COMMENTARY: Fresh thinking could benefit both Bengals and Buckeyes

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Staff continuity was supposed to be a big strength for the Cincinnati Bengals heading into the season.

Rarely do coaches keep their assistants together for as long as Zac Taylor has since he came to the Queen City in 2019.

After losing twice in five weeks to a Steelers team that fired its offensive coordinator and barely has a quarterback, maybe the time has come to add a new voice or two.

Taylor gets credit for establishing a strong locker room culture, bringing in lots of good players that are not only talented but seem to be made of the right stuff.

Not quitting after Joe Burrow went down with another season-ending injury is admirable. It proves the Bengals still have a lot to work with besides the franchise quarterback, which could provide peace of mind more valuable than getting to draft a few slots higher will.

Criticizing individual play calls is always fashionable, but I don’t see a lot wrong with those.

No, the general offensive philosophy just stinks.

It’s been bad from day one, so there is no reason to think it gets better unless they shake some things up.

I think Burrow is partly to blame for this, but guess what? He’s not going anywhere.

Neither is Taylor, and nor should he.

The head coach is responsible for much more than Xs and Os. He leads the organization, and Taylor seems to do a good job of that.

But the Bengals always seem to be late to figure out what their personnel can actually do, and Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan both cut their teeth in a version of the West Coast offense that has been going stale for many years.

The heavy reliance on 11 personnel (three receivers, one tight end, one running back) also seems to be falling out of fashion throughout the league and requires particular players the Bengals either don’t have now (a great, versatile tight end, explosive running back, athletic offensive line) or won’t in the near future (three great receivers).

Meanwhile, Burrow needs to continue to grow, and I’m sure that he will.

What ignited his career at LSU doesn’t completely translate to the NFL unless maybe you have about five hall of fame offensive linemen. In the real world, he gets hit too much and sacked too much because the Bengals don’t do enough to slow down the pass rush. They don’t believe in running the ball, and they are too apt to sacrifice protection for having as many guys as possible in pass routes.

If they want to take another step and actually live up to their potential on offense, they need to play under center more and do more play action to slow down the rush and manufacture big plays.

Burrow might resist, but then again he is practical and wants to win. The job of a coach is to push his players to be their best, whatever that looks like.

The new trend in defense in the NFL — and it is trickling down to college — is to allow some running room in exchange for not being able to throw more than about eight yards downfield, something that is particularly damaging to the Bengals’ preferred method of moving the ball.

That doesn’t mean everyone should become the Tennessee Titans riding Derrick Henry as far as he will take them, but it does mean the running game becomes more valuable as a matter of balance and offensive efficiency.

Ryan Day actually learned this lesson after his 2021 Ohio State offense put up big yards but wasn’t so good at scoring points in losses to Oregon and Michigan.

The Buckeyes might have overcorrected early this season, but he at least gets points for trying to be more balanced, an effort that seemed to pay off in the second half of the season before inefficient quarterback play and some questionable game management bit him in another loss to the Wolverines.

The Ohio State coaching staff seemed to really miss the veteran presence of Kevin Wilson this season. When he left to become head coach at Tulsa, Wilson left behind a pretty young group on offense.

Day may still be one of the brightest minds in offensive football — and the Buckeyes made some very nice adjustments as the season went on after a rough first half of the season — but he, too, has a lot on his plate. He acknowledged that by trying to hand off some of them to his assistants this year, but Wilson’s exit might have made 2023 exactly the wrong year to do that.

Nonetheless, I’m not here calling for anyone to get fired in the case of Ohio State or the Bengals.

I’ve never been one to advocate change for the sake of change.

But I can’t help but wonder if each organization could benefit by having an assistant or two find an opportunity to spread his wings elsewhere, especially if he could be replaced by someone with more seasoning and a different approach.

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