Updated: 6 p.m.
Two weeks and two days after re-upping with the Bengals for a club-record ninth season as head coach, a recharged Marvin Lewis emerged from movie marathon Thursday that has convinced him his offense needs a major streamlining and confident Cincinnati is close to recapturing the AFC North title it lost this past season in a 10-game losing streak.
After watching every snap of 2010's disappointing offensive effort he admitted he is "pissed, for lack of a better term." Buoyed by what he feels is common ground with Bengals president Mike Brown, Lewis put himself out there like never before with an "I will fix us" pronouncement during a wide-ranging interview before the Bengals leave Sunday to coach the North in the Under Armour Senior Bowl. He endorsed quarterback
The odds-on favorite for the 2011 training camp T-shirt motto is "Find a way." It is scrawled on his office grease board.
"No excuses," he said. "Just find a way. Whatever it takes."
Lewis says it starts with him, and on Thursday he continually pointed the finger at himself, such as when he indicated Palmer needs some room to operate.
"We can't allow anybody to steal Carson's thunder," he said. "I can't allow anybody to steal Carson's thunder. Ever again."
"We will get back to the top of this division," Lewis said as he outlined a formula that sounded like the 2009 script that yielded a division sweep and a 6-2 record against the current final four playoff teams. Sympathizing with an outraged fan base seeking scalps and change, Lewis didn't promise "lopping some heads," but he did vow "an overhaul" and didn't rule out changes to the coaching staff.
"We're going to fill up the stadium and get excited about it and get that stadium filled up again because we're going to be a very good football team next year," Lewis said. "And we're going to be a physical football team and we're going to go back and we're going to beat the other people physically. We're going to play tough football. We're going to play great defense and great special teams. We know the core people we have … we've got to come out of training camp physically ready to kick somebody's tail. We just have to have an overhaul."
Lewis wasn't ready to offer the populace the heads of the offensive staff, which has been the roaring sentiment since October. But he didn't say the 2011 coaching staff has been finalized, either.
"I think we still have a chance for change," Lewis said of the staff. "I still think we have an opportunity to revise things."
But Lewis approached the idea of an offensive upheaval cautiously with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire March 4. With no CBA, Paul Brown Stadium and the coaches are closed to the players. Brown and Lewis fear a resolution after May puts teams with new coaches and/or systems at a severe disadvantage.
"They're clamoring for heads and I understand that. I'm not ready to give them heads and we'll see what happens. I understand the frustration," said Lewis of the fans. "Minimal (staff changes) might make things better, more productive. How do you get up and going? You have to be prepared … a new system, a new nomenclature is harder. If we lopped off some heads, maybe we'd get better. But maybe we wouldn't."
He says the changes don't have to be wholesale because "we're not very far off where we need be, but we need to be more demanding in certain situations and we need to be better."
It was 16 days ago when, for awhile, it didn't look like Lewis would be back after two meetings with upper management. It didn't take a huge concession from Brown, but Lewis felt they were on the same page and that will be displayed in Friday morning's staff meeting.
"I feel like I can get it done and I think more than ever I feel like we're together in how to do it and I think that's the key," Lewis said. "And I think beginning tomorrow morning when I get with our coaches, they'll understand what I mean."
After finishing the season ranked 20th in offense a year after they finished 24th and following the autopsy of the Lewis-high 34 turnovers in '10, he said he is upset with the lack of identity. A year after the Bengals pounded to the North title on 4.1 yards per rush, Palmer threw a franchise-record 586 passes while they averaged just 3.6 yards per rush.
In the last 33 games under Palmer, a one-time, two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, the Bengals offense has scored three touchdowns in a game six times while the club has averaged 19 points per game.
"We've been all over the board a little bit too much and I think we have to focus in on what we are and what we're going to be and how we're going to do it," he said. "The most effective offensive teams in the league do things over and over again and they build upon that. More with less.
"What upsets me is I can't tell who we are. My disappointment is I can't tell you what we are. The key to offense is to be offensive and stay offensive. What we are is a big statement. It has to be all-encompassing."
Told that many of Palmer's 20 interceptions seemed to come forcing it because of unreliable routes, Lewis said, "That's my fault. Let's make us more reliable."
To that end, Lewis gave another indication that the looseness of the T.Ocho era is over.
"I would anticipate we'll have everyone on field for introductions, stuff that shouldn't be an issue," Lewis said. "It ain't that hard."
Asked if he thinks Benson would return with an overhaul and not a major change, Lewis said he wanted him back.
"Ced was discouraged after Indianapolis," Lewis said of a six-point loss in which Benson fumbled against a bad run defense. "And yet, there's one of those games you go in thinking we'll be able to run the ball, but you can't run it if you turn it over. Ced's passion and energy will make us a great offensive team because that's what he is. I don't ever want to curtail that. I opened up the season saying that it was going to be difficult on Ced because of the attention going to the receivers; that he was going to have to hang through the season and the season didn't turn out the way we wanted, which made it more difficult."
Lewis defended Benson's 3.5-yard average, in part, with the more than 80 negative running plays he saw in his film review. He said the Bengals have to get better up front and want to pick up in free agency a veteran backup who can also start if need be. And he says they have to get better play at right tackle than they got from
"He can play guard, but I think he can be a very good right tackle," Lewis said. "Unless you get (tackles) very high in the draft, I don't know how you get them."
The first evident personnel change is that Lewis said there will be one and maybe two fullbacks on the roster after the Bengals played most of last season without one.
The second personnel change is not so evident. But with The Ocho in the last year of his deal, the writing may as well be on the grease board, too. Lewis wouldn't elaborate on Ochocinco's future with the club even though everyone expects it is none. Lewis did offer a shot that indicates an impending divorce in the wake of The Ocho's coded tweets this past weekend wondering about a marriage with New England coach Bill Belichick.
"Nobody was talking about him; he didn't stand that," Lewis said. "You want them to talk about you, win football games."
Wait until The Ocho sees that. He fired off this tweet, courtesy of ProFootballTalk.com, about the man he calls his greatest receivers coach ever, new Raiders head coach Hue Jackson:
"It would be refreshing to be with Hue Jackson again. I know I wouldn’t have to worry about being thrown under a bus again.”
Since it is the last year of The Ocho's deal, it's not like 2008 when the Bengals couldn't get rid of him because of the salary cap hit. But don't expect a quick cut before March 4. They'd probably like to explore a trade, but that can't happen until a CBA is signed.