Best of Monday's Zoom news conferences with assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo as the Bengals prepare to go to Kansas City for Sunday's (3 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) AFC championship game.
A FAMILIAR FOE
Since the Bengals beat the Chiefs, 34-31, at Paul Brown Stadium a month ago in the next-to-last game of the regular season, they are treating it like a division game.
Anarumo: "I just think the familiarity with the team, just like we have … a division opponent. You get a chance to have a feel for, 'Hey, this is what these guys are really all about' as opposed to a team you don't play once every four years or so. So we have that going. I think that's the biggest thing. They know us, we know them, and then see what worked, what didn't work in the first game and kind of, have some change up as we go into it.
"We cannot allow touchdowns. We've got to make them kick field goals."
'WE'RE A FAMILY'
The locker room vibe has been a talking point for the Bengals all season. Players and coaches believe this almost familial-like connection has helped get them this far.
Anarumo: "I just think the guys are enjoying every minute of it as they should, this doesn't happen all the time. I just think every day they're enjoying each other. I mentioned something to them at halftime the other day. We're a family and families aren't perfect, and you're going to get into arguments and there's no family that doesn't do that. Especially when you're within the same four walls for basically seven months.
"Our guys have just handled all of this so well. I'm proud of them and they're enjoying it and they should, and we get our work done and it's a great environment. They look forward to coming to work every day. Zac (Taylor)'s done a great job of building that. We just want to keep going and keep continuing to play another day. That's the goal."
Callahan: "I've been a part of really good locker rooms. I don't think one that I've been a part of has the same energy that this one does. Part of that is probably our youth. … We have a lot of young players, particularly on offense, and I think they just enjoy playing football together.
"When you get to these games and you're getting in these big spots, everybody's good and everybody has talent. I really do believe, the connectedness of your team, the energy of your team, guys that like playing together, like coming to work every day, that like practicing together. I think that that gives you an advantage, however small.
"It's an advantage when you're playing against really good teams because these guys believe in each other and they play for each other. It's special. It's unique. Not every locker room is like that, but the way our guys play and the energy that they play with, definitely gives us an advantage and it's helped us win some of these games.
DISSECTING THE NINE SACKS
One of the headlines from the Bengals' 19-16 win over the Titans Saturday is the nine sacks of quarterback Joe Burrow. Many were quick to blame the offensive line, but, like interceptions, each sack tells its own story.
Callahan: "There's moments where we're guys got beat one-on-one, you know, we're playing against good players. There's moments where Joe (Burrow) tried to make a guy miss or hold the ball for a little longer. That's part of what makes his game great so we live with some of those sacks.
"There was one or two that were communication-related. Just didn't get calls out, playing on the road. Again, it's a challenge sometimes, but we just have to be better there. Sometimes they were coverage-related too, we had guys that did a good job with their cover scheme in that game.
"It's a well-coached defense, they got great variety in how they present looks to you and they forced us to hold the ball maybe a second or two longer than we would've liked to and gave the rush chance to get home.
"There's multiple things that go into it. Some of it was five-man protection related. They were bringing some zero blitzes into our five-man protections and one or two times we tried to kind of hold onto it and take a shot down field. That didn't work out in our favor. Certainly have to be better there. The games and the twists and stunts and things that we've got to pick up a little bit better.
"Can we be smarter about holding the ball? If there's an opportunity to get rid of it, we'd like to get rid of it. Then you just have to win one-on-one and sometimes guys are going to lose and again, we're okay with that. It happens. But nine sacks is more than obviously you'd want to see in any particular game and it's got to be better this week."
Head coach Zac Taylor gave a glowing review of Simmons. He's been with the team since 2003 and Taylor believes Simmons has the makings to be an NFL head coach.
Simmons: "I'm very flattered that he would say that. I'm certainly appreciative (of) the opportunity he's still giving me and my family to stay here whenever the coaching change came between him and Marvin (Lewis). He was somebody I hadn't really had any, past relationship with. … I guess (we) did play golf together one time when (Taylor) was the offensive coordinator at (the University of Cincinnati), we played golf once at maybe Maketewah.
"I think all of us aspire to become a leader of a team, to help control it. I'm biased because I think special teams coaches have, relationships with everybody on the team. I really think that's a big part about what being the head coach is, is having relationships."
