Taylor-Made Takes: Young Offense Begins To Find Chemistry And "It's really starting to show up"

Tee Higgins fitting into Zac Taylor's offense just fine.
Tee Higgins fitting into Zac Taylor's offense just fine.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor sat down with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson to discuss the evolution of his offense and what can be done to fix the defense before Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the Titans at Paul Brown Stadium.

GH: Your two pupils go at it Sunday with Joe Burrow and Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

ZT: Tannehill is a great quarterback. I was around him for eight years. He's tremendous. No surprise. He's been a great player in this league. He's going to create a really difficult challenger for us. He's got a high football IQ. He's really got the whole system in his hands. He can check and get into a great play.

He's great athlete, so he can make plays with his feet. He's one of the best throwers on the perimeter than anyone I've been around with all the nakeds and all the scrambles. He's got the arm strength to make all the throws. He can be deadly accurate. When he gets in a rhythm he can be tough. No surprise they went to the AFC championship game. No surprise they're having the success they're having this year.

GH: What turned on the light for him in Tennessee?

ZT: I don't agree with that, really. He had a good career and he got hurt in Miami and missed a season. I can't speak to what happened in terms of them moving on, but he was really productive during his time down there.

GH: How do you see the Carlos Dunlap trade?

ZT: Time for everyone to move on and get ready for this game on Sunday

GH: What must be done on defense?

ZT: Trying to correct the things you can correct. Just like pre-snap reads. Let's get lined up with urgency and communicate faster. And that way all our eyes are on our keys and we're in the right spot. There were several plays like that where you can do a better job just pre-snap being aligned, putting yourself in better position. You never know when these plays are the game-deciding plays.

GH: I don't know how many times the defense in the fourth quarter last week was one play away from sealing the game. An offsides. A missed sack. A 50-50 ball. What do you tell these guys? Keep grinding for that one play?

ZT: Often times, guys are in position. They're making the play and we're just not. Sometimes it's well defended, but everything works in conjunction with everything else. The rush to help the coverage. The coverage has to be there to help the rush. It all fits together. We've got confidence we'll get there, we're just missing a couple of pieces.

GH: You drew a lot of praise for the game plan you devised last week. Was it a product of not having running back Joe Mixon or did it evolve the way they played you and who you lost up front on the offensive line?

ZT: When you're having success on first down and you can get that first first down and get the drive started, that's when we feel like we're in a great rhythm. It didn't have much to do with who was available or anything like that. We felt like we got in a good rhythm and we're staying out of third down and the play sheet allows you a lot of stuff to try and keep them off balance.

GH: High amount of screens, which seemed to keep them off balance, but it was unique screens as well as the conventional ones.

ZT: Part of it was what they were doing. Trying to combat and stay a step ahead of the pressures they were bringing. A couple worked in our favor. One of them didn't. One of them they screened away from the pressure. It's not always perfect, but we're trying to take the pressure of our guys on first and second down.

GH: How did you come up with a screen on a double pass? Have you always had that in here?

ZT: No, that was this week. That was Brian (offensive coordinator Callahan). Brian suggested that and thought it would have some success with it and sure enough.

GH: Tyler Boyd mentioned it was set up to look like you were going to A.J. Green in the post. That would have been Burrow throwing it to him down field, right, or could Tyler throw it?

ZT: Tyler was meant to catch the ball and look at A.J. down field on the crossing route. Sometimes they think that's where the double pass is going, so you kind of come back across the field. I thought our guys did a good job executing. We probably ran it twice all week.

GH: Tyler's a pretty good athlete. He'd have to be one of our emergency QBs.

ZT: Him and Alex Erickson. Those are the guys that have those kinds of skills.

GH: It sounds like tight end Drew Sample would have been the next tackle up last Sunday.

ZT: We hadn't got that far. We used our last tackle with three plays in the game. We had not got that far down the list.

GH: How did you think Fred Johnson played last Sunday? He ended up playing both tackles.

ZT: I thought he did some positive things. He's got a lot of reps in our system we have confidence.

GH: He's an athletic guy and the screens really seem to fit what you've got on the offensive line. Even the back-ups are pretty athletic.

ZT: Yeah, we've got athletic offensive linemen that can get in space. Most these guys are young guys and they've got that energy to get out in space and run down the field. You look at Gio's (Bernard) screen down the left side line for a big play. You look at (center) Trey (Hopkins). You look at (left guard) Mike Jordan. You look at all those guys sprinting down the field to get in on the action. It was really impressive to see.

GH: You've got a rookie like that in Hakeem Adeniji who you must feel is really athletic with Sunday's start against Tennessee. Offensive line coach Jim Turner was on the table early for him in the draft.

