Zac Taylor has an eye for offensive talent.
Before his rise to first-year head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, he spent the past two years with the reigning NFC champion Los Angeles Rams on Sean McVay's staff as assistant wide receivers coach (2017) and quarterbacks coach (2018), overseeing the offense that ranked second in points (32.9) and total yards (421.1) per game into last year's Super Bowl LIII appearance.
So when Taylor previewed Week 13 with the Bengals (0-11) hosting the Jets (4-7) Sunday at 1 p.m. from Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, he had an appreciation for his opposition's quarterback.
Second-year Jets signal caller Sam Darnold has experienced an up-and-down 2019 season, from the Sept. 8's 17-16 Buffalo Bills loss to the subsequent month's bout with mononucleosis and Oct. 21's 33-0 New England Patriots shutout where he was "seeing ghosts."
But behind his recent improvement, the Jets have won their past three games and changed the narrative after they started 0-7 and appeared on the fast track to tanking.
During the Jets' winning streak, Darnold has completed 58 of 89 passes (65.2 percent) for 838 yards and seven touchdowns to one interception, capped by Sunday's 34-3 win over the Oakland Raiders (6-5).
"He's really done a good job," Taylor said of Darnold. "He's been pretty accurate on some tough, tight-window throws. You look at early in that Raiders game, where he had a big one down the sidelines that was really impressive. He's had the ability to create a little bit on some off-schedule stuff. He's really gotten it going. He hit a big third down, I think it was last week. He's done a really good job getting those guys moving forward and hitting the big plays when they're there. He had a great throw against Dallas for a 90-something-yard touchdown that really got them a big lead in that game, and got them going in the first half. You see him coming into it. It's his second year, and it's a new system for him. You see these last three weeks, he's really done a good job and found a good rhythm."
Darnold has completed 168 of 263 passes (63.9 percent) for 1,915 yards and 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions in eight games with a 4-4 record.
The 2018 NFL draft's No. 2 overall selection has been cross-examined closely with the Cleveland Browns' top pick Baker Mayfield and the Baltimore Ravens' MVP candidate Lamar Jackson, but Darnold is ultimately still learning.
"It is a difficult league," Taylor said. "It's a difficult position. There are a lot of growing pains that come with it. You have to be patient sometimes. (Darnold) matured and learned a lot last year. I didn't spend any time watching him last year. I'm sure he learned a lot. He got those experiences, and now you see in the middle of his second year, things are really starting to click. It's a new system for him. It wasn't the same system he ran last year. It's a new learning process. You've seen him and the receivers and they've all done a nice job."
Cincinnati has experienced quarterback issues of its own between veteran Andy Dalton's initial benching for rookie Ryan Finley, with neither signal caller able to get it in the win column.
Taylor continues to hold out hope that the Bengals, who last won in 2018 with Dec. 16's 30-16 victory against the Raiders, can take a page from the Jets' book -- just get one and see where things go.
"We know it can," Taylor said Wednesday. "It just takes that first win. I know they got one early in the year against Dallas (23-20, Oct. 13) and hit a slump there, but then you get that win, and you get your mojo back a little bit, and you get going. Now they're on a roll with a three-game winning streak. No one would have said that three weeks ago, probably (not) if you listen to their media, I would imagine. That's just the way this league works. Everyone has good players, and you just need to get into a nice rhythm and get the first one. That's what we've been trying to do."