The Zac Taylor era could now cause lasting damage to the Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals’ man at the helm, Zac Taylor, still believes a turn of fortune is ahead but the message is becoming tired.
It is difficult to fault Bengals’ head coach Zac Taylor’s unwavering belief. Right from the start, he has stayed on message in press conferences. He’s all about instilling a positive culture and setting standards. However, too often the actions haven’t backed up the words.
Hiring Jim Turner, whose indiscretions are well documented, after openly stating the importance of accountability, is the first thing that comes to mind. Continuing to repeat the tired mantra that the offensive line was more talented than given credit for. Once again, following a narrow defeat on Sunday, Taylor stated how close they are to turning things around.
It now seems that those messages are beginning to ring hollow within the team. The Taylor era has been typified by one-score losses. There are bad teams in the NFL and they still win games. This Bengals roster is not the worst in the league but they continually draw a blank when it comes to getting the W. So many close losses can no longer be dismissed as purely bad luck.
Vets appear to be losing faith as Zac Taylor runs out of backing in the locker room
The cracks have begun to show in the Bengals’ locker room. The tipping point appears to be the treatment of defensive stalwart Carlos Dunlap. While some have suggested it was a communication breakdown, benching a long-time cornerstone like Dunlap without a one-on-one conversation seems misjudged at best.
That was followed by players’ unrest seeping into social media. Comments from Darius Phillips and Shawn Williams highlighted their dissatisfaction with how they are being used on defense. If there was any uncertainty about where a number of veterans stood, this week’s snap counts go some way to clarifying it:
Both Dunlap and Atkins were used as bit-part players, with less experienced players taking more snaps. Not to mention, Phillips saw his time split with LeShaun Sims. The rift between the senior defensive players and management appears to be real.
Some will point to declining performance and the need to cash in on the likes of Atkins and Dunlap once the trade deadline rolls around but are sections of the fanbase being too reactionary? It appears Taylor has made the decision to move on from certain players but should we trust his judgment?
Bengals are in rebuilding mode but it wasn’t meant to be this way
Those stating the Bengals need to trade away assets to acquire draft capital should remember that was not the plan when hiring Taylor. The Bengals were a 6-10 team, but Taylor was seen as a McVay-lite who could help mask Andy Dalton’s deficiencies in a way that the Rams had done with Jared Goff.
The hire was a new direction but initially, not a complete teardown. As the losses piled up it became an opportunity to land a replacement for Dalton. Although areas of the roster are aging and the offensive line has been a constant issue, there remains talent on the roster. However, Taylor may soon change that.
There are two important dates approaching on the Bengals’ calendar. After facing the Browns and Titans, Cincy will take their bye week beginning on November 1. Then, on the 3rd of November, the trade deadline arrives. If Taylor has added two more losses to his resume, then the ownership will find itself at a crossroads.
Should they allow Taylor to explore trading assets that offer value on the market or should he depart before he bottoms the roster? Of course, in true Bengals fashion, there is a third option of absolutely nothing changing, but the situation feels too combustible at present for that.
Trading away Dunlap and Atkins risks forever changing the DNA of the team
As much as football is a business, cleaning house and moving on from franchise cornerstones is a risky business. Many of the players are holdovers from the Marvin Lewis regime. By taking away Dunlap and Atkins there is a risk that others on the team effectively ‘check out’.
That is particularly worrying considering the talent that the Bengals have awaiting contract extensions in the summer. Carl Lawson and William Jackson are set to be free agents, while Jessie Bates will also be seeking a long-term deal. How inclined will they be to sign up knowing that Taylor is still at the helm?
It seems inevitable that by the bye week we will be given an indicator of the way in which the Bengals will proceed. Is Taylor worth the risk? He has done nowhere near enough to suggest that he can turn things around. While he may hope clearing the house of dissenting voices will work, things are just as likely to nosedive in the opposite direction.
It would be unusual for the Brown family to make a knee-jerk reaction to fire Taylor after a season and a half. They were sure Zac Taylor was ‘the guy’. Sometimes though, admitting your errors in the short term can be the only way to secure the future. As of now, the Bengals’ future is on a precarious knife edge.