The last time Zac Taylor went up against the New England Patriots he was still a part of the Los Angeles Rams’ coaching staff: working as the quarterbacks coach under Sean McVay, Taylor helped his team reach the Super Bowl. The game did not end well for the then-35-year-old and the Rams, however, as the Patriots defense delivered a historic performance and shut down the high-flying offensive attack en route to a 13-3 victory.
This week, Taylor will have his chance to get revenge against New England as the reigning world champions travel to Ohio to take on his Cincinnati Bengals. Taylor took over the organization during the offseason after it had parted ways with long-time head coach Marvin Lewis, and his fingerprints are already all over the team’s offense: according to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, the Rams’ DNA can certainly be found in Cincinnati.
“With Zac and Coach [Brian] Callahan, who’s the offensive coordinator, there’s certainly a strong Rams presence in what they do,” said Belichick during a conference call earlier this week. “That’s a little different than what they’ve had there the past few years under Marvin, but similar to what the Rams do. But of course, it’s different players and it’s different matchups, and they’ve certainly modified some things.”
“Not everything is the same as the Rams, but that’s certainly the basis of it,” added Belichick. While the same basic principles are now installed in Cincinnati, the offensive success of the Bengals is not the same as the one L.A. had just last season: while the Rams averaged 30.5 offensive points over the course of the 2018 regular season, Taylor’s new team is only scoring a mere 14.5 points per contest through its offense.
But while success may have eluded the team’s offense so far this season, Belichick made sure to point out what the 1-12 Bengals have done well — a conversation that quickly brought him to the defensive side of the ball, where he also sees a shift away from how Cincinnati played when Marvin Lewis was still the head coach between 2003 and 2018.
“There’s a lot of players that we’ve got to deal with there, but number one, we’re going to have to deal with the front and be able to handle that,” said Belichick when speaking about the unit of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. “Schematically that’s a little different than the package that Marvin ran. Although upfront the players are similar, I’d say that the schematics are a little bit different than Coach Lewis’ from last year.”
“With Coach Anarumo, there’s a very aggressive front mentality,” Belichick also noted when talking a Cincinnati defense that is surrendering 22.8 points per game. “These guys are very good up front — [Sam] Hubbard, [Geno] Atkins, [Carlos] Dunlap. They have some very explosive and disruptive players up there that they cause a lot of problems, and they do a good job of creating negative plays and just generally being disruptive.”
While the Bengals have changed on offense and defense due to the arrival of Taylor and his new staff, there is one area in which the team remains mostly unchanged in terms of its schematic foundation according to Belichick: the kicking game. While the new head coach brought 16 assistants on board from the outside after getting hired, he did retain special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and his assistant Brayden Coombs.
“I’d say probably where things have been the most consistent is on special teams, and that’s with Darrin Simmons,” Belichick said about the veteran coach. “Darrin’s been with the Bengals since, I want to say, ‘03, so over 15 years. So, schematically they’ve always been one of the best special teams units that we’ve faced. Darrin does a great job with fundamentals, techniques, and his units are always very well-prepared.”
Being prepared also is the Patriots’ hallmark, and they certainly were the last time they went up against a team that had Taylor on its staff. But while there are some natural connections to the Rams, the Bengals present a different challenge — albeit one that does not appear to be as daunting.