After a week in which both quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase expressed their frustration with the team waiting too long to take shots down the field in their loss against the Chicago Bears, head coach Zac Taylor must step up and get the offense humming against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But this is about more than simply taking shots. Taylor was brought in because he was perceived to be a bright, young offensive mind. He now has one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, a rookie wide receiver who looks like a future superstar, and other established skill players on offense, namely Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon.
So far, though, Taylor has rarely crafted game plans that were the primary reason for victory. And his playcalling has never been more of a question than it is now, following an ugly loss last Sunday. The coach’s heavy use of empty sets was heavily criticized by fans due to the amount of sacks (nine) the quarterback fresh off knee surgery has taken in two games.
There are, as Sports Illustrated’s Mike Santagata recently wrote, a lot of ways to keep Burrow better protected, even when using empty sets, like keeping a tight end attached to the line. Santagata also recommended means by which the team can get more out of the offense by incorporating more concepts that were working well for them, including:
- Double go routes
- Race/wrap concepts (combining whip and dig routes on one side of the field)
- Juke routes (where the receiver can either sit or move horizontally to either side, depending on coverage)
- Cross routes
Whatever he does, Taylor will have to be more aggressive and protect Burrow better against a strong Pittsburgh pass rush that may or may not feature T.J. Watt, who was limited in practice with a groin injury. Further, Taylor must demonstrate that he can keep the Bengals competitive in the division for the team to buy into his vision and remain hopeful about the future.
There is a lot riding on this game for the coach, just as there was the last time these two teams faced. As I wrote shortly before that game, a victory on the Monday night against the Bengals’ biggest rivals would earn Taylor one more year. And it can be argued that that’s just what happened.
In what was perhaps his magnum opus as a playcaller, Taylor outcoached Mike Tomlin, as Cincinnati defeated Pittsburgh 27-17. The “Ryan Finley game” felt great at the time, and the underwhelming quarterback shocked the opposition—and the rest of the football-watching world—with a long fourth quarter touchdown run. But such a strange outcome is unlikely to happen again; Taylor will almost certainly need his star QB to throw for more than 89 yards (Finley’s total in that surreal win). In other words, the Bengals will have to light up the Steelers for this team to gain real confidence in its offensive direction again.
We preview Sunday’s matchup in the video below:
You can also listen on iTunes or using the player below: