Sometimes the most obvious things can be the hardest to see.
For instance, the arrow in the FedEx logo:
It’s supposed to be a subliminal message that speaks to the company’s precision and delivery speed. I think it was first shown to me on a family trip to North Carolina many years ago. One of my cousins asked me if I could spot the arrow in the logo as a delivery truck passed. I stared and stared, only to come up empty.
“Between the E and the X,” she said.
Surely she was joking… I wasn’t that naive. But yet, there it was, clear as day.
Since then, I don’t even see the letters when a FedEx truck passes, all I notice is that arrow.
As this NFL season winds to a close, many conversations are happening about coaches and their job security. Rounding out what looks like another two-win season, Zac Taylor’s name has been thrown around as someone who could be on the hot seat. At the very least, certain assistants like defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and offensive line coach Jim Turner seem to be coaching for their job.
Many want all these guys fired, others want them to stay for a third season.
In an effort to keep an objective and big picture outlook, I never really planted a flag in either camp. I just watched as games kept passing by like delivery trucks on the interstate. One score losses, twenty-one point blown leads, missed last-second field goals, injured franchise quarterbacks. I watched them all go by, trying to stay optimistic and choosing not to look at the ugly truth.
But last week’s game pointed out the FedEx arrow. It was an ugly loss that featured dirty hits, a brawl, and a couple of Cincinnati ejections. Tack on a dreadful offensive performance that saw its only score come on a dump off that Tyler Boyd took 72 yards to the house, and you’ve got the recipe for an embarrassing Sunday that grabs people’s attention. It blurred the line between past and present, reminding me of the Pacman Jones and Vontaze Burfict days while grounding me in the offensively inefficient Zac Taylor era.
And I didn’t like it. At all.
Neither of the character nor communication that Zac Taylor has preached since he became the organization’s leader were even remotely on display. And for someone who was brought in to be an offensive guru, the next Sean McVay, even, Taylor’s offense has been dreadful without Joe Burrow. It’s understandable for an offense to take a step back when a franchise QB goes down, but it shouldn’t fall off a cliff. Look at the 49ers with Nick Mullens. Or the Saints with Taysom Hill. Good coaches can make up for their team’s deficiencies, and it becomes more and more clear every week that Taylor can’t. In fact, it’s become quite clear that the exact opposite was the case in Cincinnati: Burrow was what made the second-year coach look good.
If you’re the Bengals organization, how can you keep trotting 4-23-1 out there and expect anything different?
If there was an arrow in the Bengals logo, it would be pointing to both the left and the right. Forget precision and speed, it would symbolize indifference and stagnation. A willingness to wallow in mediocrity. A delivery driver who knows he gets paid by the hour and is more than happy to take his time getting that package to you.
I’m not certain firing Zac Taylor or his assistants is the answer, but you get the feeling keeping them in town isn’t it either.
Today, the Dallas Cowboys and a friendly face return to Paul Brown Stadium. It’s a matchup between teams that currently hold the third and fourth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. I’ve got lots to say about this matchup, but first, let’s recap some Bengals news from the week.
Joe Burrow celebrated a birthday this week
QB1 turned 24 on Thursday.
Happy Birthday, @JoeyB! ?
The comeback is going to be special! pic.twitter.com/zGkJUPHflk
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 10, 2020
His college teammate Sam Hubbard shared how Burrow has stayed engaged with the team while recovering from his season-ending injury.
“He loves to stay engaged. See what’s going on in the locker room. How guys are feeling.” – Sam Hubbard on how Joe Burrow is feeling. pic.twitter.com/3vUB776GL7
— Lindsay Patterson (@LndsPatterson) December 10, 2020
Auden Tate underwent successful shoulder surgery
#Bengals WR Auden Tate underwent successful shoulder surgery this morning by Dr. James Andrews to repair a torn labrum, source said. Tate is looking at a 4-6 month recovery, putting him on track to be ready for training camp.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 8, 2020
Looking forward to watching Tate’s return to action next season after he showed some promising flashes in 2020.
Joe Mixon won’t play this week
Despite being eligible to return from the IR, running back Joe Mixon won’t suit up this weekend.
Bengals RB Joe Mixon will not play this week versus Dallas, per Zac Taylor.
— Santa Baby (@Ben_Baby) December 9, 2020
Mixon continues to nurse a foot injury, and the team is clearly not interested in rushing him back. The clock is quickly ticking away for the season, and it feels like we’ve seen the last of #28 in 2020.
Jonah Williams placed on IR
The Bengals LT seemed to suffer a serious injury towards the end of last week’s game as his knee got rolled up on, but it turned out to not be as bad as it looked.
Zac Taylor said Jonah Williams could be back in Week 17. His right knee injury isn’t as severe as they originally expected. #Bengals
— Tyler Dragon (@TheTylerDragon) December 9, 2020
Despite being placed on the IR, effectively ending his 2020 season, the Bengals dodged a bullet, as Williams should be good to go in 2021.
Geno Atkins receives Bengals nomination for Walter Payton Man of the Year award
Congrats to @GenoSacks on being named our Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Nominee! ?
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 10, 2020
Atkins does a ton for the surrounding community, so this comes as no surprise. It would be cool to see someone in stripes win it this year.
