Bengaldom in search of self

9-14-03, 11 a.m.

OAKLAND, Calif. _ It's Bengaldom vs. RaiderNation and maybe Bengals' fans aren't dressed for Halloween, but they do have some scary thoughts after what transpired last week against Denver.

The shock waves range from pure, uncut outrage to hard-core loyalty, to the rational and reasonable. Here's a sampling in Hobson's Choice.

**I have read, more than once, statements from scouts around the NFL claiming the Bengals lacave somek enough playmakers on either side of the ball to be a playoff team. (perhaps even from one of your columns)

Would Marvin Lewis agree with this assessment? Are the opinions of the Bengals front office, coaching, and scouting departments indicating those pieces of the puzzle are actually in place, but those players are not completely developed due to inexperience?

It would seem that players such as Dillon, Chad Johnson, Palmer, Simmons, and possibly Justin Smith fit the category of playmakers or likely playmakers in the making. NFL types claim a team needs a minimum of 5 elite players to make a run for the playoffs. Additionally, the Bengals appear to have holes in the interior offensive line and in the secondary, particularly cornerback, that would limit their playoff capability.
Dave, Boise, ID**

DAVE: It's an interesting point that some in Bengaldom may have to start considering. Certainly Marvin Lewis has because the first thing he did upon arriving is send nearly half the roster (24) packing. The M.O. on this team has always been it's had playoff talent, but hasn't had the direction or discipline to get there, or the coaching staff hasn't developed the high picks. But since 1998, they've won 19 games and at some point you have to start looking at the talent.

Still, other teams seem to win more games with less. Jon Kitna may not be the long-term answer at quarterback, but last year he had stats comparable to guys that win more than two games. Yes, offensive line and the secondary are thin, but the front seven on defense and the skilled positions on offense should allow this team to be better than the record.

And yet, this is a hard year to judge because of the adjustments to Lewis' program and because the schedule is a killer. They very well could finish 6-10, and be so much better than the past few seasons.

Here are two responses straight from the opposite poles:


Dear Sir, As kick off approached Sunday and the smoke and music floated in the hot late summer air I thought "Man, I mess up". By the end of the 1st qt. I knew that I was the smart one this year. After last years opener and the Bengal's were passing out in the middle of the 1st qt. I felt sick, but real sorry for guys cut from the team the week before. How bad did they feel watching players chosen over them passing out and playing so poorly?

After another opener in less heat, the same players were on the field, the same game. Which is no game. (Minus T. Spikes, unbelievable that the best defensive player was lost). But not I, laying in Air Condition Bed I had to laugh. Happy I didn't have to drive 120 miles after another unentertaining PRO football game.

Keep up the good work, much more entertaining from home in bed. Sincerely, Jim, EX-SEASON TICKET IDIOT.**

He may be sarcastic, but he does seem sincere about it. Then there is this one:

**I was ten years old when the Bengals came into being and for the thirty odd years since I have (and I am pretty sure always will be) a Bengal fan. I remember Bob Johnson, Bill Bergy, Virgil Carter, Isaac Curtis, Tommy Casanova, Lamar Parrish, Kenny Anderson, and of course Paul Brown. I have lived in Pittsburgh for the last fifteen years and had to endure the ridicule that comes with supporting the team from a town I grew up in and love.

I want the Bengal team to know that it is not only them that suffer when they fall on the field. They represent a great community and great people, who for the most part, want them to win desperately. I respect the current changes in Marvin Lewis and the great players we have in Corey Dillon, Chad Johnson, Justin Smith, and Willie Anderson. I drove fifty miles so that I could watch their rebirth. Call me a true Bengalholic, but I saw some good things. I saw a team make mistakes, but a team that did not quit. I couldn't say that the last several years. So I will continue to support the Bengals, because I see change on the horizon. I wish the best of success to come. Sincerely, Anton, Houston, Pa**

You can't beat that for fan support. It's interesting that both guys signed it "Sincerely."

We've said it before. It's going to take more than a game, a month, a half season, a full season, to get the thing turned around, to borrow a phrase from Jimmy Johnson. Lewis has brought so many changes _ not just in football_ but in culture. Think about your own job. How smooth would it be for you if the boss changed everything from the hours to the expectations?

