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In The Situation Room

 

Hobson_Geoff

Geoff Hobson

SENIOR WRITER

 
 

Head Coach Zac Taylor (left) and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo (right)

Zac Taylor (left) checking in with DC Lou Anarumo.

While the Bengals rookies prepare to take the field for the first time Friday and Saturday, new head coach Zac Taylor’s quarterback-laced offensive staff quietly continues to grind out its first playbook with brainpower ranging from the 2006 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year plaque to usurping Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino's milestone to Division III’s The Cortaca Jug.

“Let me clarify,” says offensive assistant Dan Pitcher, who twice quarterbacked The Cortaca Jug home to Cortland State with wins in the heated rivalry against Ithaca College. “Those other guys played at a higher level than me.”

Let’s see. Taylor won the Big 12 award quarterbacking Nebraska. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan was the backup on UCLA bowl teams. Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt passed Marino to become the University of Pittsburgh’s all-time passing leader and then backed up Jim Kelly in the pros before becoming a QB whisperer to Aaron Rodgers, a future Hall-of-Famer. Offensive assistant Brad Kragthorpe completed his only pass as an LSU backup.

And then there’s Pitcher, the assistant quarterbacks coach who went 19-4 as a starter at Cortland while getting a degree in psychology and a master’s in sports management. The 32-year-old Pitcher has received high marks in his three previous seasons with the Bengals, but he’s also emblematic of Taylor’s new best-and-brightest kitchen cabinet of Xs and Os. Van Pelt, 49, is the only one of the five older than 35, although he’s obviously adjusted better than most as the NFL has gone from his smash-mouth ‘90s to Taylor’s spread-bred roaring ‘20s.

Taylor’s staff is mirroring the evolution to fast and furious. With 21 assistants it’s the largest coaching staff in Bengals history and it has allowed Taylor to break the game down into even more compartments. For instance, he’s asked Pitcher to take on the responsibility of researching game situation management and there are indications that’s going to be a focus for him in the booth on Sundays.

“One of the things he mentioned to me was spending time in the area of game management, clock management, whatever you want to call it, although I think situational sums it up best,” Pitcher says. “He felt it would be an area I can specialize in a little bit and be a help to him there. It’s something I’ve always had an interest in and I’m really excited about it.”

Across the hall is Pitcher’s biggest resource. The special teams coordinator is traditionally the one assistant coach that spends time helping the head coach with game management. And Darrin Simmons has seen every situation imaginable as he heads into his 17th season directing the Bengals kicking game. But he’ll be the first to tell you we’re a far cry from that 2003 opening kickoff Brandon Bennett returned 16 yards against the Broncos. Game management is no longer a secondary topic.

“That’s a lot of what football is any more. It’s all based on situations,” Simmons says. “It’s just not grinding it out play after play. It’s more important now because of how offenses move quicker, faster. They’re scoring quicker. It’s not so much ground-and-pound as it used to be at one time. I don’t think this is the black-and-blue division any more where Pittsburgh always tried to run it and Jamal Lewis was in Baltimore and Corey Dillon was here.”

 

Dan Pitcher is one of Zac Taylor's QBs.

Dan Pitcher is one of Zac Taylor's QBs.

Pitcher is not only taking to Simmons, but anybody who’ll come into his office with a scenario. You can bet that he’s already taken a look at the Saints’ massive clock screw-up on offense in the final two minutes of the NFL title game that put Taylor’s Rams in the Super Bowl.

“You can take advantage of the new people in the building because everybody brings their own experiences,” Pitcher says. “You’ve got a head coach who was heavily invested in that game so you're looking at everything. He’s conveyed to me that (game management) is important to him. It’s one of the first things he mentioned to me.”

Just this week wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell walked into Pitcher’s office with as story pulled up on his iPad detailing the Giants’ infamous 2015 loss to the Cowboys even though they had a first down on the Cowboys 4 with 1:54 left and needing just a field goal to win.

Pitcher immediately zaps the game up on his screen, but it is like trying to follow a nuclear fission lecture. With 2:25 left Dallas got a timeout back because they were called for unnecessary roughness. Then an illegal formation call on the Giants with 2:17 stopped the clock without Dallas calling a timeout. Then with the ball on the 4, running back Rashad Jennings was oddly told not to score. On third down, Eli Manning threw an incomplete pass. Death. If he fell down, the clock would have wound under a minute before the Giants kicked a field goal. Instead, the apparent winner was kicked with 1:37 left to put the Giants up, 26-24. But Tony Romo had plenty of time to do you know what.

