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Bengals need to be physical in '08

Updated: 6:45 p.m.



Marvin Lewis appears to be letting the issue of his coaching staff settle over the New Year. While praising his coaches he also didn't say which ones were coming back.

If Lewis has been jumping around the subject of change, the one constant he has expressed is the desire to get back to his principles of '03, and his team better be able to run the ball and stop the run. In 2008 the Bengals face eight top 10 defenses and six top 10 rushing teams from 2007.

In fact, the entire '08 schedule is a grind job against two divisions with three teams each in the playoffs. Thanks to the AFC South and the NFC East, the Bengals foes have a combined '07 winning percentage of .577.

And seven are headed to the playoffs with home games against Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Washington and away games with the Colts, Cowboys and Giants.

The Jags, Steelers, Giants and Titans are arguably the four most physical teams in the NFL and are ranked 2-5 in NFL rushing, where the Bengals finished 21st this season defending.

The Ravens (No. 2), Steelers (No. 3), Redskins (No. 4), Titans (No. 5), Cowboys (No. 6), Eagles (No. 7) and Giants (No. 8) are all in the top 10 against the run, and the Bengals finished 24th against the run.

"We need to be a physical football team. If we're not, we're going to struggle week-in and week-out," Lewis said Monday. "We're always going to be able to throw the football. We have a fine, outstanding quarterback. We have to be able to run the football effectively to take pressure off him. We have to defend the run effectively and not allow explosive plays. You have to win your third downs. If you do those things, you'll be successful."

Going into last Sunday's game, the Bengals were behind only the Patriots and Colts with a plus-42 turnover differential during Lewis' five seasons.

But this season Cincinnati only finished tied for eighth in NFL differential, thanks to 30 giveaways, their most in three years. They play two of the teams ahead of them (Indy at No. 2 and Jacksonville No. 6) and the team tied with them, Dallas.

"We had14 turnovers in the first five games, and you can't do that. You're putting yourself in jeopardy of not being very good," Lewis said. "You might end up being 1-4 if you have 14 turnovers after five games because you can't overcome that. Those things led us to where we are today. We didn't strap a couple of wins back to back to get out of that funk."

NO WORD: Lewis continues not to say anything definitive about his coaching staff, but it doesn't sound like anything is going get blown up.

"I'm very pleased with what our coaches have done this year," Lewis said at Monday's news conference. "They've gone through some trying times with new players and injuries. It's very difficult each and every week to look at a different group of guys, moving guys from position to position. I thought they handled that very well."

Lewis did say that some of his coaches "will have opportunities" to move to better jobs so while there may not be major moves the situation appears to be fluid for awhile.

As for quarterback Carson Palmer's comments that he thinks there needs to be some coaching changes to combat Lewis's fear of staleness, Lewis said, "I appreciate Carson's opinion. We talk about that kind of thing all the time. But it's my judgment and we'll move forward the way I feel we need to move forward. I appreciate his perspective of it."

While the Bengals paused at 7-9, the Ravens went ahead and fired head coach Brian Billick after their 5-11 season. Billick won a Super Bowl and leaves with a .555 winning percentage in nine regular seasons. He also coached in eight playoff games and won a Super Bowl.

It was Billick who opted to keep Lewis as the Ravens defensive coordinator when he took the job in '99 and they remain friends.

"It's unfortunate; I know what he means to me," Lewis said.

Lewis won seven of his 10 games against Billick and in the five seasons they were pitted in the AFC North the Ravens were one game better at 43-37 and the Bengals at 42-38. The Ravens won two titles in that stretch, the Bengals one.

Lewis is now the career leader in games coached in the North with Billick's departure. His 80 games tops a division left with the 48 of Cleveland's Romeo Crennel and the 16 of Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin.

No. 9: The Bengals are picking No. 9 in the 2008 draft and here are the No. 9 picks since 2003: Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn went to Miami last year. In '06 linebacker Ernie Sims went to Detroit, in '05 cornerback Carlos Rogers went to Washington, in '04 wide receiver Reggie Williams went to Jacksonville and in '03 defensive tackle Kevin Williams went to Minnesota.

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