Despite the nine sacks, Burrow never wavered from his calm, cool and collected self. His poise under fire was a crucial factor that turned the tide.
Callahan: "The best I can describe it is, I think he plays football like a defensive player sometimes. I think Zac said he plays like a linebacker. Contact has never been something he's afraid of. It never bothers him. I think that's what makes them unique. I don't think there's a lot of guys that are built like him, when it comes to that mentality because, he just responds well to pressure and it doesn't ever really affect him.
"Certainly over time, it can affect all quarterbacks but he doesn't let it bother him. He doesn't mind the physicality part of playing football which again, I think is unique to Joe. He never really flinches when things go bad and he gets hit, it doesn't really bother him.
"He gets up, pops up and runs off the field and comes back for the next drive. I think that's a pretty unique trait and one that makes him pretty special."
HOW TO: DRAFT A KICKER
The Bengals were given flack by fans and pundits for drafting rookie kicker Evan McPherson in the fifth round of this season's NFL Draft. His entire season, including the winner to make him 4-for-4 on field goals Saturday, validated the pick.
Simmons: "(McPherson) came out early as a junior, but I felt that maturity the day I went down there and worked him out at Florida. He was very mature beyond his age, I think. There's really nothing that distracts him. There's nothing that, bothers him.
"I knew I was really impressed with him. I had not been, around a workout like his before. I've been around a lot of kicking workouts before and you can just feel it and hear it when the ball comes off of somebody's foot and explosion that it comes off. That one was one of the top ones that I'd ever been around, probably the top one, just in terms of just power and leg strength.
"That's something I can't coach. It's like you can't coach somebody to run faster. You can do it incrementally faster, but I can't coach leg strength, I can't coach leg talent. He had that. That was very apparent then.
"So then it becomes up to me just to help mold it in whatever form or fashion that may be. Maybe small tweaks and technique, or the mental part of it. I certainly had some background with him prior to that. (Former Bengals kicker) Shayne Graham was (coaching) at the University of Florida. Shayne had been talking to me for some time about Evan. 'We've got a real kicker down here.'
"It was something I looked at on tape and saw on tape. Then went down there and worked him out. Then we had some conversations, after the workout. But, we didn't have a ton of conversations after that. Sometimes when you go through this whole draft process agents and everybody gets involved and they try to stir up and figure out 'Who's interested and what coaches are you talking to?' … Even though I was very interested, I wanted to keep that maybe hidden a little bit."
Simmons on drafting kickers: "There are ways of acquiring guys that are good enough, without using a draft pick on them. I think it's an important enough spot that, if you feel strongly about someone that you should take him, if you want them that badly, you should go after them and get them if you feel like it's going to make a difference."
POINTS V. YARDS
The Bengals defense has embodied the 'bend, don't' break,' philosophy and it has shown up all season long. Especially in the playoffs, when the Bengals have allowed just two touchdowns in eight red-zone trips.
Anarumo: "Every week is a grind in the season, then you get to the playoffs and it ramps up. You're playing explosive offenses every week so, the yards. You don't want to give up yards, but some of this stuff is inevitable where it's always about points.
"You want to do a great job in limiting yards, but at the end of the day, limit the points, win the game. How do you do that? You do that by playing great red zone defense, taking possessions away from them on takeaways. We have to do that this weekend to give us a chance to be successful."
ROOTS OF NORTHERN ARIZONA COACHING TREE
Northern Arizona University has plenty of connections to this upcoming AFC Championship game. Offensive line coach and run game coordinator Frank Pollack played at NAU from 1985-1989 as an offensive tackle/guard. Pollack's offensive line coach for the 1986 season was Andy Reid, the Chiefs head coach.
Reid was replaced by Bill Callahan and filled that role for two seasons. Bill, now the offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns, is the father of Brian Callahan.
Brian Callahan: "Frank has a lot of stories about my dad, from that time in Northern Arizona. That was a fascinating look at a, bunch of young coaches, that really all had success over their careers.
"I think two staffs worth of coaches there, over that time in the late eighties, early nineties, at Northern Arizona it's pretty fascinating story, a lot of really great coaches all there at one time. So there's probably a lot of stories to uncover there.
"I don't remember, my dad replacing Andy Reid or anything like that. I just have always been familiar with the amount of coaches that have come out of that school during those years that have had a lot of success in their careers."