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Old 10-06-2007, 08:27 AM   #1
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Default Bengals: selfish or untalented?

Is there too much selfishness or just too little talent?

We've had a good time all week at Chad Johnson's expense. Look at Ocho Selfish, showing up his quarterback on national TV. He's here, chatting up Bill Belichick during the game. He's there, closer to the Patriots huddle than his own. He's everywhere in Carson Palmer's face, as the pair walks complaining off the field at halftime Monday night.

Someone needs to slap the man with a temporary restraining order.

Maybe so. Maybe the Bengals are "selfish" yet again, for the hundredth time this week. Maybe they come off as a team needing training wheels and sippy-cups. Is it bad to appear to be in "disarray" when the whole world's watching?

Yeah, I guess. But really, beyond appearances, so what?

It's great talk-show fodder, but when it comes to why they're 1-3, it's not much.

Here's the larger issue: They're not good enough.

Because of a relatively soft schedule the next 12 games - finishing with St. Louis, San Francisco, Cleveland and Miami is a gift from God - the Bengals should keep things interesting. If Marvin Lewis can play couch doctor and keep his team from shattering internally, the Bengals will flirt with the playoffs.

But they're not who they were in 2005. We thought '05 was a beginning. Instead, it's beginning to look like a high-water mark. The Bengals aren't as good as they were then. They took the '05 momentum and drop-kicked it.

Injuries and suspensions have done them in. So has a failure to improve the defense. Losing David Pollack, Odell Thurman, Chris Henry, Chris Perry and Kenny Irons matters more than some player's supposed selfishness. Missing on draft day speaks louder than Chad Johnson at his most loquacious.

Was Chad selfish in 2005, when the offense could whip you any way it pleased? Nope, he was "entertaining."

Meanwhile, linebackers drop like rain in Ireland and the offensive line remains musical chairs. It was painful watching rookie Leon Hall and second-year guy Johnathan Joseph attempting to cope with Randy Moss and an unhurried Tom Brady. How do you play run defense when your two linebackers are a safety and a defensive end?

The Bengals didn't even have a guy on defense familiar with calling the signals.

Lewis fervently denied Wednesday that his team is overmatched. "I've been here when we were," he said. "But not now."

When I ran the theory past Madieu Williams, he said the same thing: "I don't buy that. Not at all. We have a plethora of talent in this locker room." The problem, Williams said, was in the players' inattention to detail, the dreaded "little things" that keep going wrong.

The fact is, though, the Bengals don't have the talent on defense to be in the winners' bracket in the AFC. When your franchise player averages seven sacks a year, you're not scaring anybody. The offense without Perry and Henry (and Eric Steinbach and Eric Ghiaciuc, and with a limpy Willie Anderson and Levi Jones) is suffering. It's living on rep. Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh spend their lives now shaking double-teams.

It's easy to blame it all on selfishness, immaturity etc. That's easier than admitting the talent on hand has slipped since '05. If Lewis can coax nine or 10 wins from this club this year, be thankful his contract runs until 2010.

The challenge for him now is to keep the locker room from flying apart. Preach the message that the cavalry is coming: Rashad Jeanty, Ahmad Brooks, possibly Chris Perry and Chris Henry. Keep chopping wood. Playing shrink is as important for him now as making game plans.

As Dhani Jones put it, poetically: "(Lewis) is not the sail on the boat. He's the keel. That keel's got to be strong and straight, so the boat stays right. If you don't have a good locker room, you're not going to have a good team. That's where the psychology of the coach comes in."

Marvin Lewis has to get the boat back on course. The rest is up to his players. Who, it says here, aren't who they were just two years ago.
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