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Eagles’ Press Taylor in spotlight against Bengals: Can he turn Carson Wentz around while beating brother Zac? | Jeff McLane

“You just have to always be honest with yourself and be honest with your players,” Zac Taylor said. “And always say what needs to be said.”

Eagles quarterbacks coach Press Taylor (left) watches Carson Wentz throw in training camp. So far, the two have struggled this season.
Eagles quarterbacks coach Press Taylor (left) watches Carson Wentz throw in training camp. So far, the two have struggled this season.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Press Taylor and Zac Taylor sound very much alike. But it’s more than just the Midwestern accents the brothers share. The timbre, volume, and deliberate pace of their speech could make telling one from the other difficult without a visual.

Growing up in the same home certainly played a role, but the Taylor boys' near-identical career paths in football have added to their likeness. Asked Wednesday for any of Press' traits he’d like to have, Zac said their similarities far outweigh any differences.

It is why the elder Taylor may know better than anyone how his brother will approach coaching Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz out of his recent funk.

“You just have to always be honest with yourself and be honest with your players,” Zac Taylor said. “And always say what needs to be said.”

But can Press, who is only five years older than the quarterback, be brutally honest with Wentz?

“Absolutely,” Zac said.

Taylor would likely prefer that his brother and Wentz wait a week to turn around the quarterback – and thus the Eagles' season. His Bengals travel to face the Birds on Sunday in a battle of beatens, and the brothers' fourth meeting since they started working in the NFL.

“There’s nobody I’d rather compete with more than my brother, honestly,” Press Taylor said Friday. “It’s one of those things with your family, you’re always rooting for them, but if anybody beats them, I want it to be me.”

While the matchup may be of importance in the Taylor family, both teams enter 0-2 and in need of a victory. The Eagles, though, are under greater pressure to rebound.

Zac Taylor, in his second season in Cincinnati, has the grace period typically afforded to head coaches with rookie quarterbacks, even if Joe Burrow has gotten off to a solid start.

Doug Pederson, with Wentz in his fifth season, does not. The Eagles coach will ultimately be held responsible for the 27-year-old quarterback’s performance. But Press Taylor has as much, if not more, influence.

Taylor helped guide Wentz, after a so-so first 12 games, to a strong finish last season. But this year’s task may prove more difficult. Wentz has uncharacteristically had the worst two-game stretch of his career, and with Taylor’s new responsibilities as pass game coordinator, offensive coaching turnover, and personnel changes at receiver and offensive line, fixing him could take more time than the Eagles can afford.

Wentz is near the bottom of most NFL statistics for quarterbacks. Only the Vikings' Kirk Cousins has a worse passer rating, 61.9 to 64.5. They both have thrown an NFL-worst four interceptions. Their 58.5 completion percentage is tied for 29th.

But numbers tell only part of the story. On film, Wentz looks like a quarterback in search of an identity. He’s been aggressive when he should be prudent, timid when he should be attacking.

“We are not going to throw a blanket over this whole thing and say, ‘This is what’s going on,’” Taylor said. “We’re going to investigate everything and do as much research as we can into why this is happening and what is happening.”

Taylor, to his credit, said that he would keep his conclusions on Wentz’s early struggles “close to the vest.” He declined to identify an overarching theme. But the quarterback is clearly pressing. He has always had a bit of a Superman complex.

Wentz is as hard on himself as anyone. He likely doesn’t need to be told when he has failed. The 32-year-old Taylor isn’t a screamer. He’s a bit of a wonk, a detail-oriented person whom the Taylor family had pack the car before road trips, even when he was 8 years old.

Pederson uses Taylor in a similar way, but as it relates to game planning.

“I put him and Carson in the same boat. They’re a lot smarter than me, I know that,” Pederson said. “And I lean on both of those guys quite a bit and trust them both. I get a lot of great information from Press during the week, a lot of great information from Press during the game, and that’s just the way the communication works.”

Taylor said his communication with Wentz and the other quarterbacks hasn’t changed since he took on additional responsibilities. But there have been variances. Taylor spends more time scripting plays and making the calls for practice. He runs the offensive meetings. And he’s no longer in the coaches' box during games; he’s down on the field.

While Taylor’s presence on the sidelines may give him more face-to-face time with Wentz, he’s also charged with being the main conduit between the offensive assistants and Pederson.

“Everything kind of just funnels its way through Press and then eventually comes to me,” Pederson said.

While Taylor has assumed many of the duties of the offensive coordinator, per se, Pederson did hand off his two-minute, in-game help to senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello.

Scangarello and senior offensive consultant Marty Mornhinweg were hired in the offseason, giving the Eagles four former or current quarterback coaches on staff. Taylor is the primary voice with Wentz, but Pederson, Sangarello, and Mornhinweg will have input, as well.

The concern in such a construct is that a quarterback can be overloaded with information and varying perspectives. Pederson, for instance, took a fairly critical approach in interviews early last week when he said that Wentz’s regression was “a good question” and called his game-turning interception against the Rams “unacceptable.”

But two days later, he was back in defense mode, and when asked why Wentz has struggled to connect on “layup” throws, Pederson had the snarky initial response of “Have you played quarterback in the National Football League?”

The Eagles added “jokingly” in brackets in the transcript, but Pederson didn’t appear amused.

“They’re not layups,” he said. “There isn’t a throw out here that’s a layup.”

It’s unclear if Pederson’s direct messaging with Wentz is as mixed. But the Eagles' communication with Wentz needs to be consistent.

“There’s been this sense of urgency,” Taylor said. “There’s no panic within this organization and within this unit, any of that. It’s just a sense of urgency to get things right.”

The sooner the better. The Taylor brothers typically talk two-three times a week, according to Press. But they hadn’t spoken at all as of Friday and, in fact, kept the football talk to a minimum during the summer knowing that an early season meeting was near.

“We didn’t want to put each other in that situation,” Press Taylor said.

Of course, neither would mind the other’s losing. There’s more at stake than just bragging rights. There’s the “Taylor Bro Trophy” that sits in the office of their father, Sherwood, that is large, obnoxious, and with plates recognizing each victor.

Zac won the first meeting when he was with the Dolphins in 2015. But Press has a two-game winning streak after the Eagles beat the Rams in 2017-18, when Zac was quarterbacks coach in Los Angeles.

“I’ve ignored that trophy,” Zac said.

Maybe for not much longer.