Bengals evaluating coaching staff, players before prep for 2021 season begins

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor watched his team during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor watched his team during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Credit: Lynne Sladky

Credit: Lynne Sladky

The Cincinnati Bengals had end-of-season meetings Monday, and the organization will spend the next several days evaluating staff and player production before fully moving on to preparations for 2021.

Team owner/president Mike Brown made it clear the expectation in bringing Zac Taylor back for a third season is to get winning results, and Taylor said he shares in that. The Bengals went 6-25-1 in Taylor’s first two seasons, including a 4-11-1 mark in 2020 that included five losses by a touchdown or less.

“Certainly I’m tired of losing,” Taylor said. “We put in a lot of work and believe in a lot of the players that we have and the coaches we have. Certainly expect to win a lot more football games than we have. That’s the standard that we have to set going forward.”

But to be successful in 2021, Taylor needs to figure out what went right and what went wrong this season. Those are things he will be sorting through over the coming days, but some of those answers already are clear.

Asked his initial thoughts, Taylor said the main thing he took from the season was the “team had opportunities in every game” and never quit. That shows him there is belief in what he’s doing. Now it’s a matter of keeping guys healthy, building more depth to better account for injuries, tweaking the playbook or even daily routines and adjusting personnel.

“Now, it’s honestly a chance to sit back and watch it with the staff and go through each week,” Taylor said. “The schedule, the practice schedule, what our game plans were, what good stuff we did that carried over the season, things that we did a good job staying on top of, things that were maybe good for us early in the year that we got away from. Those are the things that you have to ask yourself and make sure we can make good improvements where they need to be made. And again, we always feel like we’re going to be better going forward with every decision that we make because we learned from our past experience. And this year is certainly no different. There’s a lot to learn from and a lot to improve on. And we won’t run from any of it.”

The Bengals finished 29th in scoring offense (19.4 points per game) and net offense (319.8 yards per game), 28th in sacks allowed (48), 22nd in scoring defense (26.5 points allowed per game) and 26th in net defense (389.2 yards allowed per game). After allowing a franchise-record 404 yards rushing in the finale against Baltimore, the run defense ranked 29th as opponents averaged 148.0 rushing yards per game against Cincinnati.

With Joe Burrow expected to be back for the 2021 season, after tearing his ACL and MCL in a Week 11 loss at Washington, the offense isn’t as much of a concern as the defense. The Bengals likely will have holes to fill in the wide receiver corps and need to improve the offensive line but a healthy Burrow showed he could keep the team in games, and he will still have weapons like running back Joe Mixon – who missed the final 10 games with a foot injury – as well as wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins.

“T.B. (Tyler Boyd) is T.B. … I think he’s a very underrated receiver,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “Being able to watch him, I think he’s a freak. The way he runs routes is unbelievable. Being able to watch Tee this year I think Tee is going to grow and he is going to grow into a really good receiver for us. Watching some of the things we were able to do later on in the year when we were able to get some momentum, I’m like, OK, nice. This is remnants of what is to come. I think it’s hard to 100 percent say, hey, we are going to take off and this is what our identity is going to be because we were missing a bunch of pieces. We didn’t get to have that offseason with Joe and things like that.

“I would say (the future is) bright and I’m looking forward to actually having an OTAs and offseason and actually be able to get timing down and stuff. I think that’s going to help us immensely to be honest with you.”

The defense was perhaps more difficult to gauge this season because of injuries to several key players that were expected to make a difference, such as defensive tackles D.J. Reader and Geno Atkins and cornerback Trae Waynes.

Reader and Waynes were both considered big spends in free agency, and the combination of Reader and Atkins was supposed to solidify the defensive line, which instead faced injury after injury. Reader played five games before going on injured reserve, Atkins had one tackle in limited snaps before finishing on IR and Waynes never got off the rehab field after suffering a pectoral injury in training camp.

The defense, which will return coordinator Lou Anarumo, according to Bengals play-by-play announcer Dan Hoard, saw improvement in the second half of the season until the finale, and players believe they have much to build on for 2021.

“Obviously we lost a lot of key players throughout the year,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “I’m really wishing those guys like DJ and Trae Waynes a healthy recovery. We just need to come back together. Everyone go in the offseason, refresh their bodies and minds, put in their work and come back and start off fast in 2021.”

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