Taking his team back to Paycor Stadium for the first time in 24 days against the Falcons Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's FOX 19), head coach Zac Taylor had his weekly chat with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: It would seem you're coming off the kind of fourth-quarter win that can start something.
ZT: It certainly didn't hurt. I think our guys always believed we were capable of coming from behind two scores and winning the game. I don't think we did for that reason, but sometimes you need to go on the road and win some of these emotional, tough, always behind type of games just to give yourself a little kick in the butt and get some momentum going for this next one.
It was a big win for us. It felt good. We've got to quickly put that one behind us and not continue to ride the emotional wave that one brought and refocus ourselves and get ready for Atlanta.
GH: As well as the defense had played going into New Orleans, they were talking about needing to make a stop to end a game and they did.
ZT: They've raised the standard so high that they get criticized for things now. They're doing a really good job. They haven't given up a touchdown in the second half all season, which has rarely been done over the last 20-something years. For those guys to step up, and again, finish off those drives late in the game.
The first time they gave the offense the ball back to be able to take the lead, and then the second time that kind of put the nail in the coffin and finished the game for us. That's just what we expected them to do and they rose up to that challenge.
GH: Not a pretty game for defensive stats with 228 rush yards, but it was the ultimate bend-but-don't-break game by a defense now third in NFL red zone defense.
ZT: It can feel like you're giving up rushing yards in all the different packages they had, the different quarterbacks and roles those guys are playing. To hold them to field goals is really at the end of the day what allowed us to win that game. That's going to happen. There are going to be games this year where it might not look like things are going in your favor, but if you can just make that one play in the red zone to take points off the board, then you give yourself a chance.
GH: In 2019 and 2020 as you rebuilt the defense you were giving up a lot of yards, especially on the ground. But the touchdowns have turned into field goals even if in the rare instance you give up a lot of ground.
ZT: Yeah, these guys being able to respond the next play and just not letting explosive plays get to them and affect the rest of the drive. They've been able to kind of pull themselves up and get a stop on the next play, and that's been critical for us."
GH: It's the most you've used run-pass options (RPOs) with quarterback Joe Burrow. They seem to suit him.
ZT: He's accurate, he gets the ball out of his hands quick. It certainly helps the offensive line because you get passes in which they're not being asked to pass protect. They get the chance to fire off the ball and come down and be physical and then the ball is caught for an eight-yard completion. I think our line loves the pressure but it does take some pressure off of those guys as well.
GH: Yet you say you could be under center this Sunday against the Falcons as much as you were in shotgun in New Orleans, which was about 98 percent?
ZT: You just never know how it's going to play out. Those are the decisions we have to make as we start to study up on Monday and Tuesday.
GH: For RPOs, aren't you relying on Burrow's acumen as much as anything else?
ZT: Yeah, you are. He's got to be understanding of the situation, understanding of maybe what they're trying to accomplish on defense. He did a good job of maximizing the looks, handing the ball off when he felt like we needed to, which is smart, and he really did a good job operating over the course of Sunday.
GH: Burrow is basically playing chess at 1,000 miles per hour on RPOs.
ZT: Yeah, he's got some pre-snap and post-snap decisions he has to make, and we trust him to be able to do it and he did a good job of it."
GH: Just by the very nature of pulling away a handoff and then throwing it is a form of play-action even though you snap it in shot gun and not under center?
ZT: It is. It would be taken off by some as a play-action. It's been utilized by us many times over the years, and I think (Sunday) it was probably on display more than we've utilized it in the past. But our guys did a good job of handling adjustments over the course of the game, things that we've created on the sideline at times, and they're able to handle that kind of stuff and understand it and execute it.
GH: There's a theory out there that Burrow isn't comfortable turning his back to the defense on regular play-action and …
ZT: That's a pretty made-up theory.
GH: Right, so it's not a comfort thing, right? It's a scheme thing?
ZT: He's good doing anything. Shoot, I could put together a reel of his under-center play-actions that are spectacular over the last three years. He can operate in any way, shape or form. (Sunday) that's just the way we asked him to do it, and he did it at a high level.
GH: Was the heavy use of run-pass options dictated by the coverages you have been receiving this season, like zones?
ZT: It's a mixture of that and kind of some of the structures we've been seeing from them. They had to move some pieces around in the secondary going into that game. We had to see kind of early in the game how they were going to play us with some of those new pieces. With No. 19 (Chris Harris) playing there at the nickel, they just signed him the week before. They had to move their nickel out to corner. We wanted to get a sense early of how they were going to play us on first, second down. Once we got a sense of that, we felt like we executed pretty well.
H: So it was more responding to that style of defense and not just the overall concept of breaking a zone?
ZT: Yeah, there's some stuff that'll be great and carry over from game-to-game and there's some stuff that is good maybe one game and then you let it rest for a couple weeks. Again, those are just decisions we've got to make every Monday and Tuesday.
GH: You gave up no sacks on the edges against two good pass rushers.
ZT: The sacks were early on, we could've been a little better. Then we had a play-action pass on one, we pulled the guard … It's a tough look. They hit us with a good pressure into a tough play-action. That's not the position they wanted to put us in, and I did. But I thought our guys overall protected really well and gave Joe a really good pocket for the rest of the game.
GH: I don't know who writes these scripts. Like Burrow and Chase returning to Louisiana and having the performances that they did…
ZT: It's not the way we script it. We just want to be efficient and whoever gets the ball, gets the ball to win the game. In hindsight, the way it played out was pretty neat. To watch those two guys in particular go back on that stage and put on the show that they did in front of, in some ways, it was a home crowd for them, was pretty special.
GH: How did you end up picking last Sunday's game captains out of so many possibilities?
ZT: I mean, there is LSU, former Saints, and there was Stanley (Morgan) from Louisiana. Some guys (Trey Hendrickson) prefer not to do the coin toss. That factored into at least one player not being out there. I didn't want to mess up their pregame routines."