Bengals’ Zac Taylor borrowed from 49ers, Kyle Shanahan to build team

SANTA CLARA — The Cincinnati Bengals have ascended to a power position in the AFC in part because coach Zac Taylor paid close attention to the 49ers.

The Bengals are 3-3 and like the 49ers have knocked on the door of winning a Super Bowl championship in each of the last two years without getting the ultimate payoff.

Taylor, 40, was a surprise hire in 2019 in that his only stint as an offensive coordinator was in 2015 with Miami, having taken over play-calling duties for the last five games after Bill Lazor was fired.

Before joining the Bengals, Taylor was the wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and quarterbacks coach for a team that advanced to the Super Bowl under Sean McVay in 2018.

While with the Rams, Taylor watched the NFC West rival 49ers closely. After they went 6-10 in 2017 and 4-12 in 2018 following quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s torn ACL, the 49ers took off in 2019 and went 13-3.

In Taylor’s first two seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals were 2-14 and 4-11-1.

“I know they had some quarterback injuries and in the third year they went to the Super Bowl,” Taylor told reporters this week in advance of their road game against the 49res (5-2) Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Cincinnati, like the 49ers, took wing in Year 3. In 2021 they won the AFC North with a 10-7 record, then beat the Raiders 26-19 in a wild card game, Tennessee 19-16 in the divisional playoff and stunned the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in overtime in for the AFC title. Last season, the Bengals went 12-4 and made the AFC title game but lost 23-20 on a last-second field goal against the Chiefs.

“I’ve always looked at San Francisco as a good template of how you can build and continue to evolve to get where you want to be and maintain that level of consistency,” Taylor said. “They’ve really been the standard of that.”

Shanahan knows Taylor from NFL owners meetings as well as the fact that he once worked with Mike Sherman on the offensive staff in Houston. Sherman is Taylor’s father-in-law. When Taylor’s first Cincinnati teams were struggling, Shanahan had a ready response regarding his rough first year with the 49ers.

“It’s real easy for me to say, ‘Don’t worry, at least you didn’t start out 0-9,’ ” Shanahan said. “I can always give that support to people. He’s done a hell of a job from where they’ve come from and where they are now.”

Taylor said he even showed film clips of the 49ers to the Bengals, hoping to show them the way to success.

“Our first year, we weren’t very good. Our attention to detail wasn’t great, our level of coaching at times wasn’t great,” Taylor said. “In 2020, we made some progress, and there was a path that San Francisco has shown people how it can occur.”

Brandon Allen, the 49ers’ No. 3 quarterback, was the backup to Joe Burrow in Cincinnati from 2020 through 2022 under Taylor.


While Allen doesn’t remember actually watching 49ers film, he can see the similarities between the organizations.

“I don’t know if it was discussed with the players as much as it was an overarching philosophy of what he wanted his team to look like,” Allen said. “Since Kyle came here, this team is sound, they play extremely hard and extremely physical and that’s what Zac wanted for his team when he took over the Bengals.”

Allen, 31, signed with the 49ers even though at the time they already had Purdy, Trey Lance and had also signed Darnold.

Why would Allen join a team as a fourth quarterback rather than seek a backup opportunity elsewhere?

Familiarity played a part. While Taylor never coached with Shanahan, he did work under McVay with the Rams. Shanahan and McVay both began their NFL coaching careers under Jon Gruden with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then were on staff together in Washington under Mike Shanahan.

“I can see some similarities here and there, certain things,” Allen said of Taylor and Shanahan. “They’re both offensive-minded guys and they can see defenses from a quarterback perspective really well. Probably the biggest similarity I’ve noticed is how Kyle sees defenses and attacks certain things and I think Zac does a good job seeing things the same way.”

Allen also worked with offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello as a reserve quarterback in Denver in 2019. Scangarello had worked the previous two seasons with the 49ers under Shanahan.


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