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E-Bag debuts

10-23-01, 11:35 p.m.

There are no surprises in the first E-Bag after the 24-0 loss to the Bears.

Bengaldom is kicking about Neil Rackers, is up in arms over Jon Kitna, and is hard on what is viewed as soft coverage by the secondary.

A sampling:

Q: When Jon Kitna is not on during a game like last Sunday, why doesn't Dick put in Scott Mitchell? Maybe he comes in and gets the offense to settle down,or maybe he might get something done. Just because one quarterback can't do things against a defense doesn't mean another quarterback can't move the ball.

We need to find someone that can move the ball down field. I am not a Mitchell fan, but I think he deserves a chance to see what he can do.

P.S. Why do our DBs play so far off the ball? Wideouts are making big plays after catching the ball due to the cushion our DBs are giving them. Do we need to find DBs that can play bump and run? I know they are young, but they are killing us. Bill, Northern Kentucky.

DEAR BILL: Why is everyone so down on Kitna? There's only one stat for a quarterback and it is Wins As A Starter. Kitna is the first guy since Boomer The First to have the Bengals .500 this late in the season. He's already got as many touchdown passes as Mitchell and Akili Smith had combined all last year with six. Of his five interceptions, the coaches say the only one that was his fault was the one in the red zone against the Bears. And that was his first turnover inside the foes' 20 all year.

Some of the E-Baggers don't like Kitna's emotion or when he lets a wide receiver know what he thinks went wrong on an incompletion. To me, that's not whining. That's leading a still very young receiving corps. How come Boomer could do that? And remember when everybody ripped Jeff Blake for not playing with emotion?

Yes, Kitna was absolutely brutal against the Bears. But it's the first time he didn't give

them a chance to win this year. And that's going to happen a few times in a season. Should Peyton Manning and Kerry Collins get sat, too, off this week?

One of the reasons Scott Mitchell decided to come back to Cincinnati after last season is that Dick LeBeau isn't a guy with a quick hook. Mitchell and LeBeau feel a NFL quarterback faces enough obstacles in front of him that the last thing he has to do is also look over his shoulder when things start to go wrong.

As you can imagine, you aren't the only one with questions about the pass coverage. The explanation that has been given this year is that the Bengals change up their coverages and do play tight many times. When the corners give cushion, that indicates a zone defense.

Yes, the corners allowed critical third-down passes in the losses to San Diego and Pittsburgh and got chewed up by Bears quarterback Jim Miller's 232 yards.

But let's face it, what's hurting them is the run defense. You could argue that corners like Artrell Hawkins and Mark Roman are playing better this year than they have in years past. Before the Chicago game, the Bengals' defense had a 66-percent success on third down compared to last year's struggles.

And the plays from the three losses that burn in the mind aren't long passes. But LaDainian Tomlinson's 80 rushing yards in a dozen minutes in San Diego, Jerome Bettis' 48-yard run on the Steelers' second snap, and Anthony Thomas' 46-yard run last Sunday on the second play after Kitna's interception.

Q: Where is Pelfrey or Cunningham? Surely they would be better candidates to replace Rackers than the practice squad fodder the Bengals have brought in this week.

Instead of trying to send Mr. Rackers a message, the Bengals ought to send him packin'. They need a kicker that is good for better than 50% of his kicks, and Rackers just can't get it done. Rich, Harrison, Ohio. **

DEAR RICH:** Throw in Al Del Greco as another veteran kicker who might be able to help. But the Bengals, who have been pounded in field position down through the years, believe a weak kick-off guy who allows teams to get the ball on their own 35 or 40 is nearly as dangerous as an inaccurate field-goal kicker.

Some teams just have a guy to kickoff, a luxury the Bengals can't afford because Brad St. Louis is only a long snapper. That's why they find Rackers so difficult to give up on because he's so hugely talented. He's got the big leg that takes up two roster spots. So do the young guys they brought in. Any veteran who can do it is locked up.

But Mike Brown and Dick LeBeau clearly are running out of patience with Rackers. Brown's comments after Sunday's game reflect it. The amazing thing is the Bengals have played six games and Rackers' inaccuracy hasn't cost them because their losses haven't been close, although it might have made things easier in Pittsburgh if he made that 51-yarder. In this league, half of the next six games will probably go to the wire.

And it's not that the Bengals won't pay a veteran kicker this late in the season. Anyone on the Opening Day roster is guaranteed his salary for the rest of the season. And no team signs a veteran kicker before then.

