 17.4 points per game isn’t going to win very much. When a unit with as much talent as Cincinnati’s offense’ struggles, coaching is the main issue. With all of that said, Taylor has what he needs to make this team successful, even if they face similar hurdles in his next go-around.
Perhaps Taylor’s biggest misstep last year was underusing Mixon until it was too late in the season to matter. The former Oklahoma Sooner running back was the best thing the offense had going for it in 2019. The same will be true in 2020.
The NFL is not college football. The margin of victory or defeat ultimately means nothing. Still, the Bengals were reasonably close in a handful of defeats last year. That means the run game remained an option. It’s inexcusable that a back of Mixon’s caliber only had six carries in a one-point loss to Seattle and eight in a six-point loss to Baltimore.
Confusingly enough, Mixon did not get 20+ carries in a game until Week 9 last year. In the Bengals two wins last year, he averaged 22.5 carries per game. Coincidence? Doubtful.
Zac Taylor’s background lies on the offensive side of the ball. He must get more out of this unit, as there are some nice pieces to work with. In 2020, he will have a quarterback he wants, not one he inherited. New talent will come via the draft and possibly free agency. Taylor will have the tools he needs to make a leap, but no matter what, the 2020 Bengals will only improve as much as their young head coach does.