With Sunday's AFC North scrum (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) looming against Cleveland at Paul Brown Stadium, head coach Zac Taylor chatted with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson about rebounding from last Sunday's loss to the Jets, why the offense needed to pick up the defense and the importance of this last game before the bye.
GH: Can you elaborate on comparing this Sunday's game against Cleveland to a two-minute drill at the end of the half?
ZT: You want to finish with momentum going into the halfway point of the year, which really this is for us. What better way to do it than a home game against a divisional opponent? It's a game that will get our entire focus as each week will, but this week is a big one. It's our first home divisional game. We know our crowd is going to bring a tremendous amount of energy. We've got to be ready to match that and finish the first half of this season strong.
GH: It's not a must game, but there's a heck of a lot of difference between being going into the bye 6-3 and 3-0 in the division as opposed to 5-4 and the division bunched.
ZT: It puts us in a really good position to be in position down the stretch to do the things we've wanted to do. We've put ourselves in good position up to this point and we've got a chance to finish really strong going into the bye.
GH: What was your gauge of the team on Monday?
ZT: Focused and accountable. I didn't think there was anybody that was distracted or not accountable for what happened on Sunday. And there were good things that happened as well. Those are things that we don't sweep under the rug. There were some good performances, there were some good drives and we just needed to be more consistent over the course of the game with things that overall we've been consistent. Coming out in the third quarter and scoring on offense. Being better in the low red zone on offense. Tackling in space on defense. Things we've been better at and weren't as good on Sunday.
GH: One thing defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has talked about this week is that Cleveland is a very good screen team. They've been leading the NFL in rushing much of the year. Copycat league, right? You have to figure they'll do the same stuff Mike White did for the Jets.
ZT: Sure. They have great weapons. They have a strong identity. They're pretty consistent with who they are. They've got a bitter taste in their mouth as well finishing with Pittsburgh last week. We know we're going to get their best shot and we have to be ready for it.
GH: I talked about your roster's playoff experience last week. That usually comes out after a game like last Sunday rather than after a win.
ZT: I expect our guys to handle it the right way. Be humbled a little bit from what we've been going through the last couple of weeks to now and be focused and get the work we need to get it done this week.
GH: Tough to win three straight on the road. You had a shot, but not easy.
ZT: Only seven teams out of the last 57 have done it over the last 15 years. We were planning on being the eighth. It just didn't turn out that way.
GH: One of the things that stood out against the Jets is it was just hard for you to score the closer you got to the goal line. No place to run.
ZT: It's two-fold. It can be difficult to run the ball down there. At the same time, when our guys do a great job protecting, which they did in several instances, Joe is going to have plenty of time to get somebody uncovered with those corners on an island. There's just a balance there. We have to capitalize on the opportunities we get.
On that first red zone drive, we had a run I felt like we could have fit in there and we gave up the sack on fourth down, which is not good enough. It's everyone being on top of every little detail when you're down there because every single one of those little details matter.
GH: As opposed to last year when you might have walked out of a game like that and said, 'We can't fix this,' what went wrong seems fixable. That seems to be the big difference between this year and last year.
ZT: Right. We don't ride the wave of the highs and the lows. We have to be consistent. Just as we don't over react to a win last week in Baltimore and tell ourselves we're the greatest team ever, we're not going to sit there and say we made a mistake on every single play and we were terrible. It's not that way. It's always we're looking to improve and learn from mistakes that happened in the previous game and make corrections.
GH: With all that said, you had a chance to win the game with two first downs up five with 4:36 left on the interception series. That seemed to be where the failure to be able to run the ball raised its head.
ZT: That was the first play of the drive. I felt we had some good opportunities to run the ball. There were a couple of zero-yard gains, but there were also some really good plays. How many runs did we actually get? Fifteen? A couple of them were on the goal line. That's going to set your average back. Over the course of the game we didn't have a ton of runs. I think the averages are a little misconstrued. It's more of the overall volume of the number of runs that I called. It paints a little bit of a different picture, but I did not feel like, 'Man, we cannot run the ball.'
GH: Classic second guess here. Three things can happen when you throw and two of them are bad. But you look pretty good if Chase pops an 18-yard screen there with 4:36 left.
ZT: Eighteen yard? Eighty yard. Eighty yard. I would have paid good money to see how that that thing would unfold. If he could have got out clean from the line of scrimmage and (left tackle) Jonah (Williams) got a piece of the corner. So if the location of the throw was good and he pulls through that first one, then he's on the safety. He's on a half-field safety who is 20 yards away. Because (left guard) Quinton (Spain) is going to seal the Will linebacker and it's going to be one-on-one with the safety who's got a lot of space he has to close. I'll take my chances with Ja'Marr there. You never know. It didn't play out. But it would have been interesting.
GH: The two things the defense did all year, tackle and not leave guys wide open, that's what happened.
ZT: There were areas that could have been better. But ultimately, this was a day that the offense needed to hold the load there and score a couple of more points than they did. And the defense has done that conversely over the course of the season several times. That's just plain team effort. Some days it's not going to be your best on one side of the ball and the other side of the ball has to pick it up. I just felt we didn't do a good job of that yesterday.
GH: Some would say it's the defense's game when you go up 11 with 7:29 left.
ZT: But if we give up a score, then the offense has to turn it around and put it to bed. On either side of the ball we didn't finish the way we're capable. That's all it comes down to.
GH: Burrow's touchdown pass on third down to Tyler to go up 31-20, he's a killer. Cold-blooded killer. Most games, that's the dagger. Great play.
ZT: It was. Good protection. TB ran a half-mile on that play. He had a fly motion and he's got a route that he never really touches the ball on. He did a good job with sticking with it and Joe bought some time there and made a great throw.
GH: What can you say on the Mike Hilton head-to-head penalty?
ZT: There's not much I can say on that one.