Q: It seems to me, the teams who make it deep in the playoffs and into the Super Bowl always have the uncanny ability to make great second-half adjustments. Being a Bengals fan since I was a kid, Dick LeBeau is the first coach I have liked since Sam. But can he and his squad learn how to breakdown the other team and make in-game adjustments? They haven't as of yet. Donan, Brooklyn, N.Y. **

DEAR DONAN:**Hope everything is well in Rudyville and that The City noted the career day of Queens native Marco Battaglia against the Bears.

Actually, the half-time adjustments seem to have been pretty effective this season until last Sunday. Their best quarter by far this year is the third with 41 points. They must be doing something at the half because they have failed to score a first-quarter touchdown in nine straight games and still have managed to win four of them.

In the opener, the Bengals adjusted to the Patriots' 3-4 look used on some plays in the first half and against the Browns running back Corey Dillon rung up 60 yards in the third quarter alone.

Of course, none of that stuff happened at halftime against Chicago. Maybe they should have stopped trying to send Dillon right at the 700-pound tackle tandem of Keith Traylor and Ted Washington and tried some misdirection or outside stuff.

Q: Hey, I have been a long time Bengals fan and everyone is talking how they are for real. Then we played the Bears and totally got knocked out. My question is what do you think the Bengals record will be this year? Do you think that Spikes and Simmons will re-sign? In 2002, do you think the Bengals are real contenders for their new division? Andrew

DEAR ANDREW: A lot depends on this Sunday's game in Detroit. A loss, and it will be a grind to get to 7-9, 8-8 or 9-7. A win and they've got a legit shot at 9-7 (10-6?) and the playoffs.

After this Sunday, they have two weeks to think about being 4-3 or 3-4 before heading back into the wars at Jacksonville and home against Tennessee. That's huge.

Forget what those clubs are doing this year. The Bengals haven't won in Jacksonville in six years and haven't beat Tennessee in Cincinnati, Memphis, Nashville, or anywhere in four years.

Which is one reason why the Bengals should contend right away in the new AFC North. The Jags and Titans are gone and Cincinnati has already showed this year they can compete with Baltimore and Cleveland. Of course, they'll have to solve the Steelers.

The Bengals are going to try and re-sign both right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes and middle linebacker Brian Simmons before their deals are up after the 2002 season. The question is if they can afford two high-priced guys at one position. Mike Brown points out the Ravens have paid their linebackers and the Bengals would like to do the same.

The Bengals do have insurance at middle backer with Adrian Ross, who just signed a three-year extension, and Armegis Spearman, out for the year with a chest injury.

Q: My question has to do with the Bengals' game plan both offensively and defensively.

First on offense it seems that the Bengals don't mix up the pass and run enough. They quickly will abandon the run in favor of the pass. Why don't they execute more screens to CD and quick outs to the receivers and then come with the run again? They seem to be too predictable, and why didn't they go long more against a defense that was giving one on one coverage?? We have the receivers.

On defense, we are hurt, but is the scheme off? It seems to depend on the competition. We don't adjust. Why do our corners give and 8-10- yard cushion every time and let opponents through for 8-10 yards a pop? We couldn't stop it against the Bears! Dan, Qwest Communications.

DEAR DAN: The passing game is a mystery because the Bears did dare them to pass, left it open, and they still couldn't convert. In a game like that, it really hurt them when the speed of Chad Johnson is out because the defense can bracket the only other speed guy in Darnay Scott and go one-on-one with the possession guys.

You saw how Johnson's speed made Cleveland play soft on third down and how it opened up Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans as well.

The consensus is they are less predictable than last year with new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski trying to run out of pass formations and pass out of the run. Look at the Cleveland game: 199 yards rushing, 201 passing. But when you can't run, everyone knows you have to throw.

The Bengals may have to adjust their off-tackle running game against defenses with huge tackles and active safeties, like Chicago, Baltimore, Jacksonville and Tennessee.

As for the defense, it seems pretty clear. It doesn't seem to be scheme, but playing the scheme appears to be the problem with missed tackles and missed alignments. And that was happening before linemen Tony Williams and Vaughn Booker went down with injuries.

(Although Williams missed most of the Steeler game and all Bears' game and his return Nov. 11 in Jacksonville will be a major boost.)

Why is the run game getting gashed? The only consistent answer they have is they are all trying to do too much and aren't running the defense the way it is drawn up.

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