That said, they ought to be able to make some run of kind run in contention in the division into late November and not get blown out of games like they did last Sunday. Look what Jack Dell Rio did in his head coaching debut in Jacksonville. The Jags almost won and it went right to the wire. (Of course, they didn't play a play-off contender, either.)But Kitna is right. Openers are tough to judge the rest of the season. **

Hi, I'm Greg. I was told by a friend, that the Bengals will have a new uniform and helmet design next year. Is this true? If so, could you please describe to me what the changes will look like? Thanks!!!**

GREG: They won't have new helmets, but given what Lewis dressed them in Opening Day, it looks like their home uniforms in 2004 are going to consist of some kind of combination of black jerseys and black pants. **

I can not undestand why marvin lewis let john kitna stay in the game on sunday. It was obviouse he wasn't with the game plan , what ever it was. I think they should have put in shane mathews to see if things might have turned around, eveybody has a bad day and kitna was surely having one. I think he got umiliated by a sell out croud by not doing this. This weeks game ,I hope that lewis doesn,t make the same mistake and let the game get to far out of hand before changes are made. GLENN.**

GLENN: It's tough to pull a guy after one game, particularly after you've gone great lengths during the offseason to show you don't have a quarterback controversy and have made Kitna your man since Day One. Benching him would have appeased a segment of fans, but probably would have done the big picture more harm than good.

Lewis prides himself on being patient and sticking with a plan, and what message would it have sent if he's Easting the quarterback two quarters into his coaching career?

But you know what? He's not that patient. We could see him going to Matthews Sunday in Oakland if there are a few more ugly interceptions, but then going back to Kitna to start against the Steelers at home next week. **

Is it my imagination or what? The Bengals seem to always start out on offense at the 20 yard mark,but the opposing team always seems to start out between the 30 &40 yard mark. Why is this?**

As you know, it's not your imagination because you've lived it. Special teams a major reason they've struggled the past five years. Why? Good question.

Overall lack of team speed, lack of back-up depth, and lack of consistent punting, are the three top guesses here. Lewis is trying to change all that by drafting fast guys like linebacker Khalid Abdullah and keeping guys like cornerback Terrell Roberts, guys who wouldn't have been picked or wouldn't have made it in previous regimes.

But having a new special teams coach is as big of a change as having a new defensive, or offensive coordinator. You can't get comfortable with a new system right away.

**Everybody needs to calm down, and take a realistic look at the schedule. For a team that had the worst record in the league last year, the schedule makers didn't do the Bengals any favors. Even if the schedule rotation calls for Cincinnati to play Denver and Oakland, was it really necessary to have to play them in weeks 1 and 2? Detroit got to open with Arizona; it seems like the schedule makers could work a little harder to make the week 1 matchups more balanced. Open with Denver, go to Oakland, return home to play Pittsburgh. Looks like 0-3 to me, not because our team's lousy, but because no other team in the NFL plays three teams of that caliber to open the season.

Lefty in Switzerland County, Indiana**

LEFTY: And the last six games aren't a walk in Sawyer Point, either. Three straight on the road against San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, then the Niners at home, and then on the road against the Rams before finishing the season at Paul Brown Stadium against the Browns.

They could finish 6-10 and Lewis be Coach of the Year. We think the last six games are going to be a better judge of this team than the first five. The way Lewis has crafted this roster with an eye to the future and big-time conditioning, they should be a much better team in November and December than they are now.

** While the offensive line played badly, the play calling on offense seemed so predictable. Kitna had some great games last year...but his presence in the pocket doesn't seem to compare to Shane Matthew's. I remember years ago when Ken Anderson, against Seattle (I think) threw 3 int's in the first half, and was benched for the backup, who lead us to victory. The offensive line better get their act together, but is Kitna a real "starter" in the NFL? Personally I don't see him finishing the season as starting QB. What are your thoughts on this?

Kevin F. Dayton, OH**

KEVIN: It's hard to say after one game. If Kitna ends up playing like he did last year, they've got a shot at being in contention in November. If he ends up playing like he did in '01 (12 TDs, 22 picks), they won't be and Palmer is going to be in there down the stretch. Plus, the salary cap numbers suggest they can't have Palmer sitting on the bench next season.

But, Kitna is going to play only as well as the offensive line blocks for Corey Dillon. If Dillon is going to get 40 yards a game, Bledsoe, Aikman, Marino, Carson Palmer, Kenny Anderson would struggle. **

I have been a Bengals' fan since the beginning. I was irritated Sunday when I saw the crowd shot of the fanwho were booing Kitna. Maybe I am mistaken but there is no way on This earth I would have put Palmer in that game the way the offensive line was performing, even if he was the second quarterback and not the third. Not only were they not pass protecting, they were not run blocking either. As a matter of fact, I take my hat off to Kitna for at least sticking it out and continuing to fight and at least get the TD in the fourth quarter. Yes, he made bonehead decision on the 12 yd interception for a TD but hopefully he will not try to make things happen when there is nothing there in the future. I say get off Kitna's back (hopefully the other will also) and let him do his job. He is not the main problem as I saw it on Sunday. I would rather wait and make sure Palmer is ready than hand him turn him into another Klingler or Smith.**

You have to admire Kitna for his grit and determination. He is out there always battling, and he goes down firing. The problem now is, he's got a defensive head coach who knows teams that win are the teams that make the fewest mistakes on offense. (Exhibit A, the 2000 Super Bowl champion Ravens.) The take here is Lewis won't have much tolerance for the bad picks.

