Leadership, Draft Position and Continued Improvement: Zac Taylor's Thoughts After Week 15

191216-Taylor-Zac_news_conference (AP)

ZAC TAYLOR

Head coach

Initial comments ...

"Not really a whole lot more to add from what I said yesterday. It was a plan (where), in the first half, we felt like our guys were doing a good job executing and playing the right way — playing the way we thought we were going to have to play to win that game. Unfortunately, those turnovers, starting with the one at the end of the first half and (then) the first two possessions of the second half, is where that game got away from us. There was a lot to be pleased with that happened in the game, but ultimately, we lost the game by 21 points. It got ugly at the end, so that part was frustrating. We move on to Miami, who's a team that's fighting hard and has found a way to win some games. It'll be a good opportunity for us to go out there and attack this week with the same energy our guys have attacked every week. I don't think anybody can watch our guys and say that any of them have given up. That's one area where we've been proud. Despite our record, our guys go out there and play with every ounce of energy they can and keep supporting each other. They keep fighting for these wins, and we're going to keep fighting this Sunday."

After watching the tape, do you still feel like QB Andy Dalton's interceptions were 50-50 balls?

"They were shots we needed to take at those points in the game. They were one-on-one opportunities, whether the location could be better by an inch, whether (the receiver) could be more detailed with how he attacks the route or attacks the ball — those are all conversations we have with our players. Those were one-one-ones, and they come down to guys being in position to make a play. (Ideally,) the worst thing that can happen is (the pass falls) incomplete. When you're playing against man coverage and put a ball in the air, you just need to trust that the worst thing that can happen is that it's going to be incomplete. Unfortunately, that didn't happen."

How did the wide receiver room react?

"We were not in there today. We let the players get out of the building today, so we have not met with them yet."

What do you expect that conversation to be like whenever you see them next, with regard to your comment that the receivers were getting "bullied" by Patriots defenders?

"We communicate. I wish I wouldn't have phrased it like that (right after the game), to be quite honest with you, because you're emotional after a game like that. You watch the tape, and we just need to correct the technique, and that's what the conversation needs to be. It's a room of good character. It's important to them. They want to do it the way you want it done. I have regret in how I phrased that yesterday. It'll be a very candid conversation in that sense, accountable for everything we can do better as a group."

WR Tyler Boyd has pretty candid yesterday after the game as well. What did you make of his comments?

"That's between us. We're all emotional. It was a game we all felt like where, we come out of the gates and we're playing well, and we're doing the things we needed to do, and you don't win and it gets away from you in the way it got away from us. It's frustrating for everybody. T.B. is a guy I respect the hell out of. Those conversations are always amongst us."

Why did you give the players the day off today?

"It's that point in the season where everyone just needs to be fresh as we go into these last two games. I just felt it was necessary to give everyone the day off, come back Wednesday really focused and be ready to go for Miami."

Was it one of those things where you were waiting for another victory Monday, but unfortunately, it didn't come?

"That would have been the better way to do it, but I just think it's that point of the year where guys need a chance to get healthy. Everyone has nicks and bruises at this point. It's good to give them some time to clear their heads, come back and get ready to go on Wednesday."

Is the teams' large turnover deficit this year a product of being in trailing situations and being forced to throw the ball downfield?

"That's a good way to put it. Ours tend to come when we're behind, (when) we started needing to push the ball a little more, and it happens. On the other side, we need to keep punching at the ball and getting it out. You saw it happen in the second half at some times. (But) it leads to missed tackles. It's a double-edged sword. You reinforce it, you want it, they try to do it. But sometimes it gives up another 2-3 yards. It's an area we need to continue to improve."

You haven't often been critical of players from the news conference room. Is that a conscious decision, and do they hear it from you in meeting rooms?

"We're always very honest. It's constructive criticism. We don't have players that are trying to go against the things we're asking them to do. That's why I'm upset with myself when I'm emotional and say something stupid like I did yesterday. We expect the same thing from our players as well. Conscious, yes, but we always want to be honest and up-front with our assessment of how they're playing, how they can improve. Our staff has done a really good job of that this year."

DE Carl Lawson said he doesn't want a losing mentality to become the norm. Is that something you need to coach?

