With the first-place Bengals getting ready for an AFC North game Monday night in Cleveland (8:15, Cincinnati's Channel 9 and ESPN) head coach Zac Taylor spoke with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: You played the position. You coached it. Where do you rank last Sunday's performance by Joe Burrow for a quarterback?
ZT: It's as good as I've been around because it wasn't just the accuracy and the completions. It was protections as well. He was locked in on some looks that can be really challenging looks, and did a great job of handling the communication and also understanding when he's hot, which we were in empty (formation) a couple of times, and getting the ball out and giving guys a chance to make a play even under tough circumstances
So, I just thought he handled the game really well and played about as good a game as he could play right there.
GH: The stats said the Falcons didn't blitz much, but it sounds like you think Burrow faced many pressures.
ZT: Yeah, no doubt. When they present a blitz look and get out of it, sometimes it presents the same challenges as if they brought the pressure. Obviously, they pressured us probably 40 times, but we call them replacement pressures so they bring a backer and then they drop a D-End, so it's only a four-man rush (but still a pressure).
GH: For me, Burrow's big thing is the great accuracy. And what you're saying, the ability to diagnose so quickly and correctly.
ZT: It's finding the open guy. They presented a lot of different coverages. It wasn't just one static coverage over and over. They disguise, they roll, they pressured and rotated their coverages and he was on it. He could quickly find where the void was going to be, and that's as challenging as anything in terms of being accurate and setting the protections. Finding the void quickly is very challenging when they're disguising all their looks.
GH: Was he as good as he was against Kansas City and Baltimore late last year?
ZT: Sure. More on the line maybe with some of those. But again, just in terms of operating as a quarterback, that was as efficient as you could possibly be.
GH: Burrow was aggressive all the way, even running that 20-yard draw late in the game.
ZT: I'm always cautious to take away his stinger because he's got one and that's what makes him so great … Watch the great ones, (Patrick) Mahomes, (Josh) Allen, is anyone taking away their stinger? I don't think so.
GH: Is it time to mention Joe Burrow in the same breath as Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen?
ZT: Yeah, I think so. You just look at the style of systems. How they operate is how we are starting to operate. Absolutely. I'm not changing out our quarterback for anything, people can take that however they want. We are happy we have Joe Burrow. Not one person in this building would swap him out.
GH: Have you ever been in a place with three number-one receivers?
ZT: No. We had a really good group in LA (Rams). We always had Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp and then one year we had Sammy Watkins and one year we had Brandin Cooks and that's a pretty good trio of players. Defenses had a difficult time honing in on those three because they were all interchangeable, they all played different spots.
In some ways this group is very similar. I think we've got different sizes and skill sets than those three guys at times. Everyone's good at what they're good at. It would be a tough approach for a defense to figure out how to take all three of them away.
GH: Have you ever been in a place with three number-one receivers who are as ego-less as these guys?
ZT: That group (Woods, Kupp, Watkins or Cooks) was like that, too. Obviously, I love those group of guys so I'm not trying to downplay that at all. This group of three is as good as you could have hoped for just in terms of the talent that they have, the removal of any ego, their happiness for each other when one of them goes off, as they say. As TB (Tyler Boyd) always says when I tell him 'Hey, be patient, hang in there with me', he always says, 'It's going to come.' He's always just patient and it's paid off for him. It's cool to see those three guys and the relationship they have together.
GH: As that veteran presence, Boyd seems to have set his own tone and the tone for the wide receiver room like he watched A.J. Green do it.
ZT: I think he does a good job being the elder statesman in the room. And these other guys (Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins) are mature beyond their years as well. I think just having an understanding of how to communicate with (receivers coach) Troy (Walters), how to communicate with me. The way they go about things, they've done an excellent job of that. It's much appreciated by me, I know that.
GH: Does tight end Hayden Hurst mean more to the offense than just the number of yards he puts up, but simply a different presence for Burrow?
ZT: Yeah, he can be an explosive threat down the field. Joe, they just missed each other on a seam route in the red zone, I think, early in (last Sunday's) game. But that just kind of shows the confidence Joe's got pushing the ball down the field to him, so that brings an element. Also, just every time you throw the ball to him he gets five to 10 extra yards it feels like. Just to have that, he caught routes as an outside receiver (Sunday). We threw him a quick out and so we just really are comfortable putting him in a lot of different situations and him coming through for us.
GH: It seems like Hurst is a good chemistry guy with the way his teammates reacted to him getting a game ball and Ja'Marr choosing him to break down the postgame huddle.
ZT: He is. Yeah, I think he's fit in well with the group and that stems all the way from the free agency visit all the way to now. He's really done a good job fitting in the locker room.
GH: Was there one trait about defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo that you were attracted to when you were working with him in Miami?
ZT: Besides just his overall football knowledge that I have a lot of confidence in, he managed the entire DB group, safeties and corners. There are varying personalities you have to deal with, there's a lot of management that can take place sometimes in those rooms. I think we've got as good of a bunch that you can possibly have here, but I just always thought he did a good job of managing the different personalities in the room and helping the coordinator get ready for the game. I always had a lot of confidence in my conversations with him, him helping me on the offensive side of the ball. Those are all things that carried over and led to him being here.
GH: What is something you've seen from Anarumo do in Cincinnati that really impressed you?
ZT: Just evolving, continuing to evolve and implementing difference packages that he maybe hasn't majored in in the past, but have been good. They maximize their personnel. He's been able to create some families and packages together that really stress offenses, and that's a comment a lot of other play-callers mentioned to me, just how stressful it is to get ready for all the different fronts in personnel groupings that he can throw out there at you, and our guys can play them with confidence.
It's not just, 'Hey, let's do a bunch of stuff and not be good at any of it.' He does a really good job of throwing things out there that our guys believe in and understand and then packaging them with other things that complement that. Our players see that, they get it and they know it's helping them be really effective.
GH: He uses a lot of combinations. Five defensive linemen or three linebackers or three safeties, he seems to keep them guessing.
ZT: There is a lot of things you've got to prepare for when you play against them. He pulled some packages from other games that we played that he thought would be useful against this style of (Falcons) offense, because they have multiple packages that were difficult to prepare for. They really have three styles of offense blended into one, so that creates a challenge, so Lou countered that with multiple packages himself and it proved to be very effective.
GH: Yeah, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie talked about how the Falcons used tight end Kyle Pitts as pretty much a big wide receiver and how that impacted formation recognition.
ZT: That's the challenge that he brings to the table. They'll put him in there and they'll block with him. Also, he's matched up with other people and that's the stress of a goal-line package. That's how Cam Sample, you got a defensive end matched up on him because you're in a goal line personnel because we're blocking the goal line package and got one DB on the field. You can do that in the goal line package, you can find the matchups you want, and they got the matchup with the defensive end.
GH: Last year, your coming out party was in that game seven in Baltimore that you won, 41-17. Last Sunday was also game seven with a similar score and impressive offensive outing against the Falcons. Can this win also be a takeoff point for the season?
ZT: That's hard to predict. Obviously, we are hopeful that it does. Every new team brings a set of new challenges. I'm not going to get into those predictions on it being the same as last year. Obviously, that'd be great if we could capture that kind of momentum, that's the plan. We are going to face a really good team and we have to be ready for them.