“It’s studying what’s going on across the league,” Pitcher says. “What I’d like to do is put in place a mechanism during the year to continue to study and work on these different scenarios in a schedule throughout the week. End of half. End of game. Backed up. Short yardage. Goal-line, short-yardage plays. Challenges. No two games are alike, no two drives are alike. It’s all about variables. We’ve got some time to research, ask questions and find answers.”

One of the reasons that Simmons has noticed the mushrooming of game management is the amount of data that has been generated the past few years on the subject.

Presto. After he wipes the screen clean of the Giant debacle, this is what Pitcher could find with a search engine rivalling Apollo 11’s discovery of Tranquility Base: all four-minute situations with a point differential of nine points or less and the trailing team has two timeouts.

“I can plug that into a search query and get a cutup of every scenario that matches all that criteria and study how the game played out,” Pitcher says.

But Simmons says the numbers also have to have a feel to them.

 

Darrin Simmons has seen a lot of situations heading into his 17th season.

Darrin Simmons has seen a lot of situations heading into his 17th season.

“Do you kick or go for it on fourth down?” Simmons asks. “It can be based on how your offense is playing, how your defense is playing. In addition to how your opponent is playing. Maybe the opponent had a good first half, then we made half-time adjustments and we shut them down. Now maybe we kick that field goal because we’re not in a shootout. Analytics has become a big part, but there’s also a feel to it.”

 

Numbers, feel. Flow of game. File it all under “Game Management.”

“You’re able to put more people in charge of peripheral things,” Simmons says of the expanded staff. “I’m not saying (situations) is a peripheral thing. But it’s not a core installation thing. I think we’re making it that to make us aware. I think it heightens our awareness of those situations.”

No one is more aware of the situations than Simmons. In the last two seasons the Bengals have allowed the foe to score in the last two minutes of the half 22 times. Twice in five of those games. And eleven times in the last two minutes of a game.

“I don’t think it’s mismanagement from a game standpoint,” Simmons says. “It comes down to execution. We have to play better on offense and defense in those situations. It’s the players understanding from a time standpoint what they can or can’t do. When do we take chances? When not to take chances? When can we certainly not have a foul?”

So as the spring silently grinds, so does Pitcher. He’s marking up iPads and cutups and has a long list of questions for the officials when they arrive in the next couple of weeks. He’s kind of doing what he always does when he’s home kicking back and watching a game on Monday night or Thursday night. Maybe shooting a pic on his phone. Maybe putting notes in his laptop.

 

“It’s an opportunity to watch something and ask yourself the question,” Pitcher says. “Do you agree with what they’re doing? How would we do it better? There’s not always a hard and fast answer. But you have to ask.”

 

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If only Marvin had done this.

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6 minutes ago, Jason said:

If only Marvin had done this.

 

He would have had to know it was even a thing at all before he could do it himself. 

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While it's a breath of fresh air to hear anyone in the hierarchy of this organization talk about this stuff, it's also odd how they're talking like they've stumbled onto something new. Any sport where the game ends when the clock expires, the coaching is extremely situational as you're trying to catch up or protect a lead. Always has been. If this is their way of saying they're going to do what was sorely lacking for years here, good. Hope they do. 

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1 hour ago, A Rock said:

While it's a breath of fresh air to hear anyone in the hierarchy of this organization talk about this stuff, it's also odd how they're talking like they've stumbled onto something new. Any sport where the game ends when the clock expires, the coaching is extremely situational as you're trying to catch up or protect a lead. Always has been. If this is their way of saying they're going to do what was sorely lacking for years here, good. Hope they do. 

 

There's been a lot of this sort of "not quite an apology/admission of guilt" stuff coming out of the team with this transition.  Like they're not going to admit they were the ones who puked cabernet all over your rug at the houseparty, and don't hold your breath on an apology, but coincidentally they got you a new area rug for Xmas.

 

Expect a Gatorade endorsement and a Carson Palmer autograph night to be announced any day now.  :ninja:

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Just finished reading this article this morning and had the same thought as everybody else....it's the complete anti-Marvin.

It certainly will be interesting and hopefully exciting to see a new staff with a more modern approach to a game that has been transforming quickly.

One other thing - I keep reading about this being the largest coaching staff we've had. I can't help but feel like that may be a big advantage over the Marvin era.

It's all good this time of year!!

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3 hours ago, fluhartz said:

in before boy wonder comments!!!

 

None coming. Other than it will be so impressive to see how 21 (or heck, just make it 50) new and used coaches will have all of the ipad answers if 18 (heck, just make it 20) players make it to IR by mid-season.   

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I like the idea of focusing on details/small stuff and it's smart to embrace analytics (even if way too late).  Probably explains why they hired a record number of assistants.  It's a big change from conservative, old school Marvin and it's something this franchise has never tried before.  