"It is collective. We need to create some momentum for ourselves, first of all. It's one thing to stand in front of everyone and talk about it. 'Hey, we can't accept this. We can't do this.' That's an easy thing for all of us to say. What's the approach that we're taking to fix it? The leadership has only gotten better as the season's gone on. I saw a lot of examples of it yesterday in the game and on the sidelines among players we count on. It's something we have to continue to make clear in all areas of how we approach a game week, instead of just saying, 'Hey, we can't accept losing.' No one accepts losing. No one wants to lose. No one goes out there and tries to lose. How do we fix that? How do we improve in all areas? How are we critical of ourselves as coaches? How are we critical of ourselves as players? How do we work together to make sure we can fix it? It's going to take four quarters of all of that. Sure, we've put together halves we can be proud of, but it hasn't been a full game. That's why our record is what it is."

Is there a specific leadership example you want to share?

"None that I want to share, but there were just things to be encouraged by — guys I've mentioned over the course of the year, reinforcing it. Those are positives that you see in Week 16, where it's really not the norm for teams that are in our situation. That just reinforces the culture, and the guys being (part of a) connected team that we've always talked about. We're very confident that it's going to pay off for us."

Do Lawson's comments reflect the culture you're attempting to instill?

"Yeah, that's not just words coming out of my mouth in April and in August. That's what we've tried to build daily and try to reinforce daily, because that needs to be our foundation, because then we start executing our schemes better, and all the things that come with that. We start to playing better situationally. We start to win the turnover margin. Those things will all come together. We see improvement in a lot of different areas, it just needs to come together for the consistency of the entire team for four quarters."

Has HB Joe Mixon shown enough in recent weeks to prove that he's a player the franchise can build around?

"Joe is a great running back. He's done the things we've asked to do. These last few weeks, we've really leaned on him, and he's done a great job in combination with Gio (HB Giovani Bernard) and those guys up front. I'm very happy that he's here and that we have him."

What did you make of New England head coach Bill Belichick saying that Mixon is one of the best running backs in the league?

"Yeah, he's a great back. You hear a lot of coaches that are complimentary of him."

How aware are you of draft position?

"I know that it sorts itself out in two weeks, so that's all that matters. We just need to focus on winning these games, and then the offseason is the offseason. We deal with it when it comes."

Do you address draft position at all with the players?

"No. You have a sense of the things that are going on outside of the building that you need to address with the players. That's not something we talk about. They do a great job. They're focused on coming back and winning the game. It's important to them. Every time I stand in front of the team and talk, I can feel the energy and see where their heads are at, and (they're) trying to beat the opponent that we have coming up in the next six, five, four, however many days it is. Their focus is on the right things."

Does draft position come up in your morning debriefs with president Mike Brown and director of player personnel Duke Tobin?

"We talk about all things that concern the organization. During the season, it's focused on the things that can help us from week to week."

Taking into account how much New England QB Tom Brady galvanizes his team, how much can a quarterback change a franchise?

"The guy has won six Super Bowls and however many MVPs. That's a guy that does things like that to a franchise like that. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game of football. When you have a player of that magnitude, it's something that the fan base rallies around. It doesn't have to be a quarterback. It can be any position. I saw it with Aaron Donald in Los Angeles. That crowd fed off Aaron Donald as well. It happens with players that are all-decade-type players. That's not surprising to see something like that."

Is a quarterback is important as people outside of football make it out to be?

"It's the most difficult position to play in all of sports. That's my one opinion. It's always about the team. There's no doubt about that. It's silly if I say that it's not (a position) that makes the team go. That's just a standard observation of that position."

Is this a game that you feel like you need to win?

"I feel like that every week. Every week we go into it thinking we're going to win, and that we have a good plan in place and that our players believe in and executed during the week (in practice), and it just hasn't happened (in games much) yet. This week is no different in that regard."

As a play caller, how many plays do you script to start a game?

"You look at so many different situations. We like to talk about early calls — calls we like to get off early, for a lot of different reasons. That reason could change in the game as to why we need those early calls out there — what we're looking for, what we need to accomplish. The way you build a game plan is so situational ... get back on track, third-down situations, red-zone fringe situations, red-zone goal line, short yardage — it's broken down into so many different areas that scripting is kind of a strange way to look at it, because you've talked about so many situations you could be in and (about) what your first call is going to be, what your second call is going to be. We spend the whole week previewing how the game is going to play out, what calls you like in certain areas, and that could carry over all the way deep into the third quarter because you haven't been in that situation yet. The situation you talked about all week hasn't shown up until the middle of the third quarter. 'Well, bam. Here it is. Here's the call.' That can change as the flow of the game goes as well. It's something that we spend a lot of time talking about."

