What Zac Taylor Said About Play Calling, Situational Football And The Running Game's Turning Point



Head coach

Initial comments ...

"After we got a chance to review it, we're still as frustrated as we were yesterday. We really felt like, on first and second down, we did a good job of executing. It was just the situational stuff that, if we're going to get to where we want to be as a team, we need to do a better job at — third downs and red zone, were really the situations that got us. Even in a two-minute (situation) at the end of the half, offensively, that brought us back. Those were the situations that got us beat yesterday. It's disappointing, because we felt like, in a lot of areas, we played well enough to win. We won the turnover battle for the first time this year, but it wasn't enough because of the third downs and the red-zone situations. You go on the road in divisional games, and that's the stuff that's going to get you beat. That's what happened yesterday. It's frustrating, but I'm excited that we'll have another shot at them in a few weeks. Obviously it was a disappointing game by us."

Was the team's ineffectiveness in third-down situations the most frustrating part of yesterday's game?

"It is. We've done a good job executing on some third-and-longs over the course of the year. That's been an area we've actually been OK in. The third-and-two-to-fives are ones you have to convert on, and we didn't. That was really frustrating."

Do you second-guess your play calling on the fourth-and-goal situation at the two yard-line?

"That's an easy thing to do. As we game plan and as we get into those situations, we feel good about them. Certainly on the first-and-goal on the two, the critical part is we can't take a sack there. It's an unbalanced play for us. We're trying to get to the ball quickly. They did a good job of getting into a coverage check and covering our guys. That's just one we need to get rid of and be in second-and-goal on the two there. When you get sacked, you second-guess it. We had the plan in place for a reason, they just did a nice job defending it. We just need to move on and get to the next play. On the draw on fourth-and-goal, if you told me we were going to get a two-safety look and that they would drop eight with a three-man front, where they're only going to have to other guys in the box, we should be able to execute that and get into the end zone. Of course, when you don't execute it, it looks bad. But when you do execute it, it looks really good. Obviously it was a tough situation on fourth-and-goal. We don't get it and you feel bad about it, but we have the plan in place for a reason and we just need to execute it."

How would you assess yourself as a play caller?

"I think all of us can make improvements — coaches and players. That's the important thing –you're not perfect in any way, and you need to keep studying yourself and finding ways you can be better. Be open to suggestions and criticisms. I ask our staff oftentimes about what they think about certain things they've done. I just want to make sure you don't have a big ego about the things you've done, that you're willing to take input and do your best to improve. We're making improvements as a team and as an offensive unit. We're not scoring enough points, but I do feel like over the last couple of weeks we've started to make some improvements. It just needs to carry over, and we need to be consistent from game to game."

On the failed fourth-and-goal attempt, it looked like that if one person made another block, Dalton would have walked into the end zone. Is that how you saw it?

"That's part of all 11 guys being on top of the screws there. There are certainly times where you can give better play calls over the course of the game, and you need to be accountable for that. With our guys, there are some things we can clean up from a detail standpoint."

Is there a beauty or importance to keeping play calls simple when you're near the goal line?

"Yeah. Well, the plays we ran yesterday are plays we've run all season long, whether we've run them in games or not. That's the point we've gotten to – 'Let's make sure our guys understand what we're trying to accomplish,' – calling some things that we've invested a (lot of time in). Oftentimes — and this is going back as long as I've played football — there might be plays you've invested 100 reps in and call one time during the season. I know that sounds crazy, but it's just how many opportunities you get in the 'low' red (zone), and the coverages you face for plays you've carried all year. Those were plays yesterday that we've carried all year, since training camp. That was the first time we've gotten the chance to call them in games, but it wasn't because we haven't repped them dozens and dozens of times. We felt good about them."

You gave up 99 yards in penalties, but that doesn't count the would-be yards you gained on penalized plays. If you add them together, it's more than 150 yards. You had more yards than them, but you gave them back with all the penalty yards, right?

"It is. Those are the things we've taken pride in over the course of the season – being a disciplined football team. There were several of them that we could have controlled and been better. Those aren't things that we do. That part was frustrating – the discipline kind of got away from us, especially on some key drives in the first half. There were some judgement ones in the second half that can go either way, depending on how the game is going. You just need to live with that. That part was just frustrating in the first half. There were two (plays) specifically that I remember that we could have done a better job on, but we didn't, and it moved us back and put us in tough spots."

Late in the game, Cleveland had a tight end blocking downfield while the ball was still in the air. Isn't that as big of a rule as pass interference?