ZT: He's smart, he's capable. He's been ready for this situation. So we're counting on him to do a great job for us.

GH: With Jadeveon Clowney on the other side, it's a welcome to the NFL moment for Fred and Hakeem.

ZT: Sure is. We're expecting a lot out of them this week.

GH: You look at all your young guys. Especially on offense. The rookies like Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins. The second-year guys like Jordan and Jonah Williams and Sample. Are they beginning to hit their stride offensively?

GH: You look at all your young guys. Especially on offense. The rookies like Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins. The second-year guys like Jordan and Jonah Williams and Sample. Are they beginning to hit their stride offensively?

ZT: I was taking to one of the guys in this rookie class on defense on Monday. And it's time to take that next step. And I made that reference to (linebacker) Germaine Pratt and Drew Sample and Jonah Williams. They're in their second year and they've all taken the step that we expected to see them take. These young guys have to keep setting the standard a little bit higher and they're doing a good job for us.

GH: Sample strikes me like one of those old-time Pittsburgh or Baltimore tight ends that would always seem to make a positive eight, nine, 10-yard catch to put you in good position, while also standing up to the blocking in the run game.

ZT: It doesn't always have to be sexy. But you throw him a five-yard completion on second and 10 and the next thing you know you've got the first down. That's what we're counting on him to do

GH: I'm not asking you if last Sunday was a validation for what you're doing offensively, but in many ways it seemed to be more of a step than the 505 yards against Jacksonville.

ZT: In some ways this offense is young in term of its time together. It's taken us a couple of weeks to find that rhythm, find that chemistry and it's really starting to show up. I felt like it showed up last week. I felt like it showed up two weeks ago against Jacksonville. Take out the one game (27-3 loss in Baltimore) that was a frustrating one for the offense. We've played really, really good football three of the last four weeks. Our guys believe in each other and their confidence is through the roof right now.

GH: I know I'm too old school on this stuff, but I thought your fourth-and-one call, a play-action pass with 66 seconds left to take the lead, down to your last snap, win or lose, I mean, that's a pretty gutsy call, isn't it? But you guys just seemed to shrug it off. Maybe I'm, nuts, but that was real gutsy and showed a lot of confidence in what you're doing.

ZT: It's a play we've repped a lot. We've run it many times. Not always with that personnel. We try to change up the window dressing a little bit. But if you go back and watch the play, everyone is open. It doesn't show up at first. You only see Gio because that's where the ball went. As you let the play roll, both tight ends are coming open on the back side. It's a play, unfortunately, C.J. (Uzomah) had that he dropped against the Jets last year. We hit Drew Sample with it on third-and-one the last time we played the Browns. Same play. Hit it to the back side for about seven, eight yards. It's a play our guys have a lot of confidence on. Game on the line it's one we felt good about. We didn't second guess it at all.


Gamedey Program - Game 4 vs. Tennessee Titans

GH: Just tough on an old scribe's heart. It's pretty creative with Gio going back and forth in motion.

ZT: It's a well-protected play that has a lot of options to it, but there is some salesmanship to it. Gio did that. That's an important part of the play. Selling the initial motion across to get the safety to commit and Gio did a great job and after that it's just speed and Gio outraced him to the flag.

HGH: You guys called timeout right before that. Was that because the way they looked or you guys just wanted to talk about it.

ZT: We were down on the clock. It was a massive substitution deal and we had two plays called. You just get space to kind of really think about it and talk about it. You didn't think at that point we needed a timeout because we were going to go get a stop on defense and kneel the ball down. We used it to make sure we were thorough and our guys did a great job of executing.

GH: Any thought about draining the clock for 40 more seconds or so instead of scoring the touchdown from the 3 with 1:09 left?

ZT: Get the first down. If you score, you score. We needed to focus getting the first down and we didn't give any other message.

GH: The way the guys rallied to you after the game, they seemed to not only respond to you, but what you're running. Obviously, no one likes to lose a shootout. But do you think it was the type of moment you planted your flag?

ZT: This team is as connected as it's ever been. I get no one wants to hear that. That's our job as coaches and players to stick together and our players have bought in and committed to that. If we stick together and keep trying to grow with every day that passes, we'll turn the corner and there are going to be really good days.

GH: Maybe symbolic of your offense is that fourth-and-one. If it's working, everyone is open.

ZT: There's such a positive energy in that group. They're playing for each other. There's no selfishness there, there's nobody that needs all the production. Guys are just as happy when their teammates make a play as if they make it. That's what is important as we continue to build this team.