Riding a five-game winning streak heading to Tampa Bay Sunday (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), head coach Zac Taylor talked with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: I wanted to go back to last week when you were preparing for the Browns and I heard that you showed the team a video in which you had a clip of a play from virtually every player that played against the Chiefs.
ZT: Just pointing out the effort plays. That's just something you notice as you watch the game and review how many guys, particularly at the end of the game, just made great effort plays. We know we've got great talent, but that doesn't always mean that you always get the best effort out of those guys.
I thought it really jumped off the tape to me and you go through and watch every guy individually and was able to find something that everybody did. I just thought the team needed to see that. To know. They might not see everybody make a play on special teams or the way the linemen block in the run game, so I just felt it was important to highlight that and hopefully the guys appreciated it.
GH: How did you put that video together?
ZT: We are pretty in-depth at making our own cutups at this point. That's what we do all day. There's help from some of the position coaches for plays that stood out at their position because they've watched it over-and-over at their spot, so we got some help there.
GH: After looking at the tape, when did you say you wanted to put that video together?
ZT: Monday night, Tuesday night. I think we finished on Tuesday night to get ready for Wednesday's meeting.
GH: Do you have one effort play that sticks out in your mind?
ZT: Well, (linebacker) Clay Johnston on a field goal block assignment. He ran over an offensive lineman. (Linebacker) Joe Bachie had a great one, (linebacker) Akeem Davis-Gaither (had one). If you're going to highlight two, you can point to the Joseph Ossai sack on the last play of the game, but a reason why he was in there was because two plays earlier on first-and-10, Trey Hendrickson beat a chip block, beat the left tackle, pursued (Patrick) Mahomes all the way to their boundary and made them get rid of the ball on first-and-10 for an incompletion. It was like running two gassers (sprints) on that play, which leads to Joseph Ossai going in for a play and getting his effort play. If you just want to look at it as simple as that. Joseph's opportunity comes because of Trey Hendrickson's hustle play to put us in that position.
GH: You've talked about that hastily arranged coaches' meeting last Sunday an hour before the Browns game when you found out wide receiver Tee Higgins couldn't play because of a hamstring issue. Was it basically a skeletal staff meeting on the fly?
ZT: Yeah, it was. I had to go deal with the officials and those guys were in there trying to manage some of the stuff now that Tee was out, some stuff that he was at the forefront of. And then that changed even further once we lost T.B. (Tyler Boyd on the second play). A lot of that stuff went out the window. It was a challenge, but that's part of coaching in this league and doing whatever you can to make the necessary adjustments and really not let your players feel that there's a lot of change going on, so when they hear a play they do something they're used to hearing and they don't have to think about it. We can kind of behind the scenes work through all that.
GH: Since you still have to coach the game, is that something offensive coordinator Brian Callahan played a big part in?
ZT: Yeah, that's kind of where it is. I've still got to call the game, I've still got to be involved in the defense as I flip over there. They've got to work some backchannels as well to make sure we've got third down ready, because that was a big part of the plan, using T.B. and Tee on third down. All of a sudden, all of these things that you spent all that time practicing are right out the window. That's really where the biggest adjustments had to be made.
GH: How many guys have you coached that could have done what wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase did as far as lining up in all those different spots?
ZT: Very few. That's being a smart football player and understanding the concepts. I'm sure he likes doing it because he knows it's more opportunities to get the ball. He always rises up to the challenge and he's a great competitor. He kind of sensed it was going to be one of those games where he's going to have to be at his best, and I thought that he was yesterday.
GH: I assume a lot of guys say they can play all three spots, and maybe they can, but Chase was different because he had to do it on the fly, right?
ZT: Right, and its one thing to be able to walk out there and play the spot. But to really be effective at it is a whole different story. He's a great outside receiver and he could be a great slot. If we didn't have T.B., we could use him more there. But we've got a great slot, so we like to utilize T.B. there. He's strong at each position that you could ask him to play.
GH: Do you think anybody but Chase could have played the roles he played?