With regard to play calling in short-yardage situations, do you rely more on feel or philosophy when it comes calling under-center plays versus shotgun plays?

"It's a game week approach. We have plays that we believe in from a short yardage standpoint. You need to look at yourself and scout tendencies. You need to look at things that have been successful against the defense you're playing against. I do know that we really went one-for-two yesterday, and felt like we should have been two-for-two in short yardage situations, and that's just not the way it played out."

Your script probably didn't say that you were going to run the ball on the first eight plays.

"You're right about that. As the drive gets going and you get a feel for how the guys are coming off the ball — that's something similar to the Arizona game, is what that felt like. As you started the game, you started to feel like, 'OK, this is something we can continue to build on this first drive, and then make adjustments after the drive.'"

Are you concerned by the comments made by New England CB Stephon Gilmore regarding his ability to anticipate all of Boyd's routes?

"Which examples exactly?"

I'll just read the tweet. He said he knew what Tyler Boyd was running on most of his routes, and how, in film study during the week, "They need to switch up the play because, I wouldn't say it was easy, but I knew the route" ...

"OK. I don't have any comment on that."

What is this week going to be like for you, taking into account the fact that you coached in Miami for multiple seasons? Is this game circled on your calendar?

"No, I wouldn't say circled. They have great people there that are still there in that organization — people that I got really close to. You talk about equipment mangers, the strength staff — they had a bunch of really good people in Miami that, in the four years I was there, I really felt a connection to. I'm sure all the guys on our staff that worked there do as well. I had good memories there. I was there four years. I've never been back. I've never seen the new stadium, really — I've never seen the changes they've made to it. It's a place we have good memories of."

LB Germaine Pratt had a career high in tackles yesterday. What have you seen from him?

"Continued improvement. And there needs to be continued improvement. I feel like I sit here and say it every week, but with our young players, there is the good and the bad every week that they need to improve on. We see a lot of the qualities that we thought we were going to get when we took him. It's good that he's been getting to play a ton of snaps in the last half of the season. He has to continue to correct the mistakes. There's a lot to grow on, but there are certainly a lot of positives that we're excited about."

How much do you think WR John Ross III's injury set him back?

"They're all new to the system, so they need the reps. He missed however many weeks he missed there, eight weeks. You certainly would have liked for all the receivers to have those eight weeks. It's tough because it's such a physical position where you need the muscle memory of the routes. When you haven't gotten that, because he missed a lot of time — he missed the majority of the offseason and then missed those eight weeks — that's tough because it's not just, 'All right, I'm going to get back out there.' It takes the work in individual (drills) and all the routes to be familiarized with what we want him to do. Like any skill player, it's tough when you miss that chunk of a season and come back, and expect to hit it right in stride. He's going to need these last two weeks. It's good he's going to get these last two weeks."

You're almost done with your first year as head coach. Are you enjoying the job?

"Yeah. I love it. I love the camaraderie of the people we have in this building, being able to compete every Sunday. That's what you dream about. That's why you do it. If you're a competitor, you're frustrated that the season has gone the way it has, because you're in it to win football games. You're in it to win championships. You always have this vision of celebrating the championships with the city of Cincinnati. Those are the things you visualize, but there's a lot of work that goes into it before you get to that point. It doesn't happen overnight, as much as you want it to. You have be consistent with the work you put in every single day and build the foundation the right way and continue to build up the team. We have a lot of people that believe in the same vision and are willing to put in the hard work. We're going to get there and I'm really excited. Those are the things that excite me. Despite of the season we've had, we know that the future is very bright, and we cannot wait to put in the work to get us to where we want to be."

What do you make of the buzz around the stadium about LSU QB Joe Burrow?

"That's not something we concern ourselves with right now. We're focused on the team we have, and winning the game this week in Miami."

What level of optimism do you have that WR A.J. Green will play on Sunday?

"We almost made it (laughter). I'll talk to him again. He'll be in the building. We'll discuss what the plan will be for him, starting with Wednesday. If he's able to go on Wednesday, then we go from there. I don't fault you for asking (laughter)."

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