Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson talk about that first win of the season, keeping practices competitive, going for it so early on fourth-and-one and offensive identity.
GH: Going into last Sunday's game there was a lot of talk about finding your offensive identity, trying to hang your hat on something. You come out of it with 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing. The Bengals haven't done that since the '80s. Is the identity balance? Is the identity a run-first, play-action offense? Or is it Joe Burrow and throw? What is the offensive identity? Do you think you have it yet?
ZT: It's still early in the season. Your team is going to evolve over time. I think with any team, if you can play with a lead and you're doing a good job in both areas, running and passing, that's where it concerns the defense the most. There are games we'll be comfortable getting in empty and throwing it 50 times. There are games you want to hand the ball off 50 times and there are games like the other day where we're very balanced We don't get caught up in what people believe we should be doing. We just get caught up in what we think will win each game. That's what our identity will be from week-to-week.
GH: You still ran big with three receivers, but you showed some varying formations and seemed to run out a little more heavy personnel. Was that because of the opponent?
ZT: The opponent often times determines what you can be successful with and our guys were in a really good rhythm. We felt like there were a lot of good thigs to pull off the call sheet. Some of those weren't even great calls. The guys just did a great job executing them and guys were making contested catches in one-on-situations against man coverage. When the guys are making plays like that, every call looks good. Even when sometimes in your gut you don't feel like they are.
GH: Any that come to mind?
ZT: Overall I think we did a great job against man coverage. Guys won some one-on-ones, had some 50-50 opportunities. We didn't make all the plays. The offensive line, the tight ends and running backs kept Joe clean. And when Joe's kept clean, he's tough to beat. He's really accurate. He does a good job on his feet extending plays. There are a lot of plays that come to mind, but overall our guys did a good job executing.
GH: You just said it. Keep Burrow clean. He's as advertised running the ship. That swing pass to Joe Mixon for the touchdown, it looked right before that play he gave him a heads-up and it seems like that's exactly what happened.
ZT: He's done a great job communicating and that's what we need from him.
GH: After the game Burrow talked about how those Saturday night meetings with you help make him comfortable because you check with him on the plays he likes in the game plan. I know that's not out of the ordinary, but how does that work? If you like a play and he doesn't like a play, is the quarterback the tiebreaker?
ZT: It depends on the play. Sometimes coaches can be hard-headed and there's something we think can work, you just want to make sure the guy pulling the trigger is comfortable with it. If they're not and it leads to half a second of indecisiveness, that can be the difference in a great play and a terrible play. I just learned a long time ago if the quarterback has got a ton of confidence in something, even if it's not great scheme against great scheme, often times they make it work because they believe in it and they want to prove it to be true. Until they let you down, you let them have that voice.
GH: Was there a play on Sunday where that came up?
ZT: No. There were certainly calls he pointed out that he liked early in the game that were good for us early in the game but nothing earth shattering.
GH: Everybody said it was the best week of practice of the season and that there a bunch of little competitions throughout the week.
ZT: We just found more ways to be competitive. You want to get your work done against the scout team and the looks you're going to face. At the same time we have to find the right balance of getting good on good work. Our guys are open to those. It might mean getting a couple of more reps than we're used to getting. Obviously we want our guys to be fresh and healthy on Sunday, but I think it helped us with overall competitiveness of the group. You get a few more reps. It's good on good. One vs. ones. Guys enjoy competitive. There's a little conditioning on the table.
GH: Kind of like high school basketball. Suicide sprints. I saw one where it looked like a one-on-one pass in the end zone. The guy caught it and they went nuts.
ZT: Exactly like high school. It brings good energy. Guys competing. Offense vs. defense. It's just a nice change of pace.
GH: The thing that struck me about the video of the post-game celebration is that wide receiver A.J. Green was right there front and center cheering even though he had only one catch. That really hit home to me.
ZT: Of course. He's the ultimate team guy and a great leader for us. Great player for us. We've got so many weapons, different guys are going have great opportunities in certain games and other guys will explode in other games. I'm just really happy we have A.J.
GH: The biggest call of the game, and I completely forgot about it after, but it was going for it on fourth-and-one from your 35 barely two minutes into the second quarter. Take me through that. What was your thinking?
ZT: We just felt like we were doing a good job controlling the line of scrimmage. Shame on us if we get stopped two plays in a row on third-and-one, fourth-and-one and our guys did a great job moving the line.
GH: Of course my heart was in my throat when you went shot gun. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan walked us through that a little bit in his media conference call about how it's not really a gamble on fourth-and-one. Among other things, the defense is thinking about a zone read and all that.
ZT: I think most statistics will tell you the other way. That the shot gun is probably the preferred option. We've got both options (a quarterback sneak) at our disposal and our guys did a great job executing.
GH: That's real early in the game for if you don't get it, shame on us, but did you feel like your team had to make statement at that point in the season at that point in the game?
ZT: We had a chance to gain momentum there. We really did. Every game is a little different. You go through the analytics of it always on Friday and Saturday before the game. Things can change on Sunday as well. That information is always coming in and you have to make those decisions quickly.
GH: That's a classic play. If it didn't work and you lost, it would have been the dominant post-game theme. But it worked and nobody asked you about it. It just went away.
ZT: That's the fun part about the job. Figuring which ways you'll be second-guessed. It's part of the deal. We know the drill and you had to make the decisions you believe in.
GH: Is the Saturday night talk from a player going to be something you do every week?
ZT: We change it up every week whether it's a coach or player.
GH: Is this the first edition?
ZT: We've done similar things before, so I wouldn't say it's the first time.
GH: Any reason why Josh Bynes last Saturday night?
ZT: I just think Josh a great veteran leader. Captain. He's got great experience in this league. He faced adversity in a lot of different ways. I just thought he did a great job. He's a good spokesman for the team.
GH: Who's next?
ZT: It remains to be seen. It will be a surprise.
GH: I get the sense you get a feel for what the week kind of feels like.
ZT: Yeah. There is certainly a rhyme and reason for it.
GH: What's the best talk you've ever heard since you've been here?
ZT: All the guys that have spoken have done a really nice job. Players and coaches. I'm not going to isolate them. Probably the best one I ever heard in college at Nebraska was when (head coach) Bill Callahan brought in Teddy Atlas, the boxing trainer. It was 15 years ago. I just remember being inspired to go play great football the next day.
GH: Joe Mixon gave you his game ball, right?
ZT: I'm not sure where that ball came from. I appreciate it nonetheless. It was a collective team effort.
GH: That had to make you feel good that Joe would do that.
ZT: It doesn't make me feel bad, that's for sure. When you win a lot of things feel good. Everyone had that winning feeling.
GH: Later in the day you were able to get to your oldest son's soccer game. Brooks' team won, did he get the game ball?
ZT: I don't know. Just a regular season game, so probably not. But he had a nice little goal and they won, 2-1
GH: Pretty good day for the Taylors.
ZT: It turned out all right.