In his weekly conversation with Geoff Hobson, senior writer for Bengals.com, head coach Zac Taylor talks defense, how he felt his players responded during last Sunday's tough situations and facing Andy Dalton this Sunday when the Cowboys come to Paul Brown Stadium.
GH: You continue to get good play on defense in what, all in all, has been a very good month on that side of the ball. What has clicked over there?
ZT: It's more time together. A lot of guys are playing together more and they're playing well off each other. They've done enough for us to score. They've kept teams out of the end zone for the most part. Offensively, we have to get some points on the board and take pressure off of them.
We've done a better job the last two weeks getting the ball out. We've gotten the ball on the ground the last two games to create fumbles. That's the turnover we continue to stress with these guys. You saw a lot of examples last week of guys hammering at the ball. Punching and raking, trying to get the ball out. Jessie (Bates III) had a lot of examples of that and it finally paid off for him. Vonn (Bell) had a lot, Josh (Bynes) had a lot. Those guys are doing their best to get the ball out.
GH: Jessie is in a lot of conversations for the Pro Bowl. What has put him in those conversations? What he has he improved on this year?
ZT: It's his second year in the scheme. He's playing with a ton of confidence. He's thinking less and going out there and making plays. I think his tackling has improved a lot since last season. He's been screaming down in the box and he's making tackles. He's obviously making tons of plays on the ball and you even see him covering some guys now. Covering some tight ends one-on-one in man situations. He's done a great job. I'm just really impressed with Jessie's play, Jessie's leadership, Jessie's approach to everyday life in the building. He's done a tremendous job in his third year here.
GH: Do you think getting a guy like Vonn Bell playing next to him helped him?
ZT: I think Vonn has continued to play better each week. He's been a lot more comfortable and has really made some great plays for us recently. Those two playing together has been fun to watch.
GH: Knowing those two guys, I would imagine they've really helped in the locker room.
ZT: Absolutely. They are two guys that want nothing more than to win. They want to win the right way, they want to approach each day the right way. They're great examples for everybody else around them. Two guys we can certainly build off of.
GH: How do you think your guys responded to the extra-curricular stuff in Miami?
ZT: I thought they handled themselves great. TB (Tyler Boyd), you've understand the second guy is always going to be the guy that gets caught on the retaliation. With Shawn Williams, Shawn got a cheap shot (on a punt). He was on the ground and all of a sudden there are guys around him out of nowhere ready to fight and he responded I think the way any of us would have responded. Obviously we know, if you retaliate, you're the one that gets in trouble. But I thought our guys conducted themselves and handled some tough situations as well as they could.
GH: No one looks good in a situation like that, but where you able to get a gauge on how close you guys are as a team?
ZT: I thought our guys handled themselves the way they should. They don't back down from anyone and they stood up for their teammates.
GH: To me there didn't seem to be a lack of composure. A lack of execution, not composure.
ZT: I would agree with that.
GH: Offensively the second half numbers have been dramatically different from the first half since Joe Burrow went down. Anything you can put your finger on?
ZT: We just have to be creative. We have to get our guys in great position and our guys have to execute. Sometimes you have to make a tough play. I thought Miami made some tough plays in the pass game. We have to continue to find ways to do it.
GH: What did you see from the offensive line? Do you think it's been hurt by the changing lineups that have been the result of a lot of factors?
ZT: It's been hard to find some consistency. There have been some injuries that have caused people to be shuffled around. There are some different personnel things that have gone with that. Obviously we need that line to be more consistent. It's certainly been a challenge.
GH: You went back to Michael Jordan at left guard after sitting him for a start and then replaced him with Xavier Su'a-Filo on the last series Sunday. Where do you think you are with Michael?
ZT: He's still a young player. We have high hopes for his potential. He shows some good things and he's shown things he has to continue to improve. It gets back to consistency. That's what you're counting on with your offensive line. We've given him some opportunities and we'll continue to look at him.
GH: How do you line up this week? More changes?
ZT: It's something we have to continue to talk about as a staff and make sure we're putting the best group of five out there to give us a chance to win the game. That's something we'll continue to talk through.
GH: Weird to see Andy Dalton this week on the other side?
ZT: As coaches and players, we come across this a lot. You're coaching against people you coached with for years. Coaching against family. Coaching against players you coached. It's probably stranger for the fan base, I would imagine, than it is for the coaches and some of the players that played with Andy for a long time. I've got a lot of great memories of Andy. Andy's an outstanding person and player. I really enjoyed coaching him for a year.
GH: What did you like about Andy?
ZT: Just his honest approach. You were always on the same page with him. We had those honest conversations. We would always make sure we were on the same page and that's important with a quarterback. They're really an extension of the coaching staff. I always appreciated Andy's leadership that way, his honesty, his communication. Those are things you always appreciated about him.