Before the Bengals start the playoff push Sunday in Pittsburgh (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), head coach Zac Taylor spoke with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: With the last few years of a truncated spring and preseason, we've been hearing so much about a team finding itself early in the season. Heading into the second half of this year, what kind of team do you have?
ZT: I think it's a team that understands what's in front of us. We're going to take a lot of pride in playing in less-than-ideal conditions that most teams deal with, we'll embrace that. We know there are some rugged games ahead, that our guys are ready for those fights. You're going to have to find ways to grind out wins, starting with this Pittsburgh game. I think it's a team that's ready to embrace that, likes that, and feeds off of that. That's what shapes our team right now.
GH: Running back Joe Mixon is coming off a season-high 152 yards. His best months in his five previous seasons have been in November and December, averaging right around 84 yards per game on 4.6 yards per run. Do you get the sense he's poised for another dominant late-season stretch?
ZT: That's ideal for us to be really balanced as a team that can attack in the run and the pass. That goes with protecting the football and being ahead in these games to be able to be as balanced as you want to be as you go into a game. I certainly think that we have the ability to be really dangerous on the ground and in the air right now.
GH: When you went through your self-scouting during the bye, did you find anything that surprised you?
ZT: We did a four-game self scout after the Thursday game and we did a five-game self-scout after this one. Nothing really jumped off the tape at us as unusual.
GH: Would you say, then, the biggest difference from last year is that you no longer have your No. 1 cornerback (Chidobe Awuzie) and you are relying on a rookie (Cam Taylor-Britt)?
ZT: Yeah, otherwise the defense is pretty much the same. We've just got that change up there at corner.
GH: So is this year's team similar to last year's team?
ZT: I'm careful not to lean too much into that because we do have new players and every year is a new year. You can't just assume that what we did last year is going to carry over to this year. We've got to be ready for anything. You've got to be really situationally sound as the season wears on. I think we've been a disciplined football team. We've done a good job managing situations but that's certainly going to come to the forefront in this last half of the season.
GH: Then let me get your take on some of the key guys that weren't here last season. Tight end Hayden Hurst?
ZT: Great energy. When the ball touches his hands, he makes a play with it. He always gets extra yards after the catch, and he just brings a great energy to this offense.
GH: Right tackle La'el Collins?
ZT: He loves these big games, he loves these big matchups. Great team guy, but I think he takes a lot of pride in the one-on-ones that he faces, as well.
GH: Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt?
ZT: Another young guy with great energy. He's got a lot of ability and now we're just kind of giving him that experience to match that, but I like the direction he's heading.