Bengals' offense, Zac Taylor looking for answers after sluggish start

Zac Taylor's Bengals offense ranks 31st in yards per play and 17th in points per drive thus far in 2022. Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor sighed before answering another question about the state of his offense.

Through five games, a team poised to have one of the most productive offenses in the NFL was often found sputtering. After Cincinnati's 19-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football, Taylor was peppered with questions about the team's struggles and whether he had considered giving up playcalling duties.


That doesnt appear to be in the cards. But Taylor knows the offense must improve in order for the defending AFC champions to have a shot of making another deep playoff run.

"We're 2-3," Taylor said of the team's record entering Sunday's game at the New Orleans Saints (1 p.m. ET, CBS). "To say we've been successful is hard to say. So, we're going to continue to work as a unit and coaching staff and find ways to have a better flow through the course of the game and score more points."

Cincinnati has been just short in its three defeats. After Justin Tucker's field goal as time expired gave Baltimore a win over the Bengals on Sunday, Cincinnati became the first team in NFL history to lose three of their first five games on the final play, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Taylor said Monday that the defeats have altered the perception of the team's offensive quality. But a deeper look at the numbers suggest otherwise.

When it comes to simple stats, the Bengals rank poorly in yards per play (31st) and points per drive (17th). An advanced metric, such as expected points added per play, also paints Cincinnati in a poor light (24th).

At the beginning of the season, Cincinnati had the makings of a potential top-5 offense. The unit featured one of the NFL's best receiving trios, one of the league's top, young quarterbacks (Joe Burrow), a Pro Bowl running back (Joe Mixon) and an overhauled offensive line.

But the explosive plays Cincinnati thrived on last season have been absent, most notably the deep passes from Burrow to wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year. Opposing defenses have forced Burrow to take short, simple throws instead of the big chunks that enabled the Bengals to lead the NFL in yards per pass attempt a year ago.

On Sunday, the Ravens became the latest team to neutralize that threat by playing soft zone coverages.

"If teams are going to play us like that, then that's what we have to do," Burrow said after the game. "There's just nothing down the field if teams are going to play us like they did today."

Because every unit is seemingly one of strength, the scrutiny is placed on Taylor, who has fielded questions about his playcalling ability at various points throughout his four-year stint with the Bengals.

When asked if giving up that role had been considered, Taylor answered by adding the effort is collaborative, hence the indifference on who is actually delivering the playcalls to Burrow.

"Whether it's coming out of my mouth or somebody else's, it all gets the same end result," Taylor said.

The primary issue for Cincinnati's struggles is the inability to start games quickly. In the team's two victories, the Bengals have scored on the opening drive and played with a lead. The three losses all featured a common trait -- falling behind by 10 or more points in the first half. Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd agreed with Taylor about starting games better. Boyd also endorsed the offense as a whole.

"I think we got a great scheme," Boyd said Monday. "I think everything is built and structured the way it should be."

So far, it hasn't looked the way it should. And Week 5 ended with a reminder that quality offenses can operate regardless of the score. On Monday night, the Kansas City Chiefs fell in a 17-0 hole to the Las Vegas Raiders before storming back to eventually win 30-29. Kansas City leads the NFL in points per drive.

The Bengals know they're capable of producing like the best teams in the league. That's what makes the beginning of this season so frustrating.

"We are what our record says we are," said Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "We're a 2-3 football team that's not produced and played on offense as good as we're capable of."