As the Bengals and Steelers embark on another chapter of their long, rich rivalry, Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson sat down with head coach Zac Taylor to talk about how he expects Joe Burrow to bounce back and how his team is better built for AFC North games.
GH: Did you ever have a three-interception game along the way in your career and have you and Joe commiserated about that?
ZT: It depends on the type of three-interception game. Bad decisions and late throws, it's usually hard to forgive yourself on those. That wasn't really the case Sunday. You can say three interceptions all you want. He got hit on one and the D-Tackle picked it off.
There's not a lot of quarterbacks that can overcome that. The other two he threw on time. He was decisive. And Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson made really good plays. Jaylon Johnson made a decision he's going to jump a route. And it paid off for him. Roquan just made a great play you don't see a lot of linebackers make underneath that throw.
That's what happens when you play quarterback. Sometimes you're playing on time, you're doing things the right way and the defense makes some good plays. I think what's important is that you just don't over coach him at that moment. Hey, it's your fault, you threw an interception. It's not always that way. We'll learn from it. There's a certain play style we just have to have as a team when we're on the road against a team like that.
GH: He's so advanced in so many ways, I guess we forget that was only his 12th NFL start. After the game he seemed to learn a lesson that you can't force it if your defense is playing well.
ZT: Well, I think that's one thing you can say maybe after the game without looking at tape. Were you playing on time? Was the coverage telling you where to go with the ball? If the answers were yes on both of those, sometimes you have to live with a play that they just make. It's unfortunate because it added to four turnovers that we had in the second half and ultimately that's what we tend to lock on. They have to look at each situation in its own. Was it a bad decision and were you late? If the answers were no, then the defense made good plays on the ball.
GH: There was conversation from Joe and Ja'Marr Chase about needing to take more shots down field. I'm sure you want to take shots, too.
ZT: Sometimes you call shots and they're not there. They take them away. They know that. We're all on the same page. That's how we want to operate.
GH: Certainly how he came back from his knee injury showed how resilient Joe is. That has to hold him in good stead I would think bouncing back this week.
ZT: Yeah. You're always going to get emotional on Sunday and you always take the emotion out of it on Monday. What can I learn from it? There are plenty of other areas that we can learn from and correct them moving forward. That's what's important to take away from a loss like that.
GH: He came back with the two straight TDs after the three straight picks. A lot of quarterbacks would have checked out. A lot of defenses, too. It could have been 27-3 if everybody bagged it.
ZT: There's the old saying in this league, those who know know. When you're playing quarterback and you throw back-to-back picks, but he knows they weren't terrible decisions. They weren't poorly thrown balls. Let everybody outside panic. He led us down there and scored 14 points right away and if we got the ball again we were extremely confident it was going to happen again.
GH: What was it like when you talked to him Monday?
ZT: We talked through the game, things we have to improve on as a unit, as a team and how we're going to play the game this week.
GH: How do you play this week?
ZT: We always say a lot of times it comes down to one possession. That game on Sunday did come down to one possession. It didn't appear to come down to one possession for a lot of the fourth quarter, but ultimately it did. Just making sure everyone sees the kind of one play that they could have been responsible for that maybe could have prevented three points or got us three points at some other point in the game. It happens in the first, second and third quarter and you don't think much of it. But they have as equal or more importance as some of those plays in the fourth quarter.
GH: The defense has played two winnable games and been really good. What has impressed you about them?
ZT: I think the discipline. Those guys are really playing as a unit. You can see a lot of the calls from Lou (Anarumo) and you can see how 11 guys are playing together within that call. And they're just doing a really good job of being disciplined, communicating, playing off of each other and after giving up plays, not giving up another play in that drive. They're going to give up explosives occasionally. It's the NFL. But those guys have really bowed up after those big plays and made good stands and held them to a field goal or made them punt. They've been doing it for two weeks.
GH: You had those stops on third-and-one, fourth-and-one early in Sunday's second quarter and the defensive line with these new guys, Trey Hendrickson, Larry Ogunjobi, B.J. Hill, you have to be thrilled with what they're giving you.
GH: Guys that have been here. Guys that are new. They're all stepping up. Cam Sample, a rookie, has been getting in there and making some really good plays. It's been an impressive group, but we're only two games in and a lot of stories have been written about a team two games in. If we can continue to be efficient week in and week out it will pay off for us.
GH: How big was that Pittsburgh win for you guys last year here on a Monday night?
ZT: It's important to win these division games. Every game is important, we know that. But these division games, it's where we want to be. We want to be a playoff team and the only way to do that is to take care of your division. Win your division. That's really what our mentality has to be.
GH: You've obviously done your homework on upping your game in the division when it comes to running the ball and stopping the run. The team has signed all those guys on defense and you've shown two sides of your offense the first two games. (Prominently under center against Minnesota and shot gun against Chicago). Which one do you think fits the division or do you think both fit the division?
ZT: I think there are elements of our offense that we'll pull out and keep. Sometimes it's attacking another team's weakness and sometimes it's to try and minimize their strengths a little bit. That's part of game planning, making those decisions on how we want to attack the opponent.
GH: Do you feel that you're better suited now to go into the division than you were two years ago?
ZT: I definitely do. I think we've got a team that we can really lean on and have guys that can step up and make plays in critical moments. That's really important. We've got guys in all three phases. You never know who is going to do it, but I know that we've got a lot of guys that are capable of doing it and that's real encouraging as a coach.
GH: Bengals-Steelers is such an emotional rivalry and you're coming off a week where they flagged Vonn Bell for taunting Andy Dalton and it looked like he hardly acknowledged Andy. Did that surprise you guys he got nailed with that and what about this Sunday?
ZT: We just have to remove ourselves from all those situations and whether people really did or not, it's what they're calling and they're calling it in really critical moments and we just have to be smart about it.
GH: How much has slot cornerback Mike Hilton meant to you as he goes back to Pittsburgh this week?
A ton. The energy he brings, the attention to detail. He's just a really savvy nickel. And he brings great leadership to the unit. His culture. He's been a great addition for us.
GH: I know it was disappointing up in Chicago after a big opener. What is your vibe going into Pittsburgh after watching the tape and talking to the guys?
ZT: We never want to lose, but this loss needs to serve us well. We need to learn from some of the things that popped up in this game because they can help us win this week. We just have to take it and remove the emotion from it and move on. There are 24 other teams in the NFL just like us that have at one or two wins. We're right there in the thick of everybody else as disappointed as feel after a loss. We're right in the middle of it. We just have to respond well this week on the road against a divisional opponent.