Bengals '00 season to bring change?

BY GEOFF HOBSON

PHILADELPHIA _ The scoreboard, the stat sheet and the locker-room rumblings after Sunday's 16-7 loss Sunday to the Eagles suggest changes are needed for the Bengals' battered offense.

"We need to have more firepower offensively," said defensive captain Takeo Spikes, whose two fumble recoveries deep in Philadelphia territory couldn't light the fuse.

"It might be good if they come up with a new scheme," said right tackle Willie Anderson, the offensive captain. "Not that this didn't work before in the past, but let's see what they do."

Still, the defense played well enough to give the Bengals a shot at beating a playoff team at home if their on-side kick had worked with three minutes left.

"We could have folded the tent and gone home the way things were going early in the game," said left tackle John Jackson. "We played a playoff team hard and came up short."

Coach Dick LeBeau sent his team into the offseason telling them he was proud of how hard they played but that there is much work that needs to be done.

The man in the eye of the storm is offensive coordinator Ken Anderson, the club's all-time leading passer and a revered figure in the Bengals front office.

Yet with LeBeau scheduled to meet with Bengals President Mike Brown Tuesday to discuss his coaching staff, Anderson figures to be the most vulnerable assistant.

"There won't be wholesale changes," LeBeau said. "We'll discuss some things. Take a look at everything."

LeBeau is fiercely loyal to Anderson, but Anderson's tense relationship with franchise quarterback Akili Smith would seem to preclude demoting him to quarterbacks coach if the club seeks another coordinator.

And how would a public that offered just two sellouts at the new Paul Brown Stadium this past season respond to virtually no changes to a staff that oversaw just the 10th sub 200-point season since the advent of the 16-game schedule?

"I haven't been told anything," Anderson said.

Two of the key assistants in the NFL's second-ranked running game, running backs coach Jim Anderson and offensive line coach Paul Alexander, figure to stay. Tight ends coach Frank Verducci has also been a part of that and could stay.

Defensively, the staff figures to stay the same with linebackers coach Mark Duffner also taking LeBeau's title of defensive coordinator. All indications are special teams coach Al Roberts is also back.

But what happens on offense? Can the Bengals lure a coordinator if most of his coaches are already chosen for him?

"I think we're going to be OK," said rookie receiver Peter Warrick. "I'm already focused on the offseason. I want to work with the quarterbacks and get on the same page. That's something we've got to work on. I'm looking to go to the Pro Bowl. That's my goal."

It took Warrick's one-handed grab of a 17-yard pass from quarterback Scott Mitchell with 3:12 left in the game to avert the club's fourth shutout of the season.

The offense failed to produce more than one touchdown in 13 games in finishing with a franchise-low 185 points, two points fewer than the David Klingler-Jeff Query days of 1993.

The 60 minutes in Veterans Stadium was a microcosm of the '00 (how fitting) season. A team that could muster just 16 passes of 20 yards or more to its wide receivers coming into the game had a long pass of 19 against the Eagles.

"We've got to score," Jackson said. "That's got to change. What we don't do is execute."

Mitchell finished 18 of 34 for 183 yards in the 14th game the Bengals failed to throw for 200 yards.

"It's dangerous to speculate right after the game," said Mitchell, who doesn't even know if he's going to be back. "Ken worked really hard. . .

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He put in the time to do the best job he could. He's in a tough situation. I've got a tremendous amount of respect for Ken. You always want to evaluate where you are if things need to be changed or corrected. That's what the offseason is about."

The Eagles shut down the Bengals like all the good defenses have this season. They constantly blitzed with eight men at the line of scrimmage to stop Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon and relied on their big physical cornerbacks in Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor to shut down their rookie outside receivers.

Dillon had just 39 yards on 16 carries and the Bengals could never pick up the blitz.

"They always seemed to have one more guy than we did," Jackson said. "We thought we had enough guys for them, but if you call the right blitz, you call the right blitz. We thought we had something, but they were always bringing one extra guy."

The most costly blitz came in the Bengals' first series of the fourth quarter and the Eagles winning, 13-0. It showed just the lack of execution Jackson talked about.

Mitchell had clicked on back-to-back passes of 13 and 18 yards to receiver Danny Farmer and tight end Steve Bush, respectively, and had the ball on the Eagles 17.

But tackle Hollis Thomas blew through the middle of the line to knock the ball away from Mitchell and force the Bengals' NFL-high 21st fumble.

"It was a miscommunication, I think, between the back and the line," Mitchell said. "I thought I had enough time to at least step back and get rid of the ball. I was getting ready to get in my throwing motion, so I don't have both hands on the ball, so it's exposed. When you have those miscommunications, those things can happen."

Like it has most of the season, the Bengals' defense played well enough to win. The only touchdown they allowed came on a play after Farmer fumbled at the Bengals' 39 and Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb found a seam in the zone behind rookie cornerback Mark Roman and away from free safety Darryl Williams for a quick-strike touchdown.

But with the use of a rotating system that kept a "spy," or defender mirroring McNabb's moves, the Bengals held the Eagles' leading rusher to three carries for 20 yards. Most of the time, the Bengals alternated linebacker JoJuan Armour and defensive end Reinard Wilson on him as the Bengals forced four turnovers.

Spikes grabbed fumbles by McNabb at the Philadelphia 36 and by Chris Warren at the Philadelphia 18, cornerback Artrell Hawkins ran 12 yards with a Warren fumble to the Bengals 17, and strong safety Cory Hall picked off McNabb and lugged it to the Cincinnati 33.

But the Bengals got no points off the turnovers. In fact, they got a total nine yards on the four drives set up by turnovers.

"We could have beaten this team," Warrick said. "We just didn't take advantage of all our chances."

The first dozen minutes were the worst, when the Eagles took a 10-0 lead after the Bengals lost a fumble, a replay, and the clock. The opening moments set the tone on a day Cincinnati's road problems continued. They went into the half with just 26 first-half points on the road this season.

The passing game, last in the NFL all season, offered no hope for next season. At least in the first 57 minutes. Mitchell couldn't get the ball down field in the first half with his longest of five completions going for 12 yards to wide receiver Ron Dugans.

McNabb killed the Bengals softly on 198 yards in steering the Eagles to three David Akers' field goals.

The Bengals' offense went three plays-and-out on their first three possessions and had the ball for just 5:08 in the first quarter.

One drive ended when wide receiver Farmer fumbled a pass over the middle and Vincent recovered it at the Cincinnati 39.

After watching the replay at the Bengals' request, the officials ruled Farmer caught the ball before losing it, and McNabb went deep on the next play for a touchdown.

The Eagles took a 3-0 lead on their longest drive of the season with an 18-play, 8:12 sojourn on their first possession of the game that ended in Akers' 32-yard field goal.

McNabb flashed his ample run-pass abilities with back-to-back scrambles of eight yards, and he found tight end Chad Lewis three times for 24 yards in the drive.

The Bengals drove to the Eagles 32 early in the second quarter, thanks mainly to a 14-yard burst up the middle by fullback Nick Williams. The Bengals passed up a 49-yard field goal try when they went for it on fourth-and-nine. Mitchell, who missed on five of his first eight passes, couldn't hook up with Farmer over the midde.

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