Cincinnati Bengals postgame quotes following the Week 12 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers
ZAC TAYLOR, Head coach
Does Joe Mixon get the game ball today?
“Yep, sure did. That’s the tone we want to set with the run game on offense. And again, I’ve said it in here before, it’s all the guys. It’s not just Joe, but Joe certainly finished off those runs the right way. It was certainly good to see. A lot of good things happened.
“Joe Burrow was 20 of 24 (passing). He was efficient with the ball. He made great decisions and was very efficient that way. On offense, they set the tone and then defensively, to create all those turnovers starting with Eli (Bengals CB Eli Apple) right off the bat. That pick led to three points. Mike Hilton really recaptured the moment at the end of the half, because we had a lot of it on offense and then had the turnover. And then again, our defense responded after a sudden change. Our motto (on defense) is, ‘We don’t give up points,’ and then we start scoring points (on offense). And then Trey (DE Trey Hendrickson) and Sam (DE Sam Hubbard) on the sack-fumble recovery. It was just an all-around team effort for four quarters. I thought they did a really good job. We challenged them at halftime to go win the third quarter, and they did that. We challenged them to win the turnover battle in the third quarter and win on the scoreboard in the third quarter, and they did that. That was the message we sent at halftime, and I’m proud of the way the guys came out and responded.”
So it was, Hilton, Hubbard, Hendrickson and Mixon that shined today?
“All the (guys with) turnovers, and Mixon.”
Was today a testament to the defensive overhaul on that side of the ball and why you brought the free agents in that the team has?
“I think so. They’ve just got a lot of confidence right now in how they’re playing and what we’re asking them to do. Playing next to each other, the communication’s been really good and different guys are stepping up and making big plays for us. That’s really good to see at this point in the year.”
Sweeping Pittsburgh and being 3-1 in the division, what does it say about your team right now?
“We’ve kind of got that momentum back that we had earlier in the season that we knew we could have. We had that little stumble, but these guys have a ton of confidence. The standard is really high for them. They can handle these wins responsibly. We put them behind us, and we’re going to move on to the next one. We’re on to the Chargers. But again, it’s just a group that’s good to be around because this is really the expectation right now. It’s not always to win 41-10 — that’s a good football team on the other side of the ball — but we’re going to win these games. The bigger the ones they are, the guys may step up and play their best football. That’s really encouraging for me to see right now.”
This is two weeks in a row you’ve relied heavily on the run. Was that a conscious decision made over the bye week, or just the game plan the last two weeks?
“Every game’s a little bit different, so that’s the part of the plan. Obviously in the first quarter today, if that’s as efficient as it is, you want to keep feeding that guy. We certainly ran a lot of things off of that. We certainly feel great about the passing game as well. But if it’s not broke, we’re certainly going to keep sticking with it. It’s certainly good to see.”
What is it about Mixon’s energy that when he gets going, it seems to spread throughout the team?
“There’s no question about that. That’s something he and I have talked about for three years now. I feed off of that energy, too. Sometimes it’s not always going to be there in the first half like you want it to be. It’s been proven that in the second half things get going pretty good. Today was the opposite of that. It was rolling in the first half, and then we just had to grind it out there in the second half. But you’re right — he’s a guy that this team feeds off of in all three phases.”
What did you think of Tee Higgins’ first TD reception and his overall performance today?
“Awesome. When the question keeps getting asked of me what people are doing to take away Ja’Marr (WR Ja’Marr Chase), that’s not an issue for us because we’ve got Tee on the other side and Tyler Boyd in the middle. That’s never really been a concern, because we feel we’ve got so many weapons that we trust that can make those types of plays and on that particular example, Minkah (Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick) leaned toward Ja’Marr. Tee had the one-on-one, and he had to go make the play, and he did. That was just an awesome moment for Tee and a great throw for Joe. We really needed that.”
You’ve beaten Pittsburgh twice this season and three times in a row. In the overall bigger picture, is that important to you?
“Our goal is to go through this division. We have to be better than we ever have been in this division if you want to go to the playoffs and be ready for all the things that that brings. Really just the way I look at it right now, to be 3-1 (in the division), that’s the position we wanted to be in. It’s not about dominating anybody, we just have to win all these divisional games to create that separation we’re going to need. But certainly it feels pretty dang good to go 2-0 against a team in our division.”
Every time you start a game with a drive like that and the way Burrow finished the drive with his legs, what does it tell you about his will to score?
