The first game of the Zac Taylor era went, for the most part, poorly.
That being said, it was his first game as a head coach, so there was a learning curve for pretty much the whole organization. A lot of the mistakes that happened during the game could probably be chalked up to first game excitement.
But we’re out of the honeymoon phase now. The team has some real issues they need to deal with. With a short week before their next game, we’ll see how the team responds to such a disappointing preseason opener.
What did we learn from the Bengals 38-17 loss to the Chiefs?
The receivers are in much better shape this year
Last year around this time, it looked like the wide receiver position was going to be a special one for the Bengals. That ended up being a wild overestimation, as the group floundered without A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd at the end of the season.
Things are starting out the same this season, but look like they won’t end the same way.
Josh Malone and Cody Core are two players who probably want to forget about last season. Due to injuries to Green and John Ross, they were the two starters on the outside in Preseason Week 1. Malone had only two catches against the Chiefs, but that is twice as many as he had in the entire regular season in 2018.
Core also had two catches, but both look noticeably better now than they did last year. They were running cleaner routes and making better catches than they did at any point in 2018.
Even Auden Tate is in better standing than he was last year. He cycled in with the first team and had an incredible catch that kept the first scoring drive alive. He also made some great blocks, so he already looks miles ahead of where he was at any point last year.
Part of what is contributed to this improvement is a better coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball. This is one more reason why Zac Taylor is an upgrade over Marvin Lewis.
There is an alarming lack of depth on defense
The first team gave up a touchdown to the Chiefs pretty quickly and pretty easily. However, after a closer look, it doesn’t look hopeless. There were a lot of first-game jitters that the Chiefs exploited, and the defense was missing arguably its two best players in Geno Atkins and William Jackson. Not to mention, the Chiefs offense is notoriously difficult to stop anyways.
After that first drive, the second defense went out and looked pretty bad.
A lot of the blame can be put on the shoulder of Tony Lippett, who was generally oblivious last night. Other key backups, like Jordan Willis and Malik Jefferson, still have not lived up to their expectations.
This is where Lou Anarumo gets tested. It just looked like the Bengals’ defense was unprepared for this game, and a lot of players didn’t understand their roles. This is certainly something that can be fixed, so we’ll see how Anamuro and his staff address these issues.
The Bengals’ rushing game is non-existent right now
With Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard resting on Saturday, the Bengals looked down the depth chart to Trayveon Williams, Jordan Ellis, and Quinton Flowers. The trio ran 12 times for 21 yards.
It’s highly doubtful that the Bengals will run the ball as few as 12 times in the regular season, but this was still not what we wanted to see.
Most of the blame for this goes to the offensive line. It wasn’t a great day for them anyways, given all of the rotations and personnel changes they went through. Even so, the running backs had nowhere to go.
Ellis was the teams’ leading rusher and receiver. He only had three carries for eleven yards on the ground, but through the air, he had five catches on six targets for 44 yards, all of which were team highs. His rushing stats were a small sample size, but he was the only running back on the team whose average yards per carry doesn’t start with a one (1.0 and 1.3 for Williams and Flowers, respectively).
The fact that every running back contributed more in the passing game than in the running game shows how much that phase needs work.
The silly mistakes need to be minimized
After the game, Zac Taylor was critical of his teams’ penalties and turnovers, and rightly so.
On special teams, the Bengals gave away the ball twice on punt returns. That means the defense did their jobs and got the offense off the field, only to have to go back out and defend their red zone. Both fumbles resulted in touchdowns.
In terms of penalties, the Bengals gave up 115 yards on 11 flags. One pass interference calls wiped out an interception, and the ensuing drive ended in a Chiefs touchdown.
If you take the touchdown off of the pass interference and the two touchdowns from the muffed punts, that’s a 21-point swing, which is exactly how wide the point margin was.
Zac Taylor is a rookie, too
Even though Taylor walked into the Bengals organization prepared to completely take over, there are some things he still has to figure out. That’s okay.
Game 1 of the preseason was shaky by all accounts, but it was Taylor’s first career game as a head coach. There is going to be a learning curve.
If the team looks more or less the same in the next weeks, then that will be cause for concern.
Taylor has an opportunity here to show why the Bengals’ hired him. If he can find a way to get through to his players and correct these mistakes, then that will be great. It might actually be a blessing in disguise that the team struggled so much. Better to figure all of this out now than in the regular season.