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Old 01-02-2007, 06:18 PM   #1
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Default More goodies out of Cincy today.....

I spent my lunch break chuckling over the sports section.....

Last Updated: 8:30 am | Tuesday, January 2, 2007
Questions facing the Bengals for 2007
BY MARK CURNUTTE | MCURNUTTE@ENQUIRER.COM
For all of the highs and lows for the Bengals in 2006, it could not have come as much of a surprise that it ended with a thud on New Year's Eve. What does 2007 hold for the organization and the team?

Bengals reporter Mark Curnutte takes a look at the key questions and key players to keep an eye on.

Five questions for the New Year:

1. HOW WILL MARVIN LEWIS RESPOND TO THE HEAT THAT HAS TO BE PUT SQUARELY ON HIM?

His struggles with game management are increasingly apparent. There doesn't appear to be a strong No. 2 personality on the coaching staff to challenge Lewis internally. There is no John Lennon to his Paul McCartney.

Lewis clearly had the right stuff to revolutionize an archaic organization when he arrived in 2003. But is he the right coach to get the Bengals into the playoffs consistently - and deep into the playoffs? He is 35-30 overall in four seasons. Does that record look better in Cincinnati, where standards, expectations and results were below mediocre each year prior to his hiring? Elsewhere in the NFL, 35-30 over four seasons is enough to get a coach fired.

Lewis often talks of the need to get better each day and from season to season. Does he include himself in that platitude?

2. CAN THE DEFENSE GET CLOSE TO THE OFFENSE, FINALLY?

After four seasons, the Cincinnati defense is not good enough. True, points allowed have dropped slightly each season since Lewis was hired - 384 in 2003, 372, 350 and 331 in 2006. In all 65 games, the Bengals have given up an average of 22.6 points a game.

The defensive acquisitions have been B-list players, solid but not the type an opposing offense has to account for. The Bengals have paid a high price to keep their offensive core intact. Now what about the defense? There is plenty of salary-cap space. Why don't they go out and break the bank for an impact defender the likes of Baltimore's hybrid linebacker/defensive end Adalius Thomas or Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs? Both will be free agents in March.

3. IS CHUCK BRESNAHAN THE ANSWER AS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR?

Or should Lewis just make himself the defensive coordinator and give more responsibility to coordinator Bob Bratkowski in terms of offensive game management?

Baltimore coach Brian Billick, a noted offensive coordinator, took over offensive play-calling responsibilities for the Ravens to the tune of a 13-3 record and second seed in the AFC playoffs.

Should Lewis do the same with the defense in Cincinnati? Can anyone coordinate a defense effectively under the specter of Lewis' dominant personality and legacy of excellence with the Super Bowl-winning Ravens?

4. HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE CHAD?

Vague talk of selfish players in the Bengals' locker room always seems to point back to lightning-rod wide receiver Chad Johnson.

Lewis has invested time and energy into harnessing Johnson's considerable talent. Has Lewis micro-managed the personality out of Johnson and, thus, reduced him as a player? Does Lewis need to let Chad be Chad?

In the past three games, all losses, when the Bengals needed to win just one to make the playoffs, Johnson had only 11 receptions for 122 yards and no touchdowns. He disappeared from the offense.

5. CAN PALMER ELEVATE HIS OVERALL GAME TO TOM BRADY'S LEVEL?

Stats be damned, can Carson Palmer win games by himself?

Palmer came back magnificently from a career-threatening knee injury Jan. 8 in the playoffs. His numbers in touchdown passes, yards and interceptions were comparable in 2006 to his breakout 2005 season.

One number reveals the problems Palmer had in coming back, though. His completion percentage dropped 5.5 points, from 67.8 in 2005 to 62.3. He completed 21 fewer passes in 11 more attempts. For example, Palmer missed a wide-open T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the end zone in Denver and threw the ball into the arms of a Broncos cornerback.