“That he’s seeing everything really good. You kind of saw that on tape last week, with Herbert (Chargers QB Justin Herbert) seeing that opening and going with it. This was more of a scramble by Joe to his left, and then he was able to finish it and make a guy miss and finish at the end of the play. That’s a great tone setter for your quarterback to run it in — and not just effortless, not just easy and ‘run it in there,.’ But for the guys to see that, it’s a great momentum boost for the whole team.”
On Burrow’s INT, there was a little skirmish with T.J. Watt and Burrow. It seemed like everyone was upset with that. And then Mike Hilton came up with the perfect answer with a pick-six …
“Yeah, I would agree with that. That was a great opportunity for us to regain the momentum there. Of course, any time you see your quarterback on the ground, we’re always going to take issue with that. I haven’t actually seen a replay to see if it was bad or not; they probably just got tangled up. Watt is a tremendous, tremendous player, and we have a ton of respect for him in the way that we game plan. But it was good to see Mike Hilton do that. It was a big moment, it was an emotional moment, and for Mike to turn around and go the other way with it really kind of catapulted us to what we wanted to do the rest of the day.”
You talked about the game plan — is there something about the game plans you’re creating now that are better than they have been previously?
“I’d like to think we’re allowed to improve as coaches over time. I think we have done that, and I also think our players have. You look at year three in the system and just the confidence and how different it is, compared to year one and year two. We continue to add players that help us win as well. In this league, you’ve got to have great players, or else you’re not going to have a chance. We’ve got great players, our coaching staff has tremendous cohesion right now and chemistry, and there’s just so much belief back and forth between the players and coaches that this is the type of thing we’re capable of.”
You’ve almost taken dynamic edge rushers out of the game the last few games. But with more of those pass-rushers coming down the stretch, is this the blueprint on offense for something you can repeat regardless of matchup?
“There’s always window dressing, but you’re right — it’s never-ending rushers coming at us, it feels like. I think Jonah (Bengals OT Jonah Williams) is playing tremendous right now, and Reilly (Bengals OT Riley Reiff) is doing a great job. Riley had the ankle injury that kept him out a little bit today. But we just have so much confidence in those guys because of their preparation, with Frank (Bengals offensive line coach/run game coordinator Frank Pollack) and his coaching and just how they handle it. There’s not an offensive tackle in this league you want to leave on an island with some of these guys, so we’re always going to lend that presence to them. Burrow has a great understanding of where that’s going to come from and how we’re going to neutralize it. Somebody asked me, ‘Why aren’t draws run?’ Well, we ran two of them pretty efficiently today. You’ve got to use some screens and draws to minimize some of that. Sometimes those are one-yard and two-yard gains, but we know what the effect is: Those rushers feel that and they can’t just tee off every snap, so there’s a lot of things that just go into it in the course of the game plan.”
What has Hilton added to this team?
“That’s a good question. Mike Hilton is a winner. Mike Hilton brings constant energy. We talk about guys who are consistent every single day, and we know what to expect from them when they walk in the building: That’s Mike Hilton to a T. He’s just awesome to be around. He brings a high standard to everybody, and guys just respect the heck out of him.”
Do you have injury updates on Reiff and C Trey Hopkins?
“Trey was fine. He was just slow to get up one time, and we were at a point in the game where it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s get some of the younger guys in.’ With Riley, it’s just an ankle. I haven’t heard the details of it. He maybe could have played in an emergency situation. I didn’t talk to him about it yet. But he’s a tough guy. I saw him hobbling out there before me in the tunnel in the second half ready to play. So we’ll just see where it goes this week.”
In trying to get the offense to where you want it, is this what you envisioned with it being so based on the run that Burrow can play off of that? Was today an example of what you had in your head earlier?
“That’s usually the best way to approach it, especially this late in the season. But we also feel a ton of confidence to spread you out with all the weapons we have. Again, we have a lot of confidence right now. We feel we can play a lot of different ways with whatever the game plan dictates over the course of the week, and then however we have to react over the course of the game. We feel we can do that in a hurry and really help ourselves evolve the game plan as we need to.”
How important is it to get the home field advantage back after the Cleveland game with a win like the one you had here today?
“I agree with that. For me, we need the energy of this crowd. These people pay good money to watch us play, and we need to win it at home. It’s fun to win on the road and go shut up some other crowds, but for us, our fans need to be rewarded. They’ve supported us through some really difficult times, so we need to go put a winner out there that they can cheer on and be proud of. To send a divisional rival home with a loss and let our fans enjoy that, that’s important to us. It’s important for us as players and coaches to get this win and feel it in the locker room, it’s just as important for our fan base to feel this and get to enjoy this from week to week.”