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Hobson's Choice: Implosion or inspiration?

Posted Sep 14, 2009

Q: You are around the team and have a feel for the mindset. How do you think the Bengals deal with this current loss? Do they curl up into a ball and say "Here we go again..."? Or do they start to show some resiliency and come out tougher next week against a very tough opponent? I have been a fan for a long time and am quite tired of them not being able to deal with adversity. This should have been a steppingstone win, easily. Not another slip on the rocks. The rocks weren't even wet. So what are your thoughts?
--Katon B., Williamsburg, Va.

KATON: Driving 91 yards in the last six minutes shows some kind of the intangibles that Marvin Lewis insists this team has and his other teams didn't. But the last 11 seconds were so devastating those six minutes now mean nothing in the NFL's quicksand of time. Now we'll find out if this locker room bit is lip service or legit.

As in, we'll find out right away in six days in the most hostile of settings, Lambeau Field. To be fair to Marvin, his teams may absolutely flummox you in their inconsistent execution, but the one thing they don't do is curl up into a ball. They play hard no matter what. We saw that in last year's 0-8 start.

Of course, as they pretty much all admitted in Sunday's locker room that had all the surrealism of that car wreck that always happens to the other guy, none of them has ever been involved in anything like that. So who knows how they come out of it?

Do they treat it like a one-week blip and play the surgeon, Aaron Rodgers, as well as they played the meatballer, Kyle Orton? Or is it a year-long hangover that won't clear until the calendar does?

It's happened both ways in Bengals history. Ten years ago they had a nine-point lead in playing brilliantly in an opener at Tennessee with six minutes left and got beat at the gun on a field goal. The Titans went to the Super Bowl. The Bengals went comatose at 0-4 and were never seen again at 4-12. If they held on, who knows what would have happened, but the Titans probably wouldn't have gone to the Super Bowl and the Bengals probably would have finished better than 4-12.

And in Lewis' first game in 2003, these Broncos came in here and beat them in every phase, 30-10, but they went out the next week to Oakland and had a good Raiders' team beat until late. They ended up making a playoff run before losing the season finale to the Browns at home.

But this has a different feel.  To lose to a rookie head coach with a new quarterback on the road when you have a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback shouldn't happen. To have it happen at home a year later is almost unspeakable. It puts pressure points on all questions ranging from personnel to coaching.



Q: Can you explain to me why the Bengals didn't go over the top more? Also, why would we only throw to Chris Henry once? I don't like how conservative we were playing yesterday. It should not have come down to a last-second play for the Broncos to win the game. Our playcalling was not the best. At least we know we have a solid defense though.
--Matt, Cincinnati, OH

MATT: I'm sure you saw Carson's quotes about the Broncos playing the deepest zone he'd ever seen. Which begs the question, how can an NFL rushing attack get 3.2 yards per carry against such a Cover Two and an overall defense that is overhauling its scheme to a 3-4 after finishing 27th in NFL rushing last year?

Look, I'll keep repeating it. If Palmer is going to be effective, they have to average at least 4.2 yards per carry. You probably saw the stat I had up here after the game. In the last 36 games, the Bengals offense has failed to score three touchdowns 29 times. And the direct correlation over that stretch is a running game that has failed to average four yards per carry.

That's how you beat a Two Deep. You don't beat it forcing it to Henry. They're daring you to run. You beat it hammering the run. Or like what they did in the last drive, which had Cedric Benson's 20-yard run and no completion longer than 18 yards to receivers and backs.

Now, why they couldn't do it before then is the next question. But in that first half they were good enough to have 185 yards of offense underneath and racked themselves with enough mistakes to get blanked.

Too conservative? In the first half they ran it 20 times and passed it 15. In the second half, when they had 31 yards before the final drive, they passed it 18 times and ran it seven times.

Maybe they weren't conservative enough. But then there is my man Big Bird, the former NFL player who helps me with my Friday matchups who texted me early and said Chad was still beating guys at times even though he was double covered.

I see what you're saying. Stretch the field no matter what they're playing. But the QB needs time to do that, too, and I think that is a factor in all this.

Now we're full circle. If you're a good running team, you should be able to bust Cover Twos and it is the quarterback's best protection.



Q: Can you explain why we're paying the same amount of money for a guy that drops every pass thrown to him, Coles, instead of keeping T.J.? The game should have never come down to that play, and Coles is the one I'm pointing my finger at. What do you think?
--Joe, South Lebanon, OH

JOE: You can point it at him this game, but I wouldn't make any sweeping judgments off one afternoon about a guy that has been reliable and productive for an NFL decade. Now, if he has three straight like this one, then you wonder.

T.J. had been so reliable on third down that it made Coles' last drop so glaring. But I also remember last year's opener in which Housh popped up a pass he should have had at the Ravens 5 on the season's first drive and it ended up getting picked.

He hadn't practiced all training camp because of a hamstring injury and clearly didn't have his timing with Carson Palmer. With Coles getting used to Palmer this year and Palmer missing the last two week of camp with his ankle injury, I think you've got to give Coles the same Opening Day benefit.

The other thing putting the microscope on Coles besides the money and T.J.'s popularity is the fact that Chris Henry is waiting on the sidelines. But Coles is a pro. Here's a prediction he comes up big in Green Bay.