Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson went one-on-one with head coach Zac Taylor and talked about the importance of last Sunday's 41-17 win in Baltimore, how his roster full of experienced winners can keep it in perspective, why he doesn't want to totally erase the past and his belief that Joe Burrow can play 20 more years.
GH: You've been striving for the three-phase game and there it was at the biggest moment.
ZT: No question. Every player came up big for us and in this one we were going to need everybody. And there was some adversity there. There were some lulls in the game where it could have flipped. That's happened to us in the past, but the past is behind us now. These guys understand how to handle a lead and when those possessions are big where we need to make a big play, like our defense did on some of those fourth downs and then our offense turned it right around and capitalized and put seven points on the board. Tremendous team effort.
GH: Everybody talks about the past being the past. But everyone knows it's there. When you were watching those guys play that game in Baltimore, did that bury the past?
ZT: I don't think that's necessary. I think there are things we have to continue to pull from that are going to serve us well. Some of those tough games are part of our foundation and where we're at today. We learned from those. We're going to continue to draw on them and just proud the way the team has handled that.
GH: Hard to believe now there was even a debate to draft Ja'Marr Chase. You must have been a Team Chase guy because you drafted him. I guess this is what you thought he could bring to an offense.
ZT: That's exactly right. A guy that can score from long range. He puts a lot of fear in defenses and now that really does a great job of adding to our package of other tremendous skill players. We feel like we can run the football against any team in the league. It's great to have those three weapons at receiver, which complements the rest of the offense and team very well.
GH: I remember when you drafted him, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said he'd help the offensive line because defenses would have to back up and there'd be no eight man boxes.
ZT: No question. His 82-yard touchdown was quick game. That was a slant route. That play is designed to go probably eight to 12 yards for a completion. It does help your line when you have the ability to call quick game and it can go 80 and the defense is concerned about that. That absolutely takes some of the pressure off your offensive linemen because now they feel like they have to put more guys into coverage because you can't cover him one-on-one. That's fewer guys you can bring pressures. It helps our entire team when you've got a playmaker that can produce like that.
GH: It looked like you were using all of your playbook. You were making sure you were protecting Joe Burrow with different looks. You went max protection probably more than usual, but you also had some five-man protections. You went under center. You went shot gun. Pretty varied.
ZT: When we get into the flow of a drive, we've got a lot of offense to pull from that we feel like can be dangerous and complementary in each phase there. It felt like we had more drives. We were getting that first first down. Sometimes that's our Achilles' heel. We know once we get that first first down of a drive, we tend to score on every drive. At least that's what it feels like. Our guys have such confidence in our ability to move the ball in a lot of different ways that it is fun to be able to call plays for that.
GH: Watching you guys, it's almost like you'd rather be third-eight instead of third-and-two. Anything you can put your finger on in short yardage?
ZT: We just have to be better. Better with our execution, with our play-calling. It all factors in there. One time we checked to a quarterback sneak and they then checked and stopped us on second and one, which puts us in a tight spot. All of us can be better and will be.
GH: It looked the old Bengal Josh Bynes read it well.
ZT: That didn't help.
GH: To me, Sunday was another example of Burrow showing great resiliency and toughness. He took some shots early before you guys adjusted to their twists, but he kept firing not letting them get away with man-to-man.
ZT: I think that was critical. He didn't panic. Not that we would ever expect him to. Even when he got hit early on he was still able to move around and he hit (running back) Samaje (Perine) on a huge check down on that first third-down conversion when he really had a free runner in the pocket there.
That never got him off balance. He just hung in there and the protection really tightened for some really great pockets throughout the game once we got through that mid-point in the first quarter. When he gets that pocket he's super dangerous.
GH: Does Burrow do something better every week?
ZT: I just think he keeps adding to that memory bank. Every situation he can be in is going to serve him well in the future. Even the interception. Third-and-goal from the 15. That's one I'm thankful we were able to make that mistake in a victory because that's one he'll learn from. Just that situation in general. How to handle that. How to manage that down and still keep points on the board in a critical moment.
He's not happy with it. I'm not happy with it. But he's a young quarterback still and he gets to learn from it and it will serve him well for the next 20 years.
GH: You see him playing that long, Coach?
ZT: Why not? By that time we'll all be frozen in time. He'll probably be able to play forever.
GH: He'll be 44. That maybe be about right nowadays?
ZT: Why not? I just think he's thinking one game at a time now, but you never know.
GH: A great defensive effort that came after you had senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner speak to the team Saturday night. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was still talking about it Monday.
ZT: Obviously it went well. He's got to speak at every team meeting now. We've got such great experience on our staff. Former head coaches. Guys that played in Super Bowls. Guys who have been with different teams. There are a number of guys that have spoken to the team over the years and Duf did it two years ago and knocked it out of the park and he did a great job on Saturday night as well.
He just involved the entirety of the team and it keeps everyone's interest. He's got his different sayings he likes to use and that everyone responds well, too. He's just got a consistent energy to our team in meetings and in practice, at the Saturday night meeting. During the game from the press box. I can hear him through the head set some times. He's a tremendous resource for us.
GH: Your defense plays like it's been together for five years and they all seem to approach it like pros. It doesn't matter their age. It looks like they've been playing together forever.
ZT: Two things. They love football and they have an earned confidence because they've put in the work. Not only do they know individually they did the work, but the guy next to him put in the work and they know that guy is going to do his job and allows me to go make my plays and play fearlessly. It's such a fun unit to watch play because their success is not surprising. We've seen the work they've put in and now they're putting it on tape and the whole world is seeing it.
GH: A lot of those new guys are on defense and there are about a dozen guys you've added in the last year or two that have been in a playoff game. Can you see that experience in the last month?
ZT: Where it serves us well is they understand the longevity of the season and that we're in the beginning of this phase. Being 5-2 is a really good start because we're in position to do the things we talk about. Winning the division. Getting to the playoffs. But these guys who have been there and done that understand this is only the beginning and beating the Ravens is not our Super Bowl.
It just puts us in position to play in bigger games down the stretch and that's what is important. We've got a lot of guys that have played in college national championship games and they understand it in a different way. They've won a lot of games and they understand what it takes to be consistent and how you're going to get everybody's best shot each week.
GH: I'm not sure a lot of up-and-coming teams on the cusp have that experience because they probably don't have as many veterans.
ZT: I think that's what we had in mind when we added pieces to this team. We want guys who are leaders wherever they played, they have a high degree of talent and they know what it takes to win and when you have enough of those pieces in place that mentality just takes over the team and everyone has an understanding.
GH: You had a great line after you won in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. 'We had to feel it.' Did you feel it in Baltimore?
ZT: We just knew we're capable of this. It was a box we needed to check. We believe it. We knew it could happen. We put in the work. We feel like we're a really good football team, but it doesn't hurt to go out there and see it and feel it again. We haven't beaten them since I've been here. It's a good box to check and we move on.