In their weekly discussion, head coach Zac Taylor talks with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson filling the void left by the injury to quarterback Joe Burrow, the challenges of getting a backup quarterback ready in the age of COVID and the emergence of a defense getting in sync after the bye.
GH: How does Joe's injury impact what you're trying to build on and off the field? How do you do it? Who do you turn to? How do you get some momentum to take into 2021?
ZT: That falls on our leadership and our captains. Even guys that aren't captains. Talking (Sunday) night with guys like Tyler Boyd and Jessie Bates. Other young guys we've come to lean on because of their play on the field that has earned the respect of their teammates and coaches. We've got the right people to get us headed in the right direction.
Now we have to put a full game on the field and go win some games. That's what's most important right now. We have a lot of guys we can turn to that I expect to really help us in this situation.
The guys we count on have to keep stepping up and that's receivers in the passing game. Nothing is going to be perfect and easy and you have to create separation and make some contested catches and make some big plays in the passing game for us.
GH: Did you spend some time with Tyler and Jessie Sunday night after the game?
ZT: I thought it was important. Those are two of your guys on each side of the ball that have done things the right way this year. They've got the right mindset and they've totally bought in to what we're doing here and they see the big picture of what we're moving towards and they believe in it. Just challenging them to keep leading this locker room.
GH: We know why you drafted Ryan Finley. Smart, accurate guy. But we haven't seen or heard much of Brandon Allen.
ZT: Veteran and knows the system. Two years in L.A. One in Denver in a very similar system.
GH: Very tough year for backup quarterbacks to get work. Not only no spring or pre-season games, but you had to use whatever you had on the rookie quarterback.
ZT: It's the job as the backup quarterbacks to put in the work to get the reps that they missed that the starter gets. Often times that happens in some way shape or form with the scout team reps. You have to do a great job visualizing how we would read it.
Other times, and this is where most of the reps come from, it's just on air during a special teams period or post practice with Pitch (quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher) and we're just going through it on air, but you still have the muscle memory of the actions that maybe you don't get a lot of reps on. That's life as a back-up quarterback. It's not always pretty. You don't always get the actual reps you would want to play a game, but you have to ready when your number is called.
GH: If Finley didn't have many reps, Allen would have even less, wouldn't he?
They've been getting about the same work on air over there on that other field. Going to have to get some reps fast.
GH: Do you expect Joe to be around in some capacity?
ZT: We'll give that some time to sort that out. He's got to figure out the whole surgery thing. We'll have that conversation, but it doesn't have to be today.
GH: Amazing to have 143 yards and no points last week in Washington. You guys moved up and down the field.
ZT: Yeah, that was disappointing and to not convert on fourth and goal from the four. We still had a lot of confidence we were going to put a lot of points on the board.
GH: Everybody forgot about it Sunday, but for about the fourth time in the last six weeks or so the defense played well enough to win.
ZT: They gave us a chance. There's no question. We didn't do much with the clock on offense in the second half. We didn't really move the ball to change field position. But I really thought our defense gave us a chance to win and offensively we hung them out to dry in the second half.
There's been some good really good things from our defense that have shown up. Those guys are playing hard, they're totally bought in. You're seeing guys step up and make lot of plays and we're going to call on those guys and they know that and they want that challenge. It will be exciting to see how they respond.
GH: Any position group or guys that have impressed you on defense?
ZT: I think what you're seeing is similar to last year. Guys are getting used to the scheme after the bye week and playing together and, really, in a lot of ways, it's the same as last year because we've got a lot of new guys. Some due to injury, some we've signed, and they're starting to jell together. They play off each other and the communication is getting much better and you shouldn't be surprised by that at the end of the day. But it does take time to get that down when you've got a new group out there.
The defensive line has been decimated. A lot of new guys are getting into a nice rhythm together. The safeties are getting in a nice rhythm. These corners are getting more reps. We need to create more turnovers. That's the big emphasis for us. We've got to get the ball out. We've got some picks, but we've got to get more fumbles, more balls on the ground. That's been a big part of our message all year, but we just have to get it done.