Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson sat down with head coach Zac Taylor to discuss discipline, the red zone misfires in last Sunday's game in Cleveland and facing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's No. 1 defense this Sunday after matching up against him as a member of the Rams offensive staff in the last Super Bowl.
Going into last Sunday's game, you had the fewest penalty yards in the league. Now you have the third fewest after an uncharacteristic 99 yards in Cleveland, but what has been the key to the discipline and the relative lack of penalties?
We've been talking about it since April and everything we do, whether it be meeting rooms or practice fields. I think our guys have really taken that to heart and it carries over to the games. There are a couple of things not like us that we did in the game that we have to get corrected quickly and we cannot let that happen again.
There's no Zac Taylor time, right like Coughlin time or Parcells time that's really 15 minutes early for a bus or meetings?
Whenever the meeting starts, be in there one second before, you're in good shape. If not, you're not in good shape.
Is that a fine?
Even for a first offense?
Even if it's a first offense. There's no gray.
I think running back Joe Mixon's been your best player this year (Tyler Boyd has been close), but even he didn't seem to escape after he was called for the unnecessary roughness post snap. It looked like Giovani Bernard got the next few plays at running back. Was that sending a message?
Yeah, you have to protect the team at all cost. When you do something that hurts us, hurts the drive we had a turnover the next play it all runs together. You just have to be clear with those guys that we don't tolerate that.
So you let him sit for a little bit?
That's the way it works some times.
He's had a hell of a year for you.
Joe has certainly improved as the year's gone. We have a lot of guys we feel have improved as the year has gone on. We need to keep seeing that improvement and it needs to translate to wins. But I have seen a lot of guys get better and better each week.
There were a couple of plays in the red zone that didn't go the right way on Sunday that have some people second guessing the play calling.
We put together a plan that we believe in and do our best to execute it. Sometimes it's going to go your way, sometimes it's not. That's part of being a coach in this league, you're going to get second guessed. You've got to be strong enough in your convictions to do the things with sound reasoning for why you do them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
The lack of red zone success has been a trend this year, no matter who was in at quarterback. Is there any common thread you can see?
No, every play has been a little bit different. It's tough. It's unfortunate. We make it a point of emphasis every single week. We've changed how we approach the red zone sometimes. We felt like we've certainly improved it for a good stretch, but on Sunday we didn't have success.
There's a lot of things that go into critiquing play calling. It could be the proper call that didn't get executed or the defense could have done something different.
It's more so what goes into why you call it in the first place. You study the opponent and you see tendencies that fit what you want to do, and so you put together a plan you believe puts you in a good position to be successful. After the fact, you have to go back and look hey, in that situation, was that the best call? If we get in a similar situation later on, should we do something different? You can't have a big ego about it. You have to be open to evolve and make some adjustments.
When you look at a game like Sunday, do you say to yourself, 'Yeah, I could have called a better play'?
You're always going to be hard on yourself. When something doesn't go as expected, it's easy to say, 'Well, I shouldn't have done that.' That would be great if you could change every single call that didn't go your way, but they get paid on defense to make plays and they made a couple on Sunday that hurt us.
How would you critique yourself as a play caller?
That's probably difficult to answer right now in the middle of a game week. There's probably things you learn over the course of a year that you even realize that is just naturally occurring as it goes. You just try to continue to make improvements to help the team win. Ultimately that's how we're all judged is wins and losses. Some games you need to score 40, some games you just need to find a way to score 13. You just have to find a way to win at the end of day just based on how the game is being played. We just have not done a good enough job yet of finding ways to win.
When you look at Sunday's game, you can probably take away somethings to learn.
Sure, I think everyone gets better with experience in what they're doing. We're no different. I would imagine coaches that are much older than me feel the same way. They still learn every day. You have to make sure you are learning everything you can learn to make yourself better the next week, better the next year. And that's what our staff is trying to do a great job with.
It's a tough job for a coach to be both the head coach and the play caller. Do you feel like you want to continue to do both next year?
Yes, you have to have great assistants that you trust to do some heavy work in the game plan and I feel like we have a great staff. We're all on the same page. We're all able to piece it together. On game day, we feel like we have great communication with one another. No one's opinion is left aside, everyone's is taken into account. That's the process.
Besides a guy like Joe, you have to like what you see from some of these young guys on offense, like wide receiver Auden Tate and left guard Michael Jordan.
There are players young and old that have improved each week and are feeling more comfortable in the schemes and the things we're asking them to do, we just need to see that improvement from everybody.
Going into this game, you have to figure it's not going to a replicate of the Super Bowl. You're not the Rams and you have to imagine Belichick is going to change up on you.
You just have to be prepared for what you think you're going to get and make those adjustments. Last year is last year. You can't really worry about any of that. You just have to do your best and anticipate what you think you're going to get.
What was it like preparing for Belichick's defense in the Super Bowl last season?
This is the tenth time I've played him. They're just very disciplined. They have a great understanding of what they're being asked to do. They really limit their own mistakes and they wait for their opponents to make mistakes. They've done a good job of that for a long time. They just have players that have been there for a long time and have a great understanding of their scheme and they're all on the same page.
What has made Tom Brady so good for so long?
He's a smart player. He's accurate. He elevates the play of his teammates, that's for certain. He's been in the same system for 20 years now. I can't fathom that. Most coaches haven't been the same system for ten years. That would be a long time. When you feel that comfortable with what you're doing and being able to get the guys around you to be successful, I can imagine that would be a lot of fun.
Three games left. You've been on the doorstep several times. You have to feel like you should have won that game Sunday.
Yeah, being on the doorstep is not our intentions. We have to find a way to get over that hump and win these games. There have been plenty of them where it's been close. No one cares. You just have to find a way to make that play in the fourth quarter that puts our team over the edge. So far we just haven't been able to do that.