With his 8-6 Bengals in first place in the AFC North and being chased for the tiebreaker by the 8-6 Ravens, head coach Zac Taylor took a break holding the heavy bag for Sunday's title bout (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against Baltimore at Paul Brown Stadium and had his weekly conversation with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: The way Ja'Marr Chase went off against the Ravens back in October for 201 yards, is that kind of the dividing line when teams started to cover you guys differently?
ZT: I don't know that. Baltimore has always had a lot of faith in their corners. Especially when those guys are healthy and they've got a good group. They play a lot of man coverage and that's won them a lot of games. We were able to make some plays that led to some big ones and Ja'Marr was able to do that, too. I don't know that other teams played us differently because of that game. It's hard for me to say. Not everybody's got the strength in the secondary that Baltimore has, so it's hard to say.
GH: Have you acquired an appreciation for Ravens head coach John Harbaugh?
ZT: They've been as consistent as any team in this league for a really long time. Certainly since he's been there. He's always got his guys ready to play. They've got an identity and they stick with it and their players clearly believe in what they're doing in all three phases and that's a lot of credit to the head coach
GH: What do you think that win over the Ravens back in October meant for you guys?
ZT: We needed to beat Baltimore. We had lost four in a row against them and our guys needed to feel what it's like to beat each team in the division. We hadn't done a lot of that over the last couple of years. It was good just to check that box and be able to say, 'OK, we've been there, done that. Let's move on and put that one behind us.'
GH: You couldn't draw it up any better having the Ravens come in here this Sunday tied on top of the division. Of course a sweep of Pittsburgh and Baltimore would definitely be huge in the standings, but what about beyond that? What would it mean big picture?
ZT: You've got to make an impact in your division if you want to do the things you always want to do as we start the season out. So far we've taken a step in the right direction in that regard. But we still have two divisional games to go and that's a lot of football when you're only playing six games against your division. We have to take the next step this week.
GH: What is the biggest difference between you guys now and back on Oct. 24?
ZT: I don't know that there's much of a difference in how we are. I feel like we were playing good football about that time and I feel like we're back to playing good football now. Our guys still have a high degree of confidence that we can beat anybody we can go up against.
GH: Did you ever reach a point in your own mind that it was OK to win 15-10 and 10-7? Did you ever have to be convinced that you could win that way?
ZT: You always know what type of game you might be in for. It was close to that when we played Vegas. We got some turnovers late that allowed us to put some points on the board. Otherwise it would have been pretty similar. I certainly think back to a lot of times playing (Broncos head coach) Vic Fangio in Chicago and I remember with the Rams we lost 16-6 because we turned the ball over four times in the exact same style of game because you started to feel like you have to start scoring points and they can pressure throws and it kind of falls right into their trap.
So we just stayed patient. We took what they gave us. Our defense stepped up and made the plays we needed and our offense got enough first downs and one big touchdown play and our special teams played a huge part in it. And sometimes that's how you have to win in Denver. Tough place to play. Hard to hear. Their season is on the line as well. I was really proud of how our guys handled that game.
GH: You had some of that in '18 with the Rams when you went to the Super Bowl with that offense. Could you win the grinders?
ZT: Look at the Super Bowl that year (Patriots won, 13-3). Very similar style of game. You have to be able to win in December and January with some ugly games some times, but it's only ugly on offense. It certainly wasn't ugly from the defense's perspective. They love that style of game and I was proud of them.
GH: Last Sunday after the win Trey Hendrickson came off the field and asked you, "How many times did they hold me? They called it twice." I think both you guys knew it could have been more.
ZT: That's probably one of the things that don't go on the stat sheet. The impact he has not only with the sacks and that production, but how much the other team feels him. That leads to false starts. That leads to holding penalties. That leads to the offensive coordinator calling some quicker stuff that leads to them having to put a tight end or a back in protection to help chip and now they can't affect the coverage quickly. There are a lot of things that didn't show up on the stat sheet that Trey certainly contributes to the overall how the game plays out.
GH: Are you concerned about the running game the last few weeks?
ZT: No. It's not always going to be the 100, 200 yards. Sometimes it's going to be a gritty, dirty game and I think the guys played the type of ball we needed to play last Sunday. We still have a lot of confidence in our run game. Denver has a really good group. You look at some potential big plays that we had where maybe we just missed a targeting or late coming off a combo or if we just hold off on a block for a half-second longer you get a bigger play. Those are things we see on tape and we see how close we were to having maybe a bigger day on the ground. You have to be able to move on.
GH: Tough to lose a guy like linebacker Joe Bachie with a torn ACL. A young guy that was just getting a shot and he was playing pretty well for you.
ZT: Yeah, he's just a ballplayer. It makes sense to him. He's got good instincts and he stepped in Sunday and did a real good job for us.
GH: Now it's Germaine Prat and Markus Bailey and then, after them, guys who haven't played very much at all. Do you go get a linebacker?
ZT: We've got these guys that have been in our system for a while now. Keandre Jones has been with us a long time. (Austin) Calitro has been here for a couple of weeks and Clay Johnston is back from COVID this week. You've got five backers there, all who have played football for us and those guys, it's their time to step up.
GH: Pratt may be the most improved player.
ZT: Pratt makes his improvements every year. He's quietly been a really good leader for us and just that kind of model of consistency and we're lucky to have him.
GH: What kind of game is it going to be on December 26? Is it going to be what we just saw?
ZT: Hard to predict. (As of late Monday afternoon) I've only watched one half of the (Ravens') last five games. You kind of have to go through the tape before you make that prediction on how you think the game is going to evolve. That's usually more Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
GH: Can we just assume it's going to be another grind job whether they have Lamar Jackson or Tyler Huntley at quarterback? They've got the great run game all the time.
ZT: They can attack you in a lot of different ways. They're a very explosive offense. We have to be ready for it.