Bengals: Zac Taylor should remain head coach but his staff must change
Zac Taylor is under pressure in Cincinnati but can remain the head coach if he is willing to make staff changes ahead of the 2021 season.
The Joe Burrow injury effectively closes the door on the 2020 season for the Cincinnati Bengals. With it goes the opportunity for head coach Zac Taylor to prove he is righting the ship. With a winnable run of games ahead of him, Taylor will have been hoping to prove that with Burrow at quarterback, he could be the coach to turn around the fortunes of the Queen City.
In reality, Taylor is now staring down the barrel. The thirty-seven-year-old is now responsible for a 4-21-1 record. With Ryan Finley replacing Burrow, it’s difficult to see him adding many, if any, victories to that tally. While that is a positive in terms of draft position, Taylor has to be pondering whether he can survive another dismal season.
There is a strong chance that Taylor gets another year to prove his worth. However, it’s likely the team’s ownership will want some accountability taken for the poor performance. There are several tough decisions Taylor may need to take to preserve his own future.
Time for Zac Taylor to step away from the offensive play sheet
Taylor arrived in Cincy without much experience as an offensive coordinator. Under Sean McVay in LA, Taylor was quarterbacks coach and his only experience in a coordinator role was interim OC for the Dolphins in 2015, but only for five games. Taylor was keen to prove he could handle playcalling and live up to his billing as one of the league’s young, offensive hotshots. The results have been mixed, to say the least.
While recent weeks have seen Taylor and Burrow develop some chemistry and string together strong drives, there isn’t an overwhelming feeling that Taylor’s plays are that dynamic and elevating the team’s performance.
One thing we do see from Taylor is how passionate he is to be in charge of an NFL team. Well documented issues with veteran players aside, the young leaders in the locker room appear to be giving Taylor their 100 percent backing. His leadership was on show immediately after the Burrow setback on Sunday, as he rallied the troops.
Perhaps the best path forward is for Taylor to take a step back and oversee this group. Becoming the figurehead, allowing others to drill down on the intricacies of the gameplan while he sees the bigger picture. Allowing him to avoid the further pressure derived from being the play-caller. A young, inventive offensive coordinator could transform this offense and allow Taylor to focus on being a successful head coach.
Turner should be on the block to show the accountability Zac Taylor preaches
It is wrong to suggest that what happened to Burrow was anybody’s fault. Offensive linemen can be forced back into their QB on any play. Offensive line coaches can’t stop that from happening. What happened to Burrow was a freak accident.
However, when the offensive line has been responsible for allowing Burrow to be hit 72 times, including 32 sacks, accidents have a greater probability of happening. It had been a bugbear all year and despite the early success the line enjoyed against Washington, Burrow ultimately paid the price for the Bengals’ failure to address the offensive line in the offseason.
Taylor remains protective of his offensive line, as many coaches would be,
"People keep talking about the offensive line without seemingly watching the film for the last four weeks. Again, those guys have done a good job. It’s been a revolving door of players; they’ve been doing a great job."
Deep down he knows as well as anybody that the offensive line and positional coaches have been found wanting. The difficulty for Taylor is that he is particularly close to o-line coach Jim Turner.
Turner’s hire was undoubtedly to help Taylor surround himself with familiar faces, who knew what to expect from him in his first gig. Now, approaching his third year in charge, Taylor must make a tough choice and sacrifice Turner to prove that staff will be held responsible for the failings of their position groups.
Anarumo’s high priced defense falls below expectations
The same criticism can be leveled at defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. His hiring was a last-ditch scramble to fill the role after a high profile search was on the edge of descending into farce. Once again Anarumo had no full-time experience as a defensive coordinator, also only serving as interim for the Dolphins.
His defense has conceded the seventh-most yards per game and contributed a paltry 11 sacks on the year. While it has been an injury-riddled season for the defense as a whole, there has been plenty of investment in free agency that has failed to materialize into any tangible uplift.
With talented players like Jessie Bates, William Jackson, and a young linebacker corps, it’s fair to expect more from the defense than they have produced so far. Cutting Anarumo loose will likely be one stipulation of Taylor keeping his job.
If the Bengals are searching for a new defensive coordinator, going for a more experienced head could be invaluable. The Bengals couldn’t work out the details with Jack Del Rio this offseason but someone with his knowledge of being a head coach would likely have benefitted a rookie like Taylor.
Like McVay in LA, who had Wade Phillips, an old head tends to balance out the staff nicely and would give Taylor a steady hand to use as a sounding board.
Moving forward into next season
It’s more than likely Zac Taylor gets one more shot at retaining his head coach role in 2021. However, he will be firmly on the hot seat.
He must turn his thoughts to building a coaching staff that can help him craft a team around superstar Joe Burrow, ultimately ending in a push for the playoffs. Taylor must grasp the opportunity and put his coaching future ahead of old loyalties. A fresh staff could be his last shot to turn this thing around.