Sunday afternoon’s win for the Cincinnati Bengals left fans with a lot of reasons to feel impressed. However, it was the Zac Taylor game plan that shined brightest in the team’s tight rope win on the road over the Houston Texans.
Zac Taylor’s Game Plan Showed Coach’s Ability to Help Cincinnati Win
It wasn’t always perfect on Sunday afternoon for the Cincinnati Bengals. However, the team found a way to get it done on the road against a Houston Texans team that’s also struggled in 2020, making it the first road win of Taylor’s young career.
While the defense struggled mightily after the exit of first-string corner William Jackson III, the offense held down the fort. They helped keep pace with some impressive play calling from Taylor.
Going up with a veteran coach in Romeo Crennel, who’s filling in as the Texans interim head coach, Taylor and his staff had some tricky competition. Further, he was facing an elite quarterback in Deshaun Watson with a middling backup in Brandon Allen.
The Bengals responded with their best offensive effort of Taylor’s tenure in Cincinnati. Their 37 points and 540 yards of offense are the highest totals in the past two seasons.
When considering all the roster adversity, coupled with just three season wins up to this point, the energy, effort, and execution all impressed.
“We practiced in 10-degree weather on Christmas day to come down and play a game in Houston. Not one guy, I didn’t hear one guy complain about it,” Taylor said following the Bengals’ victory. They all knew we had to get some work done before we had to come play this big game. Just couldn’t be prouder of the work they put here in Week 16. We’re out of the playoff hunt. It’s easy for guys to check out right now, and we haven’t had a single player do it. Just proud to coach these guys.”
Sure, the win came over a team likely headed for a top-five pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (though Houston’s pick heads to the Miami Dolphins). However, the joy on the Bengals sideline showed promise, while the Houston team headed to their own looking grim.
Rushing and Passing Attack Perfectly Balanced
On Sunday afternoon, the Bengals found balance in their offensive attack. That hasn’t always been a reality in Zac Taylor’s time as a game caller. Picking up 371 passing and 169 rushing yards, Taylor’s offense kept the Texans’ defense on their toes.
Return man Alex Erickson filled in as the slot receiver for Tyler Boyd and still produced star numbers. He finished with six catches for 88 yards. Semaj Perine started the season third on the Bengals’ depth chart, but today finished with 95 rushing yards (13 carries), 41 receiving yards (four catches), and two touchdowns.
Brandon Allen completed passes to seven different receivers in the win including several well-designed screens. Credit the Zac Taylor game plan for putting Allen in a position to succeed on Sunday.
Backup Quarterback Impresses for Second Straight Week
Though they won both games with impressive offensive outings, the Bengals used two opposed gameplans for two different backup quarterbacks to drive home their victories.
On Monday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was an option-run attack with Ryan Finley. He finished with 89 passing yards, completed 7-of-13 passes, posted a 101.1 passer rating, committed zero turnovers, and took two sacks. He ran ten times for 47 yards.
On Sunday against the Texans, it was a spread-and-slice attack with Brandon Allen. He finished with 371 passing yards, completed 29-of-37 passes, posted a 126.5 passer rating, committed zero turnovers, and took no sacks. He ran two times for three yards.
Again, two weeks, two wins, opposite offensive game plans.
Even though it was a short week of practice, the team pivoted from their winning offensive effort against Pittsburgh that had Finley playing like Lamar Jackson only to have Allen throwing all over a hapless defensive approach from the Texans.
For a team with so many injuries, the Zac Taylor game plan was impressive if not stunning.
Late-Season Run Creates Momentum
In recent weeks, Bengals fans and sports pundits alike have increased the heat on Taylor’s coaching throne. However, after posting back-to-back wins in tough spots, Taylor looks like a lock to return next season. He had a key endorsement from franchise cornerstone Joe Burrow, but the last two weeks sealed the deal.
While that might’ve always been the case in the eyes of the front office, it’s easier to sell wins to both season ticket holders and NFL free agents. Additionally, it’s creating a sense of belief in the players who the team views as its future.
Ballgame. Bengals W https://t.co/VFsdTDPfCl
— Sam Hubbard (@Sam_Hubbard_) December 27, 2020
Heading in the right direction 🛫 #whodey
— Akeem Davis-Gaither (@AkeemDavis16) December 28, 2020
With a lot of talent returning from the injured reserve in 2021, this team is starting to show winning in its infrastructure. Key players like Sam Hubbard, Germaine Pratt, and Jessie Bates III are learning how to win in tough spots, which is huge for internal development.
Regardless of what they accomplish in the next offseason, there are winning players developing inside of Paul Brown Stadium.
Zac Taylor Turning Corner as Young Coach
This week, Zac Taylor stood at the post-game podium with a winner’s smile and humbled confidence. It was in sharp contrast to a scene from two weeks ago against a different team from Texas.
After the Bengals took a 30-7 loss at home to the Dallas Cowboys, Taylor simply looked defeated. After the game, he said, “I think ‘frustration’ is the biggest word I can come up with right now. That’s the bottom line: you can’t make excuses right now. We’re not winning football games. It’s frustrating. We’re all frustrated. We have a lot of good guys that we believe in that are pulling together and doing everything we can to get these wins.”
Now, two weeks and two wins later, the Zac Taylor era in Cincinnati has renewed promise. All of their hard work, frustration, blood, sweat, and tears, all of that now seems justified. While this win moved his career record to 6-24-1 (4-10-1 with one game left in 2020), Zac Taylor looks like a 37-year-old head coach finding his footing.
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