Which Bengals coaches face the most pressure entering the 2020 season?
Coaching matters in all sports, but NFL coaches are arguably the most important to the success of their team. Head coaches and their staff set the tone in the locker room, guide the direction of the team, and install plays that [hopefully] get results on the field.
The 2020 preseason is canceled, ramp-up time has been increased, and along the way, coaches around the league have been forced to adjust to no in-person meetings or workouts.
The staff that can navigate these waters most effectively and have their team ready with a congruent game plan in September has the best chance of lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
Coaching is going to be even more crucial than normal this year.
Let's find out which key Bengals coaches enter the season with the most pressure to perform.
1. Al Golden - Linebackers Coach
The fulcrum for the entire trajectory of this defense, the Bengals linebackers have been the lowest-graded group in the league over the past two seasons according to Pro Football Focus and they haven't brought in any heavy hitters to serve as a quick fix.
Josh Bynes played well in Baltimore last season, but he's a journeyman. The Bengals are asking him to lead a young linebacker unit. Al Golden has his work cut out for him. He’ll have multiple rookies contributing and possibly starting at linebacker.
Golden brings an extensive resume with him to Paul Brown Stadium. He’ll have to tap into that experience to get the best out of this group. Head coaching stints at the University of Miami and Temple University should play right into Golden's ability to command the room and lead young players.
Fresh off occupying the same position with the Detroit Lions the past two years, Golden has to help fix a run defense that allowed 148.9 yards per game last year, which was last in the NFL. The Lions ranked 21st in yards per game last season but faced the seventh-most attempts in the league and kept the explosive run (10-plus yards) percentage at 8.8 percent (best in the NFL).
The Bengals desperately need Golden to bring some of those metrics to The Jungle.
2. Jim Turner - Offensive Line Coach
The Bengals offensive line has struggled in recent seasons, mostly because of bad drafting. Last season was arguably the nadir for the unit in Jim Turner's first season.
None of the Bengals offensive linemen that played 500 or more snaps finished with a grade of 63 or better according to PFF. Trey Hopkins (62.8 Overall Grade) proved he was a capable starter, but was far from a standout.
The pressure on Turner ramped up significantly in April when the Bengals selected Joe Burrow. His number one priority is to keep the top pick upright.
One of the only positive metrics for Andy Dalton last season was his pressure rate, which was a league-low 22.6 percent. The execution didn't follow as his DVOA under pressure ranked 28th in the league. Burrow thrived to the tune of 15 touchdowns, 69 percent completion, and a record 146.5 passer rating on those plays while being pressured at a 31 percent clip.
Burrow’s ability to move in the pocket should mask some of the Bengals’ deficiencies up front, but Turner has to find a way to make lemonade out of these lemons.
A ready-made Jonah Williams at left tackle could be the bellwether for this offense. According to PFF, the Alabama-product posted an 88.6 pass-blocking grade in 2018, the seventh best in the FBS that year, and was one of just seven tackles to log 400 pass-block snaps and not allow a single sack.
Turner can be an acquired taste for some players, but he'll need to connect with these big fellas quickly.
3. Zac Taylor - Head Coach
Taylor sits in the middle of these rankings because his 2019 performance was nearly impossible to evaluate. A.J. Green never played a snap, the offensive line was dreadful and the defense was a saloon door all season.
Now the second-year head coach has to deal with COVID-19.
Taylor hasn't been able to connect with his players in person. He had to install the playbook virtually, which is a big challenge. He’ll have to make up for lost time when the entire team walks into Paul Brown Stadium this week.
How many LSU plays have been integrated? How will the base offense look under Burrow compared to Dalton?
These are questions that will start to be answered in the coming weeks.
Taylor is the maestro for an upcoming schedule that no coach in the history of the league has had to maneuver. Having to ramp up the team quickly and safely, while also making sure his franchise quarterback is ready for week one.
Then there's the actual in-game performance. Taylor has to find a way to win one score games. The Bengals went 0-8 in games decided by seven points or less last season. Taylor did show the willingness to adapt, which helped Joe Mixon get going in the second half of 2019.
Taylor is facing a lot of the same issues the other 31 head coaches are dealing with, but he has to prove that he’s the right person to lead Burrow and the Bengals into the new era.
4. Brian Callahan - Offensive Coordinator
Callahan has a lot in common with Taylor, even though he has a little less responsibility. The two work as a joint brain trust to craft the Bengals offense, and they need to find a way to turn some of the wasted offensive production into points.
The 2019 Bengals ranked 26th in total yards per game, but finished 30th in points scored and 29th in Football Outsiders Total DVOA. Callahan has to find a way to get the most out of this offense, while molding a new quarterback. Before being named Bengals offensive coordinator, Callahan was a quarterbacks coach in Detroit and Oakland.
Callahan coached Matthew Stafford for two seasons (2016-17). Stafford ranked in the top-10 among quarterbacks in touchdown passes (53), completions (759), completion percentage (65.5), passing yards (8,773), and interception percentage (1.7) over that span. The Lions ranked seventh in points per game (25.4 PPG) during the 2017 season.
The next year Callahan moved on to coach Raiders quarterback Derek Carr — who had a similar jump as Stafford — notching a career-high 4,049 passing yards and a 93.9 passer rating. Carr also led the AFC in completion percentage (68.9) and ranked fourth in total completions (381). None of those numbers translated to the scoreboard, as Oakland finished 28th in scoring (18.1 PPG).
The seven-point difference in production can be traced to air yards per attempt. In 2018, Carr had the lowest AYPA in the league at 6.7, while in 2017 Stafford notched 8.0 AYPA.
Look for Callahan to have Burrow push the ball downfield consistently to get the most out of a potentially explosive Bengals offense.