Before his first Steelers game on Monday night in Pittsburgh (8:20, ESPN and Cincinnati's Channel 5), Bengals head coach Zac Taylor sat down with Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson.
Everybody was talking about the fiery, animated Zac Taylor after last Sunday's game. Was it as fiery as you've ever been around the players?
Tough for me to tell. That's up to them. However they want to explain it. It was a tight game that came down to the last second and quite frankly there was a lot of energy in that locker room. We knew how close we were to grabbing our first victory of the season. It was disappointing we didn't get it. I just wanted to make clear to everybody that we have to take advantage of those opportunities and the next one is right around the corner for us.
You were also pretty animated in that fourth quarter on the sidelines when everything was going on.
I think the energy was good in the fourth quarter. Our defense made stands all day and got the offense the ball. We produced for the first time early in the second half. We felt the momentum go in our favor. Not energy by me but energy on the whole sidelines. We felt confident we were going to win the game.
When you talk about accountability, you seem to be the most accountable guy in the building. Probably because you're the most visible guy, but you've never shied away from taking blame on a penalty or a play. Do you think that is floating over to players?
It's just part of the foundation of our culture. You want to make sure that you're holding yourself to the highest standard and once you know that you're doing that, you can hold everyone else accountable. That goes with me, that goes with every coach and player we've got in this building.
Has Mike Brown ever talked to you about Steelers Week?
Mike and I have a lot of private conversations and he's been a great resource to me and we've probably hit on about everything at this point.
About this time of year you hear stuff in the media that the Bengals have a mental block when it comes to the Steelers. Is that something as a coach worry about?
In the six months I've been here, I haven't heard them say anything about it. Our approach is that we're going to prepare ourselves to put our best foot forward and get our first win.
You've got a blank slate when it comes to Pittsburgh.
1-0 with Miami. That's a good start.
It is the kind of rivalry all fans always seem to watch. Chiefs-Raiders. 49ers-Rams. It always seems like they play six times a year. You ever remember watching a Bengals-Steelers game that stands out?
I know they've had some close battles the last couple of years. It's certainly one of the great rivalries in the NFL. This division has always been a hard-nosed, tough division. All four teams have always been really good, so this game will certainly be a big one. It will be a hard-nosed battle, it will be in prime time and the players and coaches will be all amped up.
How different are they without Ben? He's such a unique player.
He's likely a Hall of Fame quarterback, a Super Bowl champion. It's never fun losing a player like that. They obviously invested a lot in Mason (Rudolph). They feel strongly about him, I would think. The season's riding on him and we have to be prepared because he's a really good quarterback.
How close are you to knocking the door down? One play in Seattle and Buffalo.
We're close. We just have to create our own opportunities there. Other teams have done that against us and we just have to make sure we do it against the other teams going forward.
What are your priorities in Pittsburgh?
All the fundamental things that we talked about the first three weeks that haven't been good enough. Have to be better on first down. On defense we have to make sure we're sure tacklers and can't let anybody out of our grasp. We've played some tough quarterbacks that like to run around and they're tough to get down and we just have to make sure that remains our focus.
It looked to me like for the first time in the second half on Sunday you were able to get into a good rhythm calling the game with down and distance.
We have to get that first first down. Really, that's where the rhythm comes from. We feel like we can get in an attack mode and be a little more creative. In the first half, for a myriad of reasons we weren't able to get that first first down, so we were on our heels. They were attacking us. That's not the way we want to play.
I know you don't like the balance (129 passes to 52 runs). Is what you had in the second half Sunday (14 rushes, 23 passes) more what you want?
To be quite honest with you, we're going to do whatever we have to do to get a first down and score points. Every game is going to be a different approach. Some games you may run it a lot more than you throw it. Other games you may throw it a lot more than you run it. Sometimes it may be 50-50. We're not going to pigeon hole ourselves into we're going to win it a certain way. We're going to make sure we're doing whatever we need to do to defeat the team we're playing.
I guess you built this offense to be like one of those shirts you can put on both ways.
That's a good way to put it. Just like a reversible jersey.
You haven't been able to score three touchdowns in a game. If you can put your finger on why, what would the reasons be?
We have to be more efficient on first down. We said it after San Francisco, I'll say it again after this one. The first half was a killer because we're setting ourselves back. We had a dropped pass on the first play of the game, had a penalty on the first first down of the second drive. It starts with the play calls. We have to make sure we're putting ourselves in the best position for guys to make plays.
After your first three games as a play-caller, what grade would you give yourself? How does Zac Taylor the head coach critique Zac Taylor the play caller?
Not good enough. We haven't scored enough points. We haven't had enough efficiency on early downs and so certainly in there we have to improve. Are we calling the best plays into the best looks? Are we giving ourselves the best chance to be successful? So far it hasn't been good enough through three weeks.
We need to continue to find the best way to use all our players. Every week we evaluate that and the decisions we made as a coaching staff. Continue to be hard on ourselves. We haven't won a game yet. So you have to look yourself in the mirror and make sure you make the corrections you need.
Is there one play you want back from last week?
There's always a couple you want back. There's more than one.
Any that stick in the head?
Yeah, we threw a screen when we were backed up. Probably around the 10-yard line. Threw a screen on first down trying to get Tyler Boyd the ball and it was a poor play call. They had two guys bumped up there. Tough play call. Put us in bad position.
But you had that screen to running back Joe Mixon for 33 yards.
You remember the ones that didn't work. That's just the way it works. Constantly striving for self-improvement there.
Andy Dalton and John Ross had an open go ball where they couldn't connect.
Everyone has been accountable for the things he can do better. Plenty of our guys have made lot of plays. Andy put us in position in the second half to move the ball down the field and be in position to win. It didn't go our way. I think everyone points the fingers at themselves right now. Everyone can coach better and play better.
How is Andy playing?
I think he would say he's 0-3. Just the same way I feel. Just the same way (offensive coordinator) Brian Callahan feels. Everyone feels like they're 0-3. Everyone knows they can improve and do better. Certainly you cannot point the finger to one person. I would say Andy has made some really good plays that have put us in position to do some great things and we're going to continue to lean on him, as the season goes.
The most popular guy in town on an 0-3 teams is always the back-up quarterback. That's foolish at this point, isn't it?
That would be ridiculous.