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For a "smash-mouth ‘90s to Taylor’s spread-bred roaring ‘20s" there is an awful lot of emphasis on OLine (with good reason). RB & TE (took a second rounder because of his blocking).  Seems like smash-mouth prep to me.  I could even see them with as many 2 TE formations as 3 or 4 WR spreads (especially if there isn't a WR upgrade beyond Green & Boyd).

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3 hours ago, Le Tigre said:

...will have all of the ipad answers if 18 (heck, just make it 20) players make it to IR by mid-season. 

seriously, what answers would ANY staff have if that happened?

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39 minutes ago, spicoli said:

seriously, what answers would ANY staff have if that happened?

Tua Tagovailoa

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1 hour ago, spicoli said:

seriously, what answers would ANY staff have if that happened?

Correct. Just like a season ago. 

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54 minutes ago, Le Tigre said:

Correct. Just like a season ago. 

 

6c47a24915921f0491a26c70431d28c7.png

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58 minutes ago, Le Tigre said:

Correct. Just like a season ago. 

Last year didn't cost Marvin his job.  The last 3 years did.  It was time for him to go.  Sorry if you don't like the new guy, but I don't have any nostalgia for the Marvin era.  

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2 hours ago, Le Tigre said:

Correct. Just like a season ago. 

yeah I don't blame Marv for last year.

doesn't mean it wasn't time for him to make like a tree and leaf however.

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3 hours ago, Inigo Montoya said:

Last year didn't cost Marvin his job.  The last 3 years did.  It was time for him to go.  Sorry if you don't like the new guy, but I don't have any nostalgia for the Marvin era.  

 

Ol' Musty made it pretty clear in the exit press conference that they only fired him because the fans were at a breaking point.   It was the prospect of an empty stadium that got it done, not the FO's concern for the team's W-L record.  I think ownership is just fine with the team hovering around 8-8 & being "competitive".  

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The stadium will be no fuller or emptier this season regardless. The remnants of the fan base core left a long time ago. What remains--or being courted--are people who will be there if you just open the gates (like me!), or the Pick-3/got them from my brother in law this week types. The latter come and go in consistent numbers each year--and makes no difference who the coach or QB is. 

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4 hours ago, Inigo Montoya said:

Last year didn't cost Marvin his job.  The last 3 years did.  It was time for him to go.  Sorry if you don't like the new guy, but I don't have any nostalgia for the Marvin era.  

Have nothing against this kid, probably is a bright sort and a decent fellow. Mostly any mockery coming my way, is for the yakkity yak squawking heads in the media who make any football coach who has run the distance of their interest, the equivalent of a half-wit homeless person. In turn, they feed the ravenous public the annual wunderkind replacements as "the next bright star", until they too disinterest them. And then, on to the next one. The monotony is only exceeded by its predictability. 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Le Tigre said:

The stadium will be no fuller or emptier this season regardless. The remnants of the fan base core left a long time ago. What remains--or being courted--are people who will be there if you just open the gates (like me!), or the Pick-3/got them from my brother in law this week types. The latter come and go in consistent numbers each year--and makes no difference who the coach or QB is. 

 

I mean.. Sure, ok, but watch the press conference again.  It was plain as day that Redeemer was annoyed by having to replace Marvin & blamed the fans for having to upset his apple cart.  He would've happily kept Marvin another 20 years.

 

Imagine what this franchise would look like if the NFL checks were slotted to your standing at the end of the season.  Of course, they are even less interested in seeing this team succeed.  Again they're just subsidizing the Washington Generals so Brady or whoever has someone in a different color jersey to dunk on.

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A very wise thought.

 

Oh well. Right...back to the Army of IPads-saving-the-franchises, brought to you by HyundBuru.

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12 hours ago, Le Tigre said:

The stadium will be no fuller or emptier this season regardless. The remnants of the fan base core left a long time ago. What remains--or being courted--are people who will be there if you just open the gates (like me!), or the Pick-3/got them from my brother in law this week types. The latter come and go in consistent numbers each year--and makes no difference who the coach or QB is. 

If the team goes on a 2005 type run and the play is exciting fans will return.  If the team reverts to the 2009 playoff team that was as boring as watching T-Dub clean his garage there won’t be as many.  

 

The team had plenty of fans from 2005-07. Everything went downhill after the quitter hurt his shoulder. 

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54 minutes ago, SF2 said:

If the team goes on a 2005 type run and the play is exciting fans will return.  If the team reverts to the 2009 playoff team that was as boring as watching T-Dub clean his garage there won’t be as many.  

 

The team ran had plenty of fans from 2005-07. Everything went downhill after the quitter hurt his shoulder. 

2009 was pretty exciting, if in a different way then 2005.  I will take a "low flying" team that sweeps the division any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

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