"It's all about the replays they have access to. What we see is a tight end two yards down the field, and he leaves before the ball is caught. Whether or not you can get that angle on the TV copy, I don't know. That's the reason we challenged it, feeling like, at that point, what do we have to lose? It's two minutes left, in field goal range. If they convert that and get the first down, they're going to make it a two-score game. I know the timeouts were critical, but we were about to lose our ability to challenge under two minutes. Our best shot there is to challenge, win that challenge, have them on third-and-whatever beyond the 50, punt, and go get the ball back and score and tie the game. It just didn't go our way."

How do you judge how successful you are as a play caller?

"Wins. That's how we're all graded in this league – just winning football games."

Is there anything else? You referenced yards earlier...

"One thing that's easy for us to do is make excuses for every stat that we feel like we can finagle to make us look good. On the other side, there are plenty of stats you can look at that make us look poor. The bottom line is we need to win football games and score points. There are no excuses to be made. I'm not going to sit here and make arguments for all these statistics that we can argue are good. The bottom line is we have to win, and we haven't won enough football games. I have to do a better job. There is no doubt about that."

Did the defense play winning football yesterday?

"On first and second down, we played winning football. Third down got us beat. He escaped for the touchdown on a third-and-goal, where we could have had much better rush discipline there and not allowed that. It comes down to being situational masters, and we were not on top of the screws in those areas. And ultimately, we lost the game."

Cleveland RB Nick Chubb's 57-yard run could have been stopped for a loss, if not for a missed tackle in the backfield...

"We had a hit behind the line of scrimmage. We had two more down the field that could have gotten down a little bit sooner. That part was difficult, because we had the guys in place to do it, we just need to get it done. Unfortunately, sometimes you give up that one run and it ends up being a backbreaker at the beginning of the half that you'd like to have back. That was a tough one for us."

Did the penalties have a negative effect on the defense, maybe by not finishing plays as a result?

"I don't want to make excuses. We just need to play the play. The play got snapped, it continued to go, we need to get the guy on the ground and make the play."

Did something happen last week that caused S Brandon Wilson to be placed on the Reserve/Injured list?

"No. He got to the point – really, he has injuries on two hands. He tried to get through it and couldn't do it. After meeting with the doctors, they determined the best thing was to put him on (Reserve/Injured)."

Is WR Auden Tate a potential Reserve/Injured list candidate?

"We'll find out more information today on him. I wouldn't say it looks great at this point. Again, he's doing some further evaluation as we speak right now. I'll find out and know more tomorrow."

On the play that WR Alex Erickson completed a pass, was that play in the playbook all year?

"No. We've had a couple things we've worked on over the course of the year. That was one that was new for this week."

Were you looking for a certain situation or look in order to run that play?

"Yeah, both. There are certainly looks we don't want to run (it against). We check plays over the course of the game, whether people realize it or not. That was certainly one where, if we had the wrong look, we would not have run it."

To clarify what you said, you think it's likely that Tate will be going on the Reserve/Injured list?

"Just initially, after seeing him come off the field last night. But again, he's meeting with doctors right now, so I don't want to make any guesses on what's going to happen. We need to find out more from his meeting right now."

What was the turning point for the running game this season?

"We spent a lot of time, when we traveled to London, really evaluating what we wanted to do with the personnel up front. 'What are the things these guys are doing well? How do we help the backs, in conjunction with the linemen?' We spent a lot of time on it going to London. We felt like we got on track a little bit as we played the Rams, and we spent the whole bye week studying ourselves and saying, 'OK, these are things that we've really spent a lot of time and energy in, it's just not paying off for us.' We just want to be efficient and give ourselves an opportunity. You need to evolve. That's a credit to (offensive line coach) Jim Turner. He spent a lot of time during that bye week determining what we're going to have to do to get back on track. That goes back to a lot of the guys on the staff not having a big ego. It's easy to go through the spring and fall, and you're only practicing against your defense, so there are some things you think are good. Then you get eight weeks through the season and you're just not having success with it. You can be hard-headed and say, 'No, this is what we're going to do. We're going to keep doing it with no success.' Or you can evolve. We found a good mix of some things that we liked that we were doing. We felt like we were very close. We weren't all on the same page yet. It's easy for us to defend it, because we felt like we were so close. A lot of those things we've kept with, and they've really paid off for us. And then in a lot of ways, we've evolved. Our guys have responded really well to it. Now that we've gotten so many reps as the season's gone on, these guys have a good feel for each other and what we're asking of them. It's really helped us in the run game. It's helped us in play-actions now. We can call so many more play-actions since we've got that stuff going. The flow has been better. We just need to score more points. We need more explosive runs. We are really challenging our guys that they need to help the back down the field. You watch our linemen, and our linemen are on the second level trying to get guys cut off. We need to have everybody down the field getting on defensive backs so that Joe (HB Joe Mixon) and Gio (HB Giovani Bernard) have the opportunities to go hit those home runs that we need."