Why isn't Corey Dillon utilized more in the passing offense? When you look around the league, there are plenty of teams that throw to their backs. Guys like Ricky Williams, Ladanian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes, Deuce McAlister, and the ultimate pass receiving back, Charlie Garner, are all important to the passing game of their respected teams. When Corey can't get his yards on the ground, the adjustment should be made by throwing him the football. Corey catching 3 - 5 balls a game could make a world of difference for this offense. And it'll give him a chance to make the same type of plays that a guy like Garner does for the Raiders. Kenny, Clarksville, TN.

KENNY: Let's worry about getting Dillon going in the running game, first. Dillon is in a different kind of offense than Garner, and Garner is a different kind of back. Dillon had 43 catches last season, four fewer than McAllister, but, you're right, nowhere near the other guys. Maybe hitting him out of the backfield early in the game would help get defenses off him, but we think they'd rather he get his 30 touches from scrimmage.

And that's another thing. They've got to get to a point where he's carrying it 25 times in a game from scrimmage. He hasn't done that in the last 10 games. Then, worry about him in the passing game.

Surprising fact?: Dillon is the team's leading active receiver with 183 catches, five more than Peter Warrick. **

Hello there, I am a longtime Bengals' fan and I just have a few questions. I know that everyone is upset about how the game went Sunday and so am I. I am a Coach Lewis fan but I don't agree with Kitna as the starter, but hey I am not the coach but I think that something should be done. My first question is do you think that the young gun Carson Palmer will start before the year ends. My last question is do the Bengals have what it takes to become a playoff team next season? I would like to see it this season I just don't think they have that mentality yet. Well I guess I will talk to you later. Have a Great Day TR.**

TR: Palmer gets to start probably if the Bengals are out of playoff contention. They've got a shot at going to the playoffs any year, just because the way the league is. But they need to get things figured out in the interior of the offensive line and get one or two more playmakers on defense to become a consistent winner.

**I don't expect to get a response but I thought I would write anyway.

I have been a BENGAL fan for 16 years. I wil not give up on them despite the jeers I get daily from co-worker who are mostly Browns and Stelers fans their loss.

I fel that the team is haveing a hard time working as a team, I work at HONDA of AMERICA up the road in ANNA ohio their engine plant. Our whole team at the plant employe about 2700 people. Every day we have to work as a team to satisfy our customers, Our lively hood depends on it. Possibly this is something that needs to be instilled in our team the Bengals. In life where ever you are you will have to be part of a team . The life of that team depends on it.

Reguardless I will always be a fan. I will never give up. I hope none of you will either GO BENGALS. Stuart [never die bengals fan]**

STUART: Lewis is your man, then, because that has been his mission from Day One on Jan. 14.


When will we get a line coach that can coach? We have two 1st rounders at the tackle positions, a 2nd rounder that everyone said should have been a first rounder, a 3rd rounder at center, and a veteran " O Dwyer" that is suppose to be one of the strongest players in the league. They end up looking like screendoors, letting the defense in. It all starts up front, when will the Bengals upfront start playing? Rick Nelson New Richmond, Ohio**

RICK: The offensive line coach, Paul Alexander, has put together some pretty good lines in the past that have yielded this team a lot of yards, particularly on the ground. Clearly they are struggling getting it going in the interior, and with O'Dwyer and Goff going into their free-agent seasons, that may be the biggest overhaul of next season. Plus, with all the changes, it may be the type of thing where this new line needs a few games under its belt to get into a groove.


My observation the past few years has been that the Bengals play much better offense when they operate at a quicker pace. I think this was borne out again Sunday when they moved the ball in the hurry-up offense. Jim.**

JIM: Yes, they do seem to move it out of the hurryup, but a lot of times it's because the defense has the lead and is playing the pass, not letting anything get behind them. We think the biggest problem with this offense isn't moving the ball, but cashing in from the red zone and the goal line after they have moved it. **

mr. hobson,what is wrong with bengal fans? im 36 years old and have been a die hard fanthru good and bad with the bengals. i understand the frustration of the last12 years because i have been with the rest of the fans the entire way butwhy do they turn so fast? yes...... marvin lewis is the answer. no....itisnt going to turn around in an instant. losing is a disease and somethingthat takes time to cure but how can you look at the changes marvin has madeand still not feel good about the direction it is headed even though theylost the first game.i ask compassion from the fans and ask them to hang inthere and support this new team and new mentor of the future. GOBENGALS!!!!!! #1 fan,Tim, dayton, ohio**

TIM: Many fans feel like you do. But many also feel like they can't take it anymore. Lewis has done things to offer plently of hope, but Bengaldom is in search of itself on how to deal with it all.

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