Palmer knows he has to play better. He needs, too, to develop more of a Boomer Esiason leadership style and use the media to criticize teammates who might be dogging it or underachieving. Palmer would not be asking any more of his teammates than he already demands of himself.
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"We're not going to turn our backs on him," Ward said. "We're going to treat him like our brother. We're going to accept him back and be very supportive of him and help him get through this. In this locker room, he's still our quarterback."
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Old 01-02-2007, 06:20 PM   #2
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Default Re: More goodies out of Cincy today.....

Selfishness gets the blame
The 2006 Bengals: What went wrong?
BY MARK CURNUTTE | MCURNUTTE@ENQUIRER.COM
Bengals players echoed their coach, as they often do, after the season-ending loss Sunday to the Steelers.

In Paul Brown Stadium's home locker room, selfishness was cited repeatedly as the reason the Bengals under-achieved in 2006.

"Small, every gap is small in football," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "There are not wide gaps in the NFL, very small. But it takes people that are selfless."

Said right tackle Willie Anderson: "We all know it is selfishness. We as a team will never get over the hump with the selfishness."

Lewis and his players stopped short of defining selfishness, but examples were on display all year.

Players who get into trouble off the field are viewed as selfish by their teammates, though no one would mention names.

Talented players such as wide receiver Chris Henry and linebacker Odell Thurman - examples 1a and 1b of the bad-boy Bengals - might come to work and work hard. But they're not at home getting rest, studying film or their playbooks when they're out into the wee hours of the morning and getting into trouble.

It's not a stretch to say the Bengals' defense missed Thurman's big-play ability at middle linebacker, where his consistency and knowledge of assignments as a second-year player would have had to improve over his rookie season.

When a bit player like rookie wide receiver Reggie McNeal got into trouble outside a Houston nightclub, Lewis defended him publicly, saying he was the victim of a bad arrest. Why didn't Lewis make an example of McNeal in some way? Instead, there was an air of "anything goes" in the locker room.

LEAVING FOR LUNCH

Speaking of the locker room, Tory James, Deltha O'Neal and Johnathan Joseph were among the players who left almost every day during the season for lunch. They did not stay with their teammates. There was a lack of unity.

Tailback Rudi Johnson addressed the need for team cohesion, but not in any specific context.

"We need to come together as a team and stay together all the time," Johnson said after the game.

Other players don't leave, but they take their team-provided lunches and head into the lounge (where there are video games, a television and pool table) or another room (where there is a ping-pong table). Twice during the season, Lewis locked the lounge door, not as a punishment for poor game performance or a loss but because it was not cleaned up.

Then there are those players who, at times, seem more concerned about individual statistics than the team's success.

Lewis commented within the past two weeks that individual numbers will come when the team wins. He is aware of the problem, nothing unique in the NFL to the Bengals.

In the past two years, some Bengals players have grumbled about the attention-getting behavior of wide receiver Chad Johnson, though Johnson toned down his act considerably this past season.

For certain, the offseason will bring changes. Lewis, 8-8 in three of his four seasons as Bengals coach, faces pressure to get the Bengals deep into the playoffs.

FREE AGENCY IMPACT

Several high-profile players are unrestricted free agents, and short of team designations to limit their mobility, players the likes of defensive end Justin Smith and guard Eric Steinbach could end up wearing other uniforms next season.

But money should not be the object.

The salary cap for 2007 is $109 million. The Bengals are $28.4 million under the cap. They, like other NFL teams, have all kinds of room to do business.

Desire to spend and to win - not finances - would be the only reasons the Bengals would not re-sign players the caliber of Smith or Steinbach.
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"We're not going to turn our backs on him," Ward said. "We're going to treat him like our brother. We're going to accept him back and be very supportive of him and help him get through this. In this locker room, he's still our quarterback."
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Old 01-03-2007, 01:20 PM   #3
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Default Re: More goodies out of Cincy today.....

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He is 35-30 overall in four seasons. Does that record look better in Cincinnati, where standards, expectations and results were below mediocre each year prior to his hiring? Elsewhere in the NFL, 35-30 over four seasons is enough to get a coach fired.
...and there ladies and gentlemen...is the difference between a team with a legacy and a team with no identity
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