After his first NFL victory Sunday, Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow talked about the give and take of his Saturday night meetings with head coach Zac Taylor and his offensive brain trust and how it has helped make him comfortable. It may be the only time all week Burrow takes more than he gives.
"I go through my top three calls that we have in every situation and he calls them 1-2-3," Burrow said of Taylor's play calls. "He's been doing a great job of calling plays, and we have great players on the outside that understand zone coverage and understand what we're trying to do on every single play."
In ZacWorld, there is never enough talk.
"Everything's a conversation," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan on Monday. "There's a lot of really good communication that happens so that by the time we get to Saturday night, we're pretty well aware of where we stand on most things. And then Joe kind of gives his final order of the way he likes the call to come off the sheet. Zac is usually pretty much on the same page at that point."
The numbers scream comfort. If anything has jumped off the table besides his athleticism, it is his decision-making. Burrow has thrown 177 passes (only Dak Prescott has thrown more) and he's only thrown one overhand interception. And that wasn't his fault.
Callahan says those meetings are pretty much the norm during his decade or so in the NFL.
"Anytime a quarterback gets a play call that he likes, they tend to make it work. There's nothing worse for quarterbacks than when they don't sometimes get the plays that they want," Callahan said. "I've seen that go that direction, too, where they're waiting for a call to come off the sheet and it doesn't come the way they want it, when they want it. Ultimately, they're out there playing. And when you give those guys chances to do the things they like to do and they feel comfortable with, usually the results are going to be pretty good."
FOURTH AND GUTS: You know it had to be a win because everyone forgot about the biggest play of the game because it worked early. Fourth-and-one from the Bengals 35 and not even two minutes into the second quarter of a game Cincy trailed, 7-3. A few years ago before analytics, you'd only go for something like that on a last desperate drive.
"We were going for that one. It was early enough in the game," Callahan said. "We had just missed the 3rd-and-one. We didn't quite get enough push. We just felt like it was inches to go. They measured it. I want to say it was maybe four inches. It was one of those ones where we want to be aggressive and we'd send a message to our guys that we're confident that they can get us a yard. And they did in that particular instance. And it was kind of a quiet big play in the game that we made without much fanfare and it kept the driving game."
Maybe even more hair-raising is that they went to the shot gun to get it, a three-yard mush job to running back Joe Mixon, re-igniting the debate between purists and new agers about shot-gun formations and fourth downs and QB sneaks. Taylor and Callahan chaired plenty of those talks last season with some skeptical media observers. On Sunday, Callahan hinted they went off a Jacksonville look and not a hardened philosophy.
"There's a lot of things that I don't want to give away too much. But we started under center on that particular one and got into the gun," Callahan said. "You can watch it and take a look at what happens when we did that. I don't want to say there's a narrative. That's the wrong word. But there's a lot of conjecture there's a lot of conjecture about how effective quarterback sneaks are. I think what gets lost a lot of times on quarterback sneaks is they are usually only run against the right looks. So they're effective when they are run that way.
"A lot of the times defenses - and we've had a few sneaks already - are well aware of our desire to do that and they can do things to help take those away on occasion. We went through this a little bit last year as far as in the 'gun, the effectiveness of the shot-gun runs in short yardage can be pretty good overall, and especially when you have the threat of a zone read with the quarterback. If you want to take a look at it you can see some of the reaction from those guys (on defense) when you have the threat of a zone read in a short-yardage situation."
MAYBE GENO: Taylor indicated Monday that defensive tackle Geno Atkins (shoulder) may be able to go. He said anybody not on injured reserve may be able to go Sunday in Baltimore. That means not defensive tackle Mike Daniels (elbow) and that could be three weeks or eight weeks after Thursday's injury in practice put him on IR.
As expected, nose tackle D.J. Reader manned the fort playing 82 percent of the snaps and his old Texan teammate Christian Covington chipped in next with 56 percent. Andrew Brown went from being inactive to playing a dozen snaps and Amani Bledsoe keeps getting work with 14 more snaps and has played in every game so far.
PRO DAY: Fourth-year nickel linebacker Jordan Evans was the definition of a pro Sunday with rookie linebacker Logan Wilson out with a concussion. Evans had played just 76 snaps last season for a new staff after playing 510 last season and it wasn't going to get any better this season with the drafting of three linebackers that can run along with the signing of veteran Josh Bynes. And going into Sunday he had played just one snap.
But there he was on the game's first third down picking off free safety Jessie Bates' tipped pass and later adding a sack off a blitz in a busy 12 snaps.
"That's what you're supposed to do as a pro," Evans said. "Whether they bring in somebody or not, you always have to be prepared to play. We play a lot of games, so you have to be prepared. Last year was the way it was last year and this year's going to be something different, so let's just see how it goes."
Markus Bailey, one of those rookie backers, a seventh-rounder, took full note on a day he made his NFL debut with four defensive snaps and 17 more in the kicking game.
"I was really happy for Jordan. Obviously, Bynes is the oldest guy, but Jordan is one of the older guys in the room and someone that's a leader for us and someone that we look up to," Bailey said. "And you know, he's had his bouts with adversity and everything and for him to go out there and make those plays, that is encouraging for someone like me. You see someone that maybe didn't get as many opportunities but now he did and he made the most out of it so that's always just reinforcement, like how you said, to always stay ready and be prepared when your number's called."
Bailey's torn ACL that cost him all but the opener of his senior season at Purdue last season, says his knee has been no problem and neither has the NFL speed.
Check out some of the top images from the Bengals Week 4 contest against Jacksonville.
EYE FOR AN EYE: The offensive line, going from the eye of the media storm with those eight sacks in Philly, to Sunday's one, obviously played much better. But Callahan also raved about the blocking of the wide receivers, particularly wide receiver Auden Tate. Callahan said they challenged the receivers during the week to that part of their game. Forget about Tate as kind of a smallish receiving tight end. Sometimes he looks like a big tight end blocking.
They also got a lift from Alex Redmond, their third starting right guard in four games.
"Alex is a great player. He's got a lot of violent physicality," said left tackle Jonah Williams. "I think that's the first thing that the coaches and teammates notice about him. He wants to come off the ball and just dominate people every play. He did a lot of that, so it was good to have him back this past week."
Callahan also said after Williams' first four NFL games, he gets better every game. He got a shout out on the CBS broadcast when they realized late in the game they hadn't called Jags defensive end Josh Allen's name very much. That was after he showed the athleticism they love on Mixon's killing 21-yard sweep on their last drive as he buried a DB. He says they didn't change much in a running game that went from near last in the league to gaining 205 yards overnight.
"Not really, like schematically or anything. I just think we did a better job with our technique," Williams said. "We just played better as a front and like I said I think the whole offense working, I think when the offense gets rolling everyone looks good, everyone complements each other. Receivers look good, running backs look good, we look good up front, Joe looks good. When you look at it on the big picture, I think all those things play into helping us run the ball a little bit better."
Williams went to the medical tent early but didn't miss one of their 75 snaps.
"I just got a finger in the eye. I didn't really think anything of it," Williams said. "We went down and scored and came off and somebody pointed out my eye was bleeding. So they took me to the tent. I guess they have to do that for face injuries because they have to check you for head injuries and stuff like that which obviously I didn't have any. Just had a finger scrape my eye. Just telling everyone, you should have seen the other guy."