ZT: I think all of our three guys, you've got to put (them) in there, they know all these positions. T.B.'s had to move outside. If you look back at the Tennessee game, he's had to move outside. There's been times we've put Tee in the slot. Those bigger, longer bodies aren't ideal for all the slot stuff that you can do, but there's been times Tee's been in there as well doing some stuff. Those guys, we move them around and they handle it well.
GH: I'm not sure any team in the league can be that flexible.
ZT: We're fortunate there. We know that.
GH: Running back Joe Mixon had a downhill 40-yard run on a wide toss Sunday that was reminiscent of his 29-yarder against Carolina in the first game of the five-game winning streak. Did you guys make a philosophical move to get away from zone in the run game, is it still a mixture of both or is it just about running downhill?
ZT: There's a mixture. We've always had these preferred plays, these tosses. They've been good for us over the last several years. It was well-blocked, there was a safety that we can't block based on the coverage they were playing, and Mixon had to break that tackle, initially he gets the target. Guys were trying to finish downfield and Joe (Mixon) had a great finish there for a 40-yard run. That was great to see, that was a good spark for us there at the turn of the quarter.
GH: Some people wanted to retire Mixon prematurely after Samaje Perine had two big games with Mixon injured. I think Mixon (seven yards per 14 carries) reminded everyone he's pretty good.
ZT: We've got a good stable of backs that we believe in, and we know that we're going to need all of them to finish out the season as strong as we want to finish it out. So, that's a great situation to be in for us.
GH: That's a tough position room. Chris Evans scored the winning touchdown a week before and got deactivated.
ZT: That's just part of having talent on the roster. (Director of player personnel) Duke (Tobin)'s done a great job of identifying these guys and bringing them in and making us have to deal with the decisions that we've got to make on game day, like who's going to be able to touch the ball or not. That's what you want.
GH: Defensively, last Sunday was the DJ Reader Show, wasn't it?
ZT: He was awesome, and he's been playing at a high level all year. He's one of the best in the NFL right now. At some point, people recognize that. We certainly do. That's why he's a captain for us, because he leads by example and he steps up when we need someone to step up and makes it really difficult for people to run the ball on us.
GH: It was kind of a full-circle moment for Reader since his first game as a Bengal was the 2020 game at Cleveland, when the Browns ran the ball at will. He and Vonn Bell started that stop the run culture, and now look where you are.
ZT: We've got DJ and great players around him. They just feed off each other. He made some big-time plays for us yesterday and we know he's going to continue to do that as the season goes.
GH: What was the most impressive thing you saw from rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt on Sunday? Any particular play?
ZT: They challenged him and two of those fourth downs went his way. Even if things weren't perfect, he was able to get himself back in the play and make a play there, especially on that last goal-line fade. He was really good tackling. He's not afraid to stick his face on people and get out there and tackle. So, if you're asking what the most impressive thing is, yeah, he's gotten better in coverage, but I think the tackling has really been a strength. That's critical on the perimeter in this league. We see a lot of corners that aren't willing to tackle that we play against each week. For these guys to step up like they did, particularly Cam (Sunday) was really good to see.
GH: They said when you drafted him, 'He's an AFC North cornerback'. It seems like he's proved that against Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
ZT: Yeah, and he's going to continue to get better with each experience. Every route he sees, every coverage he's involved in, he's going to continue to grow and become a better player and that's what we're counting on.
GH: When you were coaching against Tom Brady, you were obviously doing your own stuff, but did you ever study him or watch him during warmups?
ZT: Yeah. I always admired how he played and you're playing against one of the best to ever do it. When your business is done with your quarterback on the sideline, I was always watching Brady.
GH: Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is on crutches after ACL surgery. What is he giving you, just being back there on the bench during games?
ZT: His presence for him to be around. He's such a well-respected guy from our players and coaches because of how hard he works and how he sees the game. Just his presence being around, there is a spark for our entire team. I don't know for a fact, but I'm sure there's things he's passing along to the young guys like Cam Taylor-Britt, to help them continue to make adjustments as they go.