With regard to the running game, how much did you reference the 2018 Bengals' running scheme?

"Yeah. The funny thing is, when you watch last year, there are a lot of things that we came in doing. Again, you just need to find the balance. We changed linemen from what they had last year. It's just a balance of everything. You just need to find the best fit for the 11 guys that we're putting out there, and we feel like we're heading in the right direction. It's not perfect, but we're heading in the right direction."

Do you have an injury update on WR A.J. Green?

"No. Not yet. We'll just take it day-to-day and see what the diagnosis is tomorrow. We'll see if there's any change on Wednesday."

Green's pregame workout was pretty impressive. Is there any more word after a workout like that?

"No predictions there. We'll take it day-to-day with him and see where we're at when we get to Wednesday."

How eager are you to see Green on the field and know what his future is going to be?

"I understand that. We want our best players out there. He's a Pro Bowl player. He's been playing at a high level for a long time, so you always want those guys out there performing for you. Of course, he's dealing with the injury. That's put him back. We don't worry about next year at this point. We just take it week-to-week and see what players are healthy for us on Sunday."

Can you confidently say that you don't have concerns about Green's long-term health, given that you haven't seen him play this season?

"Yeah. He's put enough on tape to where we know what player he's going to be."

What about in terms of his health?

"Yeah. You can say that about any player. He's fought through injuries before and has come back to be a really good player. I just take it week to week and worry about right now. You get a chance to make all those decisions later."

It seems like Green may be doubting whether he can return to his former level of play. How do you help a player get through that?

"He's been the same guy since I've been here. I don't necessarily see it that way. He's doing all the things he can in rehab to get himself healthy and available to play at a high level. I don't want to speculate on anything he thinks. I take him at his word, and we've had great conversations. I trust where he's at."

What is it like for a first-year head coach to prepare to play Patriots head coach Bill Belichick?

"It's just another opponent for us. They've obviously had a lot of success, but we just have to look at what they've done this year. It's this opponent. You can't worry about all the achievements they've had years ago — last year, even. You just have to look at, 'What are we facing this week? What gives us the best chance to win?' You can't worry about all the things that come with the Patriots. You just need to attack them. They're another opponent. We have them here at home. Our guys are ready and eager to get back in the win column. We tasted it two weeks ago, so we need to do everything we can to give ourselves the chance to win this game."

There are rumors out there that the Patriots had a videographer in the press box yesterday, working with an advance scout that was taking video of the Bengals' sideline. Do you have any reaction to that?

"I'm aware that there was an incident, but I know that the league is investigating it so I have no comment."

So the league is investigating it. So it's out of the norm? It wasn't standard operating procedure?

"I don't have anything to say about it."

Was somebody up there?

"I have no comment."

What did you learn in the Super Bowl last year?

"That was a heck of a day, in a lot of ways (laughter). You want to get back to that 48 hours?"

Specifically, what did you learn about Bill Belichick?

"Obviously, they do a great job adapting to their opponent. They always have a great plan in place, and that's what makes them difficult. You can't look at what they did against the Chiefs, or two weeks ago, or whatever it was and say, 'OK, that's what they do.' They do a great job of evolving, because they've been together for so long. You look at the defense, and my God. I was in Miami in 2012, and it feels like all the same players are starting on defense. They're all the same guys I was writing third-down reports on. There's a lot of continuity there. They value smart players, there's no question about it. Those guys play really well. What I learned in the Super Bowl – no surprises. They all adapt to their opponent and give themselves the best chance to win. They're really good situationally. They have always set the standard in the turnover margin and really winning situations. Just having been in the same division with them for four years, you saw that for eight games. That's why they win a lot of football games."

Do you watch the tape from the Super Bowl?

"You factor in everything. There have been opponents this year that we've gone back two years to watch tape on how we thought they would play us. That's not uncommon."

The Seattle Seahawks ran a 6-1 formation in the Super Bowl they played against the Patriots. Do you expect to see some of that 6-1 look from Bill Belichick this week?

"I think you need to be ready for everything. We need to have a great plan in place. We know they'll have a great plan in place, and we're just excited for the challenge."