Before the Bengals broke for the bye, head coach Zac Taylor chatted with Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson.
GH: The difference between this 5-4 going into the bye compared to last year? It has to be different, right? You guys have been there, done that.
ZT: It might be. We know we've been in this exact position. We know what it took to get to where we wanted to be. I'm not going to say there's a road map because every year can change and we need to take care of our own business to put ourselves in the best position possible come early January. We don't want to worry about other teams.
And so at the end of the day, it's still the midway point. We need to focus on beating Pittsburgh and really going from there. But there is also like, Okay, we've been here and we know what it's going to take and we know that it's a difficult road. But I think there's a lot of confidence there with our group.
GH: That's kind of what Mike Hilton alluded to a little bit. If you guys had started 0-2 last year, things may have been a little different.
ZT: There's a chance. It's hard to say. I think there's just such a confidence in this group. We've got everything we need. We just need to take care of our own business and that's kind of what our mindset is right now.
GH: Everybody was saying after the Carolina game this is the way you want to play, particularly on offense where there was a great mix of run and pass. Did you did you make any sort of a decision to come out the way you did based on Carolina, or was it based on, hey, this is the way we have to play down the stretch?
ZT: There's a mixture. We needed to be efficient on first-and-10, particularly in this game. Not every team you play when you get to second-and-seven is going to blitz you like Carolina does. We did not want to live in that world of getting third-down pressures on second and seven-plus. So it was just, hey, let's find some completions to put us in manageable second downs. Let's run the ball where it's favorable and our shots will come.
We tried to take some shots. We got a false start. Quirky things happened to us where we didn't get to just launch the ball down the field. Those drives we had were time-consuming, 10-play plus drives it felt like.
GH: Both you and running back Joe Mixon said the key was you just kept calling the run. I mean, is it as simple as that?
ZT: It's easy when you're up 14 points, 21 points. Yeah, it's easy. Calling a game at that point, it's not difficult. I think it's just everybody's confidence. There's a balance. There's a balance in our confidence, there's a balance in their confidence. If you get all 11 guys on our side on the same page up 14 or 21 points, the plays are generally going to be pretty good because they've just got confidence in how we're operating at that point.
GH: Does a game like that show, well, if we hang with the run a little longer, maybe it will be bountiful.
ZT: It depends on the defense. It depends on the game. It depends on the situation.
GH: Last year a big thing was being able to win in different ways and you were really able to do that this last Sunday in a big way.
ZT: Right. First of all, we want to pack that first punch. That was the challenge to our team. Whichever unit rolls out there first, based on the coin toss, has got to get us started. For all the reasons I mentioned against Carolina. The offense scored a touchdown, the defense countered with a three-and-out and I think we're a really dangerous team when we have that one-two combo on the first two possessions of the game. That really makes the Bengals a difficult team to deal with.
We've proven if we're down, we can come back. That's not how we want to pick it. But it just proves the point to our guys. Man, when we jump on a team early, they have a really difficult time coming back on us. And we can do it the other way if we have to. We don't want to. But we've proven if we can get a lead, we pose a real challenge to people.
GH: I guess you'll be talking to special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons about the punting job.
ZT: Yeah, that's a bye week conversation to solidify here.
GH: I just wanted to get some thoughts on a few guys. Mike Hilton. How tough is he playing that second half in Cleveland with a mangled finger?
ZT: Unbelievably tough. You look at him playing through that. He's an energy leader for us. He's just a critical piece of that defense
for how smart he is, for the leadership he brings, for the energy he brings on top of the talent that he has as arguably the top nickel in the league. He's extremely valuable to us.
GH: Left guard Cordell Volson, the one rookie who started Opening Day.
ZT: Whenever you say a lineman is quietly having a nice rookie season, that's a good thing because you're not hearing his name much. He's just been really confident. I think that's the key for a rookie. You see just this air of confidence on his face. When I see him walk into Frank's (Pollack) meeting room or walk on the field for a practice rep or game rep, the guy knows he belongs. He knows he belongs as a rookie. And he's just got a confidence about him that is really, really impressive to see in such a young player.
GH: Joe Lee Burrow. How is he better now than he was a year ago at this time?
ZT: He's seeing how we prepare for a team, the coverages, the press isn't always going to be what we're going to get anymore. That's what great quarterbacks deal with.
You go in preparing for all this stuff and sometimes it holds up and a lot of times it doesn't and so quickly adapting to what they're going to throw at you, which is maybe different than how they play the other five or six teams they played because your Joe Burrow.
That's what he's learned. He's learned how to quickly adjust and he just keeps the sticks moving forward at all times. That's what gives me confidence, really, calling any pass we've got. He just finds a way to find a completion. When you lead the league in completion percentage, I've got a lot of confidence to call everything on the menu and know he's going to find the right answer.
GH: It's amazing. Burrow, at 70 percent, is second behind Geno Smith, at 73 percent, and Burrow is the only active quarterback on the pro football reference list for 70-percent passing in two different seasons, last year and this year.
ZT: You should look at the Tampa Two numbers. Everyone gave us a hard time. It was crazy to me. He's like 34 of 36 against Tampa Two the last seven games. It's like 11 yards a completion.
GH: What is he really good at now compared to last year?
ZT: I think last year at this time he played fast, but this year he plays even faster and that's just understanding, maybe even skipping, through a progression. Because he sees the coverage and he knows, 'I can give him this ball and I can get it out of my hands quickly,' and we can get an efficient gain.
So that's not to say that it was an issue last year at all because it wasn't. That's what happens when you lead the league in completion percentage. You're making good, quick decisions. But I think this year he's even taken that up a tick, which is great.