Alright, let’s get into it. Bengals/Cowboys talk coming as soon as I let you know I’m open…
Chad Johnson used to call Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson up at 2am, tell em’ that he was open and then hang up. ? pic.twitter.com/bmLT3tsSX7
— Kip Smithers ? (@Chughes612) December 8, 2020
Four things to know
1. It’s the Sewell Bowl. Currently, the Bengals hold the third overall pick in the draft. The Cowboys are one spot behind them. It’s assumed that the Jets and Jaguars will earn the first and second overall picks and use both on franchise QBs, meaning Oregon LT Penei Sewell, one of the best offensive line prospects in recent memory, will most likely be available for whichever team picks third. Both the Cowboys and Bengals would certainly be interested in Sewell’s services, and a loss today for either club could go a long way in ensuring they get just that.
2. The Red Rifle returns. Today, Andy Dalton makes his first trip to Paul Brown Stadium as a visitor. He’s been filling in for the Dallas Cowboys since Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury earlier this season. He’s struggled, going 1-4 in his five starts and throwing seven touchdowns to go with six interceptions. He spoke earlier this week on his return to the Queen City.
Andy Dalton with the Dallas media today.
— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) December 10, 2020
Back to Cincinnati ? pic.twitter.com/P3tbKGYIbb
— Elite Andy Dalton (@EvilAndyDalton) December 9, 2020
3. The Cowboys defense is bad
As poor as we think the Bengals’ defense has been, Dallas has been worse. Mike McCarthy’s bunch is allowing a league-worst 167.8 rushing yards per game and a league-worst 32.8 points per game. They haven’t been able to stop anyone, not even remotely.
It’s getting close to franchise-record level:
Most points scored against the Dallas Cowboys in a season:
There are four games left to play.
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 10, 2020
It’s the perfect opportunity for this Cincinnati team to get some offense going.
4. Cincinnati hasn’t scored in the third quarter since Week 7. That was seven long weeks ago. It’s hard to win games when you fail to establish any momentum in the second half. Could we see that change today against the league’s worst defense?
Three players to watch
1. Andy Dalton, Cowboys QB
It’s a revenge game for Andy Dalton, who, after leading Cincinnati for eight years, was benched and subsequently cut last season. He signed with the Cowboys as a backup, and after Dak Prescott’s injury, has found himself leading America’s team. Dalton’s gone 1-4 in five starts, but it’s not all his fault. After all, Dak Prescott had to throw for 450 yards a game for Dallas to have a shot to win earlier in the season thanks to its horrendous defense.
2. Drew Sample, Bengals TE
The former second-round pick is slowly rounding into form in his sophomore season. He tied a career-high in receptions last week and looks to have a repeat performance this week against a Dallas defense that’s allowed six receiving touchdowns to tight ends this year.
Joe Goodberry provided some good analysis of Sample’s performance versus Miami and what we should expect from him moving forward:
Drew Sample had a game against Miami that looked like what we should expect.
7 targets, 7 receptions, 49 yards
73.1 Run Blocking grade (PFF)
His run blocking grade is 4th in the NFL. Pass pro is 10th amongst TEs with 50% of the snaps.
33 catches for 301 yards on the year
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) December 8, 2020
3. William Jackson III, Bengals CB
WJ3 has quietly had an excellent 2020. He’s been shadowing opposing receivers and has limited some of the league’s best, and without a doubt earned himself some money when free agency rolls around this offseason.
For reference, he shut down A.J. Brown back in Week 8.
For folks wondering where AJ Brown is, William Jackson is shadowing him, as expected. Jackson has been elite this season.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) November 1, 2020
Then last week he clamped Devante Parker.
DeVante Parker ejected. William Jackson shadowed him today, as expected, and held him to 2 catches for 18 yards on 6 targets, per @NextGenStats (Parker had 2 for 18 yards away from Jackson)
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) December 6, 2020
This week he’ll most likely face Amari Cooper, the only Dallas Cowboy whose offensive production hasn’t taken a nosedive since Dalton took over at QB. In their five games together, Cooper has 395 receiving yards and three scores. He and Jackson III should be fun to watch today.
Two names to know
1. Trevon Diggs, Cowboys CB
The 2020 first-round pick has been the leader of Dallas’s secondary, which has been the best unit on the Cowboys defense. Diggs and company are allowing a sixth-best 216.8 passing yards per game, which could be buoyed by the fact that opposing teams haven’t needed to rely on the pass since they’ve been able to get whatever they want on the ground. Today should some provide some clarity to that situation, as Cincinnati has one of the league’s worst rushing offenses and is forced to throw the ball at a high clip.
Diggs should see a lot of fellow rookie Tee Higgins today, which will make for some good competition.
2. A.J. Green, Bengals WR
Yes, the A.J. Green who started off his career with seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. He still plays for this 2020 Bengals team. But you may have forgotten, as Green hasn’t caught a single pass in back to back weeks. That needs to change this week, and Brandon Allen knows it. He’s spoken to the media already about targeting Green more often, especially early in the game. I’d expect to see him in the box score this week. Hopefully.
One way the Bengals can win
Cincinnati should be extremely well-versed in Andy Dalton’s strengths and weaknesses as a QB. But if not, I’ll make it as simple as possible: If he gets to go to his first read, it’s a completion and it looks easy. If you take away his first read, you’ve got him beat.
That’s the recipe for a Bengals win. Make Dalton uncomfortable by forcing him to go through his progressions. That’s when his eyes drop and his knees buckle, leading him to either take a sack or scamper out of the pocket and loft one out of bounds. We know it all too well.
But, of course, that’s assuming the Cincinnati offense, which has been the worst in the NFL since Burrow got hurt, can muster a few scoring drives.
1 p.m. on FOX. Penei Sewell and I will see you there.