After Sunday's 24-10 victory in Pittsburgh, Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson caught up with head coach Zac Taylor in a short week and they talked about turning the emotion on and off from Sunday to Thursday, Joe Burrow's long game and the rise of Logan Wilson to potential elite status.
GH: What was the locker room like right after the win over the Steelers that was so big for your program?
ZT: We needed it for ourselves to get a win on the road in a big game like that. We needed to see what it felt like. We needed to feel ourselves earn it. The demeanor quickly turned to, 'We've got bigger things at stake.' We're on a national stage here in a couple of days and we better be ready. We know what life in this league is. I don't care what Jacksonville's record is. We better play our best football because they've got a lot talent on that roster.
GH: Do you like the fact you have a short week after such an emotional win? They have no choice but to get their heads around?
ZT: As long as they handle it the right way. Then it's good.
GH: I know Jags rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a huge talent, but to me the big thing is how you guys mentally adjust from the emotion of Sunday to Thursday.
ZT: You're right and you get a sense very quickly that team has got really good offensive skill and a team that has invested in their defense as well. Myles Jack is one of the premier linebackers in this league. They've got some corners they've paid in free agency, some corners they drafted in the first round and they're leaning on their guys to step up and play and we have to be ready for it.
GH: You and your staff and Joe Burrow managed the last game so well. Is that the kind of game where you guys took a step in managing a tough, defensive road game?
ZT: I like to think so. I think our guys all handled it and understood it. The one situation we'd like to have back is the 21-play drive on defense followed by the three-and-out on offense. Aside from that I think we played the right style of game that's necessary when you've got that lead to make sure we can ensure victory there. Our guys handled the plan well and I thought our coaches communicated well.
GH: Is that an evolution, too, to not only handle games like that with your offense, but having a defense that lets you be in those games?
ZT: Our defense has done a great job not allowing points. When we take good care of the football and play the way we need to play, we'll be in good shape more times than not.
GH: You mentioned that the long touchdown Joe Burrow threw to Ja'Marr Chase at the end of the half was different than the one he threw to him in the opener. How?
ZT: There are different throws on different parts of the field. As a quarterback you're always mindful. Am I on the 50-yard line or am I on the plus 40, plus 30 going in? You look at the one he threw against Minnesota. Similar type action in the backfield, takes a three-step drop from the gun, takes a hitch and throws the ball up in the air (from behind the 50). This one he throws on a plant because he's on the 35-yard line. Just being mindful of the different tempos that come up and I thought it was really well done by him.
GH: And against the Steelers it was play-action and against Minnesota it wasn't.
ZT: It had the option to be. He chose to hold the safety with his eyes (against the Steelers) more so than the ball fake against Minnesota.
GH: Ja'Marr said he was urging him to throw it deep to him. Did Joe check to the play?
ZT: That's just communications on the sidelines. That was a called play, but that's after a discussion with those guys. How are these corners playing us, how can I get on them? We really called the same play two plays before and we threw the ball to Tyler Boyd down the middle for an incompletion and then came back and hit Ja'Marr.
GH: On Joe's interception to Boyd over the middle, you had rookie running back Chris Evans in the game and it looked like you were running the same play from preseason when Brandon Allen hit him for a 29-yard touchdown down the side.
ZT: Evans had the same route, but it was not the same overall concept.
GH: Evans quietly looked good again with two catches for 26 yards.
ZT: There's a lot of ways to use him. He can carry the ball, too. Joe (Mixon) only got 18 carries, so it's not like we're over using him with 42 snaps. But we certainly have a lot of confidence in Samaje and Chris to run the ball when needed.
GH: Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham talked after the game about how the Steelers mixed up their defensive personnel packages in an apparent response to their injuries.
ZT: You're always looking when you're in 11 personnel (three wide receivers), are they matching you in nickel or playing you in base, which limits some of your runs. You have to be very particular in how you target things. Sometimes it was difficult to diagnose the personnel. You have to make a call.
You don't want to make the wrong one against the wrong look when you're still trying to run the ball. You want to make sure they're in that personnel and sometimes there were some late subs there that just kind of stressed our communication. But I think our guys handled it really well. We got what we wanted out of each play. It might be a little sporadic for the first 20 seconds of the play call, but ultimately our guys all got on the same page and we had some good runs.
GH: It looks like you played more 12 (two tight ends) than you have against them.
ZT: It only stresses you when you're in 11. When you're in 12 and they match you or they play nickel, it's not so much of an issue. It's more so when you add a receiver on the field and they're going to continue to play their base defense. That's where you need to be on top of your communication. From play-caller to quarterback to center, that's where it's all critical.
GH: When you guys were coming out of Chicago last week, some numbers were showing Mixon didn't run well against a "light box." But he says the Steelers went with an eight-man box, which I'm guessing is heavy, and he got five yards a carry. What is your definition of a light box and which one was Mixon running against on Sunday?
ZT: What people probably call a light box is when you get a pure cover 2 look. They're going to take the safety out of the equation and try to limit your downfield passing stuff. You'd like to have success running the football when you get those boxes. Joe's right. On Sunday a lot of times they were mixing up their fronts because they were having early success and so you might know what personnel you were getting, but you might not be able to define what front you were getting until you lined up.
They were moving linebacker Melvin Ingram a little bit and bringing safeties in there and our guys handled it well. Guys covered them up and blocked them and made some good creases for Joe and Joe did a great job defining the runs, making the cuts he can make. That was a lot of fun to watch.
GH: When you drafted Logan Wilson there was the sense he had the characteristics to be an elite backer with his instincts and speed. Is he getting on the cusp of that after 14 tackles and two interceptions in Pittsburgh?
ZT: I think so. He continues to make progress. He's got 12 games from last year and three in this year. I think he's probably continuing to learn each game. He sees something new every game and adjusting to it. It's starting to really slow down for him. He just has a knack for when the ball is going to come out and where he needs to be in the underneath zone. That's been awesome to see.
Logan and Germaine (Pratt) and Vonn (Bell) are leading the charge to get the ball out. You rarely see Logan or Germaine take a guy to the ground and not try to rip the ball out of their hands. Germaine got one early in the game that didn't count and Logan found a way to get the two in the air. That's just good ball by those guys.
GH: The Bengals really haven't had a guy at linebacker with those kind of instincts since Vontaze Burfict, which is saying a lot.
ZT: He always had great instincts. That's a great quality to have for those linebackers. Al (Golden) has done a really good job molding that room and teaching them the fundamentals and helping them play fast. That's good to see.
GH: Your guys talked about it being a statement game. It seemed like you made a statement when you gave the game ball to a defensive player in Logan.
ZT: You know what? When you are a part of the turnovers that change games, you get a game ball. Those are like points for us. We took advantage of the short fields. Sam Hubbard played a part in that first one. He made the hit on Ben that knocked the ball in the air. Whether that was going to be a fumble or a pick, who knows? It doesn't matter. Logan finished the play off. The second one, Ben was hitting all those underneath crossing routes and Logan was just there in a drop that Lou (Anarumo) called and it was perfect timing for that pick.