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Taylor-Made Takes: Notes On Leadership From Defense And Special Teams


In his weekly discussion with senior writer Geoff Hobson, head coach Zac Taylor talks about virtual challenges, the status of Joe Mixon and the leadership he saw on Sunday from the special teams and defense.

GH: The biggest challenge this week almost seems to be not being in the building on Tuesday because of NFL COVID guidelines and that's the game planning day.

ZT: It is different, but we've had so many guys out with COVID and close contacts that we've had to do it virtually anyway. So really the biggest change is I'm sitting in my home office instead of my work office. We can't meet in the offices anyway with more than one person, so we just can't use it as a distraction and we have to find a way to get our work done.

GH: How does that work? How many screens do you have?

ZT: I have three screens. We use Zoom for all of our communications. You have Zoom minimized in the background as you're sharing tape. We can all watch the same clips and can share them. The offseason really helped us because we learned how to effectively do presentations. It's no different as if we're meeting as a staff.

GH: I'm assuming you've never been part of game planning from your house.

ZT: It's a first.

GH: Do you have all your offensive coaches together on the screen? Or is it pieces and they come together?

ZT: That's always how it works, depending on what part of the plan we're putting together. Sometimes you deal with certain coaches and then as it all comes together you meet as a staff. There are a lot of mini-meetings going on.

GH: What is the biggest challenge doing a game plan virtually as opposed to being in in the same room or even on the same floor?

ZT: You always prefer that face-to-face interaction. Being able to walk by a guy's office and ask a quick question. Instead now you make that phone call or get on Zoom. It's a slight delay in communication. It's something we can work through. Every team is doing it. It's a pretty even playing field.

GH: If they weren't doing it before, they're doing it now.

ZT: Exactly.

GH: This got me thinking when I saw running back Travyeon Williams get some work last Sunday and Brandon Wilson play a little safety. I know you're trying to win games, but are we getting a little preseason in the back end of this season?

ZT: No. It's hard to get Trayveon involved. We didn't have lot of plays in this game. Gio (running back Giovani Bernard) got a big load that we ask of him. We just tried to give Gio a break and give Trayveon a few carries. Brandon is just playing more in some of our defensive packages. We're trying to do everything we can to win. I would not say it's a pre-season mindset.

GH: Brandon Allen gets another shot at quarterback. It seems like you guys think he can execute the offense, he just needs to have some help around him.

ZT: There are a couple of plays he can do better. So can the guys surrounding him. They have to play better. And the No. 1 thing where we have to be better is in the run game and play off that. That helps any quarterback. I don't care who it is. We have to be better in all phases on offense.

GH: The NFL is a game of rhythm and reps. When you don't have either, what does it become a game of?

ZT: You have to grind it out. We had trouble finding that rhythm on Sunday with the three-and-outs. Guys are on the sidelines and it's hard for them to make a play. We've got to find it and stick with it so when our opportunities arise we're ready to make it. Once we get that first first down, we get into a good rhythm. We move the ball, we get chance to open up the playbook and really attack the defense. We only had three possessions in the first half and then that third quarter was really a struggle for us to get that first first down and get that momentum and get moving.

GH: The most disappointing thing offensively last Sunday had to be the running game after you had run the ball pretty well the last handful of games. Did the line-up changes on the offensive line catch up to you?

ZT: We certainly need to play better. We knew one of the strengths of the Giants defense was how good they are on the line. They're about six deep there. They won that battle up front and it made it hard for us to run the ball. We certainly need to keep improving. Everybody. And we need their best going forward.

GH: Right guard Alex Redmond suffered a concussion near half time. If he's healthy, do you stick with Quinton Spain at left guard? How does that unfold?

ZT: We'll see what happens with injuries.

GH: I know you guys think Michael Jordan is going to have a very good and long career. What was the thinking on playing Spain his place?

ZT: Just take a break for a week or so and step back and look at it. It's hard. I know what he's dealing with, with guys like Cam Heyward in Pittsburgh and last week in Johnathan Allen in Washington. These guys are premier defensive tackles. And (Jordan) is still a young guy and he's going to get there.

GH: What do you envision for Joe Burrow's rehab?

ZT: Those are conversations we'll have later. He's obviously a critical piece of the future and as his deal comes together we'll have those conversations. But right now he's starting the process and we're still looking at winning games.

GH: I know the priority is winning games, but is there anything in the back of your mind that you think about 2021?

ZT: You want to see who steps up and takes this thing over. You look particularly at the defense on Sunday. The leadership stepped up and so did the special teams. You talk about Shawn Williams. Josh Bynes. Vonn Bell. Sam Hubbard stepped up and made plays. Mackensie Alexander made plays. There were times there was nobody open for Daniel Jones to throw the ball to. It's a lot of the guys we've been counting on all season to lead that charge. We need that from the offense. We need that leadership to step up now with Joe being gone. We need those guys to step up to take it over. We saw it on special teams and we saw it on defense.

GH: How much do you miss running back Joe Mixon? Especially now?

ZT: No excuses. When things got tough last year, he was who we turned to to get it going and helping the passing game. He was able to help get those two victories in December. It makes it hard, but we just have to be creative and figure it out.

GH: Would there be any point where you would just shelve him for the rest of the year? Have you reached that point yet?

ZT: No. I think we're in the process of letting that foot heal. He's got two more weeks on injured reserve. We just continue to evaluate where he's after that IR period.

GH: Could you envision him playing this year?

ZT: Absolutely I could.

GH: Some would say, why risk him?

ZT: I think you have to make sure he's fully healed. We would never do anything to compromise someone's health. We've got two weeks to see how it heals and if he's able to come back.

GH: Right now, it doesn't look like he needs surgery, right?

ZT: Correct.