In his weekly talk with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson, head coach Zac Taylor hits on his takeaways from Monday night's win over the Steelers. And that's where it all starts. Takeaways.
GH: You were pretty eloquent about it after Monday night's game. Not just who you beat but how you won the game. You guys beat the AFC North leaders in a game that they really needed to win with AFC North football.
ZT: We won it because these guys did a great job with their preparation. We finally played complementary football in all three phases. It might not have been sexy necessarily. But the defense created turnovers. The offense capitalized off those turnovers. Special teams were steady. All three phases came together to find a way to win.
I thought we had a good plan on how this game needed to be played and I thought out guys really were committed to it and did a great job executing it. Sometimes you have to win different ways. This way we were going to run the football a lot. And we told the defense we need to win the turnover battle and they did that for us.
GH: What does that say that you can win a down and dirty game in a division known for that?
ZT: I think people saw what I see every day from these players. The way they interact with each other. How they practice and compete. The focus that they have. I have always been disappointed for them as it translated to wins. What people saw Monday night wasn't surprising to me. It was expected. That's what we expect to happen and we were finally able to make it work.
GH: It seemed like your team played with a mentality that they were going to hold their ground. They weren't going to let the Steelers push them around and intimidate them.
ZT: I felt that way about our guys the entire season. I was proud of the way they attacked and it was fun to watch and be a part of.
GH: What do you take out of it?
ZT: It's as simple as winning the turnover battle. We have not done a good job of that. It's that simple. In November and December when teams have injuries, it's as simple as that. When you win it, 3-0, that's what the result should be. Too many times we've played teams very similar to us and we've given the game to them. Because we didn't create enough turnovers and we've given it to them with ours. It's not complicated.
GH: Do you feel like any heat has been taken off you?
ZT: That doesn't matter to me. Now we have to get ready for Houston. I can't concern myself with all that.
GH: Did Ryan Finley earn another start?
ZT: We'll see later in the week.
GH: You didn't exactly have Joe Burrow back there. What was your thinking on the zone reads with Finley? It obviously gave the Steelers something to think about.
ZT: They were playing base to eleven and they're always going to outnumber you by one. The best way to get that number count back is to incorporate the read option. Finley has experience with that and I thought he did a great job handling it. That's not always the way we want to play football, but Monday night it was necessary and our guys did a good job executing it.
GH: Since Oct. 25, I would think this defense has played as well as you could have hoped when it comes to giving you chances to win.
ZT: It's amazing when you get a group to play together for more than a couple of weeks in a row with the chemistry that develops. Early in the season we were losing guys every week. You lose D.J. Reader. Geno Atkins doesn't play a stretch of the season. Then you lose Sam Hubbard for an extended period of time. Then you lose your corners.
That does matter when guys didn't have a spring together and it takes them some time to get that rhythm. That's just the unfortunate thing. They started to find their rhythm after the bye week. Really, when the offense was hitting its stride, then you lose your quarterback and running back, so you never get to find that overall rhythm as a team. I feel like Monday night we found that and it's fun to be a part of.
GH: You're getting some fine play from guys you didn't even have until the beginning of the regular season or after.
ZT: These guys play their butts off. Defensive tackles like the Christian Covingtons and the Xavier Williamses.
GH: It looks like the linebackers, led by Josh Bynes and Germaine Pratt, have really picked it up.
ZT: Bynes with his leadership and his communication and his football intelligence really stands out. He gets guys lined up and diagnoses things really clearly for the guys. His pre-snap communication is really significant helping the guys around him.
GH: Arguably your three best defenders against the Steelers were three off-season pickups in Bynes, Vonn Bell and Mackensie Alexander to go along with what Carl Lawson did off the edge.
ZT: They've all played critical roles for us.
GH: On the offensive line, that tandem of guards - Quinton Spain on the right and Xavier Su'a-Filo on the left - they seem to be pretty impressive.
ZT: They played physical. They give us a lift there and we were certainly pleased with how the line played. The two sacks (by the Steelers), one of them we just have to push out in the low red zone instead of getting so much depth at quarterback. (Finley) knows that.
It was a third- down play. It didn't cost us points. That's kind of the one area it's acceptable to take a sack. It's third down in the low red where you're not compromising your distance on the field goal. You want the quarterback to extend plays some times to find that four-point play. But getting deep in the pocket against their pass rush is not what we want to do.
And the other one (Finley) is trying to scramble forward and he took a one- or two-yard sack and he took a coverage sack and he was just trying to push it up. I thought the linemen gave us a chance there and they did a nice job.
GH: How did Fred Johnson do at left tackle?
ZT: I thought Fred did a fine job. Early in the game I was very concerned by a couple of his early pass sets getting beat around the edge. But I thought he calmed down and did a nice job.