Bengals head coach Zac Taylor talks about the development of a quick-strike rookie class, the little things and his open-door policy of managing the roster in this week's conversation with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: What are your priorities this week after watching tape of the Colts game and last month's game against Cleveland?
ZT: On defense cut down the mental errors. It hasn't really been an issue for us until last week. And generating pass rush. On offense, no more field goals. We have to find a way to score seven points on every drive. That has to be our M.O.
GH: The defense is mystifying in the sense you think without a spring and pre-season games the mental errors would have been happening earlier instead of now.
ZT: I thought they played really well against Baltimore and I thought they did some really good things against Jacksonville outside of two minute. I thought they did some good things outside of two minutes against Philly. It's not like the last three weeks leading up to this there are have been major errors outside of the two-minute drill. It's a performance we have got to learn from and everyone has to be accountable for the things they can do better. We can't let it happen again.
GH: If there's a common denominator for the defense, it is the problems at the end of the half. In four of the games there have been scores in the final 16 seconds, two of them touchdowns.
ZT: It's certainly something that we need to continue to work on. We'll address it every week.
GH: You can say giving up the touchdown at the end of the half swung this last game for good.
ZT: I thought at halftime our guys were focused, dialed in and re-grouped. The second half started with the three and out on offense, which was unfortunate.
GH: I thought the game came down to the two third-and-ones in the second half you didn't get, the first on that first series of the first half. On one you didn't run it and on the other you couldn't after dominating their D-line in the first half. After the game A.J. Green talked about how the good teams do the little things and these seem to be prime examples.
ZT: I agree. We put ourselves in some manageable situations and we just have to be better there.
GH: The offensive line had that great first quarter and then you come out in the second half and some are thinking just get back to running the ball. Did they prevent you from doing that?
ZT: They came out a little more aggressive to the point where we felt really good about some of the throws that we got. The flea flicker. Some of the play actions, things like that complementing the run game. There's just a balance there of running it as well as complementing it.
GH: That first quarter, that's the best the offensive line has looked, isn't it?
ZT: I thought they did a really nice job. I thought they've had moments. I thought against Jacksonville they played really well two weeks ago. The running game, the protection, it's on everybody. It's everyone doing their job. There are weeks I think we've done a really good job. And then there's a game now and then we have to make improvements.
GH: Looking at the line, left tackle Jonah Williams is playing in his first six games and he just seems to get better and better.
ZT: There are several rookies you can mention in that same breath that are going to get better with every snap they take. You look at the linebacker position. Sometimes they're seeing something for the first time in their lives. Maybe they make an error or they falter in coverage a little bit, but we've got really smart guys here that are going to learn from that immediately and not make the same mistake twice.
Here you are five games later, a year later where its second nature to react to some of this stuff. There are growing pains. Unfortunately in this league you're not really allowed that time, you have to go make the plays immediately. That's what we're counting on them to do. At the same time a lot of these guys are playing in their sixth game and there is quite a few of them doing it. They've got to be quick learners and learn from their mistakes and not make the same mistake twice.
GH: The last touchdown to Colts tight end Jack Doyle where rookie linebacker Logan Wilson seemed to get picked off covering the route, he probably didn't see much of that in college.
ZT: That was a heck of a throw, a heck of a catch. For a linebacker to be in that position down the field, he wasn't in terrible position, but that was a great throw and catch. That's a tough one to defend.
GH: Obviously when you talk rookies, Burrow heads the list.
ZT: I think he's quick to learn everything he's seen for the first time. He catalogues it.
GH: Did you agree with him that he played pretty well for three quarters and 14 minutes in Indy?
ZT: I thought he did a nice job. I don't have many complaints where the ball ended up and the timing of it. For his sixth start in the NFL, I thought he played really, really well.
GH: For a rookie to go on the road and have a shot to beat the No. 1 defense on the last drive, that's a pretty good statement.
ZT: I thought he helped put us in a really good position to pull out a win. As a team, we just didn't get it done.
GH: On that last pick with 39 seconds left, it looked like Colts safety Julian Blackmon made a great play more so than Burrow making a bad read.
ZT: (Blackmon) has really good ball skills. That was a great play by them. There was pressure. We could have been in a better in play call on my end. That play matched up with that coverage isn't the best thing we got. That's on me. If the safety doesn't play it well, there's an opportunity there, but that's how it ended up.
GH: What pops out about Burrow in the first six games? To me it's his decision making.
ZT: Yeah, it's his decision making. Accuracy. He's brought a lot of impressive things to the table.
GH: Talking about the rookies, in every transition I've covered in any sport, there's always a tension between the young guys and veterans. How do you handle that as the head coach?
ZT: You just try to do a great job communicating with everybody and my door is always open. When you've got 70 guys it's not always going to be perfect, so you just have to do a good job being mature about it and handling everything the right way.
GH: Do you think that's a lot of it? Because you're in this period of change with the roster?
ZT: I think every year is different, every team is different. You have to find a way to manage every situation you find yourself in. Being honest never hurts. That's just the best way I know. To be direct and to be honest.