Heading into a crucial 2021 campaign, the vision Zac Taylor has been selling Cincinnati Bengals fans must come to fruition.
When Zac Taylor was hired before the 2019 season, he made his vision clear in his initial press conference. Taylor preached about culture, communication and “building this thing the right way.” Heading in to his third season and the helm, he has had a chance to put his fingerprints on every aspect of the team. Three draft classes have now been installed under Taylor’s watch, with many players from the Marvin Lewis era finding their way out of Cincinnati. The “settling in” process is over. Now is the time for the vision to come to fruition.
The Zac Taylor Vision for the Cincinnati Bengals Has To Pay off in 2021
Timing Hasn’t Helped
Taylor hasn’t necessarily had the “normal” transition to head coach to help him right the ship in The Queen City. Hired after a Super Bowl appearance with the Los Angeles Rams, Taylor didn’t get settled into his new role until February 2019. Furthermore, he had to scramble to put together a staff. After many new regimes around the league were already installed, Taylor was forced to work with what was left. Finally, he was able to have a staff in place near the end of that February, once Lou Anarumo was named defensive coordinator.
Those factors, among others, lead to a 2-14 finish in Taylor’s full season. Many call that an “evaluation season,” giving Taylor and his new staff a season to assess the current roster and decide who fits their vision. The famous birthday benching of Andy Dalton in favor of Ryan Finley shows that to be the case.
Following the 2019 season, many expected better results after Taylor got a “normal” off-season to retool things to his view. As we all know, COVID-19 had a very different plan.
Taylor was tasked with developing #1 overall pick Joe Burrow virtually for much of that off-season. The optional team activities a newer staff relies on weren’t an option, either. Not having a preseason to evaluate the talent on the roster certainly didn’t play to Taylor’s advantage. There are several factors that have contributed to the underwhelming start of his tenure.
Close Games Need To Go Taylor’s Way in 2021
Over two seasons, Taylor has put together a record of 2-13-1 in games decided by one score or fewer. If you know football, you know one play can be zeroed in on as the reason for losing a football game. Losing a tight game due to a stroke of bad luck is a very real thing. But frankly, bad luck can’t be the excuse fourteen times. Taylor has the final say, so the accountability for the tough losses has to fall on him. Game management, clock management and managing coach’s challenges better are all things that can make the ball bounce his way in the tight games. To make his vision pay off, Taylor has to make the right calls.
Taylor Must Actually Communicate
The word “communication” is something Taylor has preached, but there is evidence of poor communication with players. The public spat with former defensive end Carlos Dunlap wasn’t a great testament to Taylor’s communication. In an Instagram post, Dunlap seemed to have learned about his slide down the depth chart via looking at the white board and not by a coach telling him so.
Much can be said about the lack of playing time for defensive tackle Geno Atkins, as well. Atkins saw career lows in snaps played, tackles and sacks in 2020. That can be attributed to Atkins recovering from shoulder surgery to a degree. Still, the big man was reportedly “frustrated” with his role as well. We didn’t see him be as vocal about it, because that isn’t his style.
These could be isolated situations with two veteran players, or they could be indicators of communication not being as good as Taylor told us it needed to be.
The Culture Taylor Builds Needs To Be a Winning One
“Culture” was another buzzword we heard several times in that first press conference. The general feeling through the 2019 season was that the culture was in place. We saw players like Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon seem to be the glue keeping the team together in yet another down year. The grumblings didn’t seem to be very loud, aside from Dalton’s frustration with being benched just hours before the trade deadline. Most players and fans seemed to believe in Taylor after his challenging first season.
As the 2020 season progressed, the cracks in culture started to show. The aforementioned issues with Dunlap and Atkins seemed to be the start. Watching Burrow go down seemed to raise concerns with others. An article from Sports Illustrated was released shortly after the Week 10 loss to the Washington Football Team that described the culture in the locker room as “toxic.” That is a stark contrast from what was sold after 2019. Was that a quick reaction from a team watching their leader go down? Maybe. Was it a look into a truly toxic culture coming to light? That is also entirely possible.
The Zac Taylor Vision Has To Pay off This Year
Taylor’s contract was a four-year deal, so it is not out of the realm of possibility to think his job is safe beyond this year no matter what. It is no secret that owner Mike Brown doesn’t like paying people to not work.
The reason his vision must pay off this year isn’t as much about his job security as it is about the future of the team.
With the additions to the offensive line (Taylor signed off on all of them), the continued heavy investments on the defense and reigniting the spark between Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase in the pros, it is time to see what the results we get for what they are: a direct product of Taylor’s vision.
For the future of the Cincinnati Bengals, that vision has to pay dividends this season.
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