The struggling Cincinnati Bengals have hope, thanks to a franchise quarterback in Joe Burrow, a fair share of future cap space and a high 2021 draft pick.
Here’s the kicker question, however: Does the franchise have the right leaders in place to build around Burrow, or the proper head coach in Zac Taylor to lead the Bengals to the consistent playoff trips they became accustomed to during the Marvin Lewis era? The latest buzz around Cincinnati revolves around Taylor’s job security — and as it turns out, it’s quite steady.
Cincinnati Bengals rumors: Zac Taylor likely to return next season
A noteworthy quote from ESPN.com’s article by Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano painted a rosy portrait of Taylor’s outlook, in spite of his 4-23-1 record with the Bengals as of this writing.
“There isn’t much buzz that [Taylor’s] seat is all that hot, based on two factors: Cincinnati hates change, and Taylor mostly did well with rookie No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow.”
The article also included a brief remark from someone near to Burrow, who said the signal-caller believes in the Bengals’ potential to win a championship, presumably with Taylor leading the way.
Indeed, Cincinnati has been averse to making sweeping changes in the organization for decades. Taylor’s predecessor, Marvin Lewis — now being rumored as a 2021 NFL head coaching candidate — lasted from 2003 through 2018, despite never winning a postseason game. On the other hand, given some of the restrictions brought about by the Bengals’ conservative overall approach and how much Taylor has struggled in almost two seasons, there’s an argument to be made Lewis pulled off a feat of genius in guiding the team to seven playoff appearances during his tenure.
Taylor is still just 37 years old and has plenty of upside as a coach. Was he thrust into his post too early, though? Were the Bengals too eager, after years of conservatism, to suddenly jump aboard the bandwagon trend of hiring “the next Sean McVay” by misguidedly grabbing one of the Los Angeles Rams offensive wizard’s assistants?
Cincinnati Bengals rumors: The case to retain Zac Taylor
It’s obvious Taylor made an impression during the interview process to the point where Cincinnati went from an established veteran leader like Lewis — who had an extensive background as a defensive coach — to a relatively inexperienced but bright, young offensive mind.
Going the opposite way at head coach doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. However, given what Taylor has had to work with as the Bengals rebuild a busted roster, he’s done the best with what he’s had. That bit about doing “mostly” well with Burrow isn’t far off the truth. Understanding what the reigning Heisman Trophy winner did well en route to a national championship at LSU, Taylor designed an offense that catered to Burrow’s strengths of making full-field reads and quick decisions.
Unfortunately, the horrendous offensive line tasked with protecting the 2020 No. 1 overall pick failed to hold up against the Washington Football Team’s dynamic front seven in Week 11. It led to Burrow suffering a torn ACL and MCL, and it may keep him out for part of the next season.
Even with Taylor designing game plans that were meant to limit the punishment Burrow would take, he still suffered 32 sacks. Burrow isn’t a statue in the pocket, either; he’s known for extending plays with his legs. The fact the Bengals trailed in most games and had to count on Burrow’s heroics to keep them competitive necessitated a pass-heavy offense. Not all of that can be placed on Taylor, who is doing his absolute best to win with the team he has.
Having a strong quarterback-coach relationship is paramount to any team’s long-term success. At least for now, Taylor and Burrow seem to have a close bond, and it’s up to the coach to reward the good faith Burrow and the organization have put in him to turn things around. As long as the front office, armed with the sixth-most cap space entering the 2021 offseason, can bring in better players for Taylor to coach, improvement should occur organically.
Cincinnati Bengals rumors: Why Year 3 with Zac Taylor could be a disaster
The truth is, this front office has a long way to go before putting a competent roster on the gridiron. If free agency and the 2021 draft prove unfruitful in the missions to fortify the trenches in front of Burrow and rebuild a woeful defense that has a good secondary but a mostly young, embattled front seven, the deck is really stacked against Taylor.
It’s not so much an indictment on Taylor as a coach, who again, presumably has decades of NFL experience ahead of him. The question is, does Taylor as of right now have the capabilities to elevate a roster that’ll probably be below league average in terms of talent level? Can he give this team a boost to the point where they’re competing for the playoffs in 2021, while playing in an AFC North division that features the resurgent Cleveland Browns, an MVP quarterback in the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and a Pittsburgh Steelers team that started this year 11-0?
Nothing to date suggests Taylor is up to that tall task. If Burrow isn’t healthy going into Week 1, and should he miss multiple games, those contests are virtual automatic losses for Cincinnati. Taylor will start to feel the heat pretty fast should his third year at the helm play out in that way.
One potential silver lining of another losing 2021 campaign would be a high 2022 draft pick and the chance to, once again, retool the roster. It just depends how patient the fanbase wants to be, not to mention the organization at large, especially with Burrow still on his rookie contract. The Bengals must capitalize on that situation before a seemingly inevitable, lucrative Burrow extension, which will hamstring Cincinnati’s efforts to build a consistent winner by default.