There was an absurd amount of symbolism in Sunday’s game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins.
Zac Taylor took his team down to South Beach in December for the second year in a row in hopes to come out victorious against his former employer. Taylor has but one (1) signature win in his head coaching career and has been facing the music for the better part of this season. His opposition, Brian Flores, has completely turned around the once inept Dolphins into a legitimate playoff candidate. In the exact same timeframe, Taylor has turned the Bengals back into a national laughingstock of painful irrelevance.
The result of the game fit the narratives that surrounded each team.
This was a damning loss that is now plastered on Taylor’s bleak resume with the Bengals. And it’s not like this was a surprise to anyone, but his offensive line continued to flounder as well.
Here’s some more symbolism, of the long-winded variety.
Last week in practice, the Bengals had just activated Xavier Su’a-Filo from the Reserve/Injured; Designated to Return list. The free agent signee of this offseason was placed on I.R. after Week 1, but was initially designated for return in the middle of November. This means that Su’a-Filo had been practicing for three weeks while the team was allowed to keep him off of the active roster. Su’a-Filo has been healthy for a while now, and this was the first week he was officially going to dress for a game in nearly three months.
So why didn’t he start the game?
The plan back in the offseason was for Su’a-Filo to start at right guard. When he injured his ankle against the Los Angeles Chargers back in Week 1, those plans were shot to Hell and the team tried Fred Johnson, Billy Price and eventually settled on Alex Redmond at the position. Redmond ended up becoming the best option but was never good enough to warrant starting while everyone else was healthy.
Quinton Spain soon joined the team in late October and represented a better solution to their problem, but it took him until his third start to end up at right guard, and it happened to be his worst game. Spain struggled immensely against the Washington Football Team and the coaching staff went back to Redmond a week later against the New York Giants. Redmond then suffered a concussion against the Giants and Spain went back to right guard after starting the game at left guard.
That last part is important.
Michael Jordan has been the starter at left guard since the end of last season. He’s been a player that coaches talked about making the second year jump, and despite Jordan actually regressing to an even worse player in his second season, their faith in him didn’t waver for a long time; Week 12 to be exact. Spain was given the nod to start over Jordan against the Giants, and the only reason Jordan ended up playing in that game was because Redmond got concussed and Spain was told to switch over to the right side.
So, a week after the team’s starting left guard was rightfully benched and with their original starting right guard returning from injury, the coaches decided to give Jordan another shot against the Dolphins and keep the player who signed a three-year deal this past March on the bench.
How did that plan work out? Jordan allowed two sacks and a quarterback hit on 29 pass blocking snaps among other less-than-promising reps. His performance earned him a 7.1 pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. 7.1. That decimal is in the right spot.
There was such a clear and easy way to avoid this. Either Spain goes back to starting at his natural spot at left guard and Su’a-Filo goes back to right guard, where he’s practiced all year, or you flip the two because Su’a-Filo is also a natural left guard and Spain has played right guard more often for the Bengals this season.
Neither path involved Jordan playing, yet there he was, stinking up a storm between Jonah Williams (R.I.P.) and Trey Hopkins, who also did not play well. And to top it all off, Jordan was benched for Su’a-Filo before the game ended.
Here were the plays that led to that decision.
How is this symbolic? Look at Jordan’s position coach.
The Bengals didn’t just trade up for Ryan Finley in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, they also traded up for Jordan in that same round just 32 picks later. This team doesn’t trade up for players very often, and when they do, there is usually a tremendous amount of support from the coaching staff behind it.
Offensive line coach Jim Turner is infatuated with Jordan, and this should’ve been the first clue. In Elise Jesse’s report of the Bengals’ toxic locker room, Jesse mentions that there is little accountability in the offensive line room and, as a result, competition is low. She also mentions that Jordan is one of Turner’s guys, and that’s why he’s been given so many chances over the past two years. It’s why the team did nothing in terms of challenging him at that position in the offseason.
Jordan was demoted after one of his many failures this season got Joe Burrow injured. The bench is where Jordan belongs, provided that Su’a-Filo and Spain are healthy, but Turner clearly didn’t see it this way this week. Why would he? His guy was also healthy. Eventually, he and Taylor had to come to terms with this laughably bad decision, and against the team that fired Turner for his incompetence as a coach and a leader nonetheless.
Taylor’s 28-game strikeout tour with the Bengals has been a clown show largely of his own doing, but in all likelihood, it will be the assistants Taylor hired that will become the scapegoats of this season. Hiring Turner continues to be one of the worst decisions the Bengals have made in recent memory, and the ripples of that decision continue to affect the team on a weekly basis.
Jordan’s on-going struggles are just another wave of ineptitude with a much more inadequate central source causing it.