After last Sunday's grinder of a win in Las Vegas set up next Sunday's game against the Steelers (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) at Paul Brown Stadium, head coach Zac Taylor's weekly discussion with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson touched on the things he and quarterback Joe Burrow are learning as they evolve in the AFC playoff race. And why he's giving Hakeem Adeniji another start at right guard.
GH: You talked about the style of game of you wanted to play against the Raiders and it played out perfectly. It's almost like you spoke it into existence. I know this is Joe Burrow's team and it's a passing league and all that, but it seems like your guys are comfortable with this patient, grinding style.
ZT: I think if you're going to be a good team in this league you have to win a lot of different ways. Sometimes it's going to be more runs. Some games it's going to be more pass. Some games it's going to be somewhere in between. I think it's good for us to prove to ourselves we can win a lot of different ways. So when one of those different style of games comes up, our guys have the confidence we can get it done a certain way.
GH: Does a game like Sunday impact you as a play-caller down the road?
ZT: I don't know. I just think we've got a great staff that helps during the course of the game. I think we did a really good job communicating over the course of the week in all three phases on how we were going to play it situationally. And then over the course of the game I get a lot of help on offense. The communication from (defensive coordinator) Lou (Anarumo) and (special teams coordinator) Darrin (Simmons) is really good. We're always on the same page. It's a collective staff effort there in games like that and it lets you know you've got the right guys around you.
GH: Obviously you had a great feel for that game back on Tuesday. I'm sure that comes with doing this thing for a little bit.
ZT: It does. You learn from experience over time. You'll take any help you can get and experience is helpful a lot of times.
GH: Joe Mixon is such an intriguing guy. He'll go for weeks not used like he was on Sunday and yet he responds. I mean, he made some runs in the guts of the game with second effort that was truly fascinating.
ZT: He's a strong runner. He feels he gets stronger as the game wears on. He feeds off his carries and feeding off the guys blocking for him. When you're a 220-pound something back, people just get tired of tackling you after a while. That's why we talk about complementary football. You can't do that if your defense isn't getting stops. When you're down seven, ten points, maybe in the fourth quarter, it's harder to live with that. When you've got a compete team that plays the way it did Sunday, you can really pound teams like that at the end.
GH: I noticed after you gave him the game ball in the post-game locker room, it sounded like he gave you a shout out for calling the plays.
ZT: I don't know many backs that don't want 30 carries a game. I don't know many receivers that want less than 10 targets a game. A lot of times you've got great players and they want the game to go around them. As long as they're always doing their job even when it's not and doing the things we want them to do, I don't have any problem if guys want the ball more. That's part of being a great player.
GH: What I also noticed in the media questioning up to 24 hours after the game is that hardly anyone mentioned Joe Burrow. Maybe for the first time ever. My opinion, even though he had career low passing yards, I thought it was one of the best games he's played. I hate the term caretaker, because he was much more than a caretaker in Vegas. But he was a caretaker, you know what I mean?
ZT: Yeah he knew the style of game we were going to play. He got the ball out quickly when he needed to. He hit the third-and goal touchdown, which is not an easy play, in a moment we really needed a big play from our quarterback and he made it. They got us a couple of times on some play calls with some coverages and it's tough. I just thought he managed the game really well for us.
GH: Am I nuts? I thought that was one of his best games.
ZT: I thought he played well. There's not much that I would go back and say, 'Let's do this a little bit differently next time.' He played consistently. Which he always does.
GH: He had to make one throw. And he did for the touchdown to make it a two-score game.
ZT: That's right, but there were other third-down throws, too, where the timing was critical to some of the stuff we did. Like the throw to C.J. (Uzomah) on third-and-short for a first down. That's not really part of the progression. He's just kind of out there trying, in some ways, to occupy somebody. Somebody else gets the ball on that play, but Joe just realized the corner is playing soft on third and-three or something and then he bangs it out there. That's not where I expected the ball to go. Those little things are understated, but as coaches they go a long way because we need that play in the game and he made it work.
GH: The other big throw of the game to me was that play-action on the first snap of the second half after he just got trucked to end the half and he hangs in the pocket and throws a seed to Ja'Marr Chase through the tightest of windows over the middle.
ZT: There's a lot of trust and discipline that goes into that throw because he's turning his back to the defense. That's just him understanding the coverage. He knows if he's even a quarter of a second late on that, then (linebacker Cory) Littleton is going to get his hand on it. That's just good discipline there by the quarterback and the receiver to be where he needed to be.
GH: Did you see Burrow grow a little bit on Sunday?
I just think that he is understanding through a season and a half of football how hard it is to win. And it doesn't always have to be to a 300-yard effort in the pass game. I'm not saying he didn't know that before, but I think the more you play quarterback in this league I think the more you understand that and appreciate that. Just sometimes it's good to just have a great day running and managing the ball well as the quarterback and still get that win.
GH: Now in two weeks he may have to throw his arm off when Justin Herbert comes in here.
ZT: That's what I'm saying. You have to win a lot of different ways in this league and our whole team has to understand that.
GH: Did Hakeem Adeniji earn another start at right guard?
GH: What do you like about him?
ZT: He's smart, he's physical, he plays with great athleticism and power. I think he's been a great addition to the inside.
GH: The offensive line had a rough start last Sunday, but they hung in long enough to get some runs late.
ZT: I thought they did some really good things for us. That was a good front. I think an underrated front. I think 98 (Maxx Crosby) is probably one of the more underrated defensive ends in this league. We knew going into it there were going to be some tough runs. We knew there were going to be some drop backs where guys were going to be one-on-one and he's won a lot of those. We expect our guys to win, obviously, but I thought our guys did a great job managing the game up front.
GH: Your DBs were underrated in that game, too. The Raiders' two deep threats, DeSean Jackson and Bryan Edwards, didn't have a target. That was striking.
ZT: Obviously, (tight end Darren) Waller had a good game, but I thought our guys did a great job taking away their opportunities to where they just had to focus on one or two guys. You can't stop everybody in this league. Some guys are going to have good production. You know, those drives were kind of like when we played Pittsburgh. Yeah, maybe they ate up a lot yards and got in the red zone, but our defense got the stop and at the end of the day keeping points off the board is critical.
GH: Rookie kicker Evan McPherson is such a weapon. Do you wonder what he'll be like in the cold weather?
ZT: No. I've got confidence he'll understand how to take care of his body and get himself in position to serve us well. We'll see how that goes.
GH: A lot was made in New York when Jets wide receiver Elijah Moore tackled free safety Jessie Bates III on the 1 in a scoreless game on an interception return and then you didn't score a point and they were saying Moore made the play of the game. Is wide receiver Tee Higgins the star of the last game after he tackled Raiders safety Dallin Leavitt on the Bengals 9 on a fumble return and you held them to a field goal on the first series?
ZT: Yeah. That kind of effort pays off over the course of the game. You think what those four points could have done for them. It's a whole different ball game.
GH: I'm talking to you late Monday afternoon before you go into your big game plan day on Tuesday. So I have to ask you. You were so good at calling how the game was going to go last week. What is it going be like this week against the Steelers?
ZT: I'm not there yet.
GH: It could be the same thing. Couldn't it be the same kind of game as it was against the Raiders?
ZT: It could. We'll have to see. I've barely gone through the first half of their game yesterday. I've got six more games to watch and we'll see where the week takes us.