Hobson's Choice: Conservative coalition?

Q: Do you not think that the play selection by the Bengals, both on defense and offense is extremely conservative? With all the talent that they have, Lewis seems to play scared football (and yes I blame Lewis as he is the head coach). They never seem to blitz when they have a team in the hole and consequently allow the opposition to get first down on third and long situations.

Offensively, how many times can Rudi run into a lineman on first or second downs and get one yard at a key time in the game?

I don't need a running back that gets me 150 yards when the team is winning by three touchdowns. Does he ever cut left or right?

Carson, to me, is still one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL; but you can't put him in a situation where he seems to always have to complete a third down play to keep the drive going.
**--Mario, Ontario, Canada

MARIO:** I think offensively their play calling hasn't been conservative enough. Here you've got an offensive line with two newcomers working together for the first time and a quarterback coming off major knee surgery and you've thrown just nine fewer passes than last year at this time.

I would have thought they were better served to break in Palmer easier and change their M.O. a little bit and run more to protect him early on.

Then I really though that would happen when center Rich Braham and left tackle Levi Jones went down. The best way to make it easier on a young line (not to mention cutting down on third-and-longs) is run as much as you can, but they're firing like nobody has been hurt and it's still 2005.

Your take on Johnson's running style is interesting. I just had a network analyst tell me that he has never seen Johnson run as much to the perimeter as he has this year.

And I think he showed his 4.3-per-yard value against Baltimore's top-ranked rush defense. It's hard for your back to look good when you only have the ball 22 minutes, and that's because they can't convert third down because - my opinion - they throw too much on first and second down.

As for the defense, you have to blitz the right guy. You can't blitz Michael Vick and they did the right thing by choosing not to. They blitzed a lot more against Baltimore but it was tough to tell because they never got there.

If you want to bang them on that, go ahead, but they never touched McNair on the blitz as he hit 16 of his first 20 passes.

I think Marvin, by nature, is a conservative coach because he's a defensive guy but he's also shown a fascination with the deep ball and I don't think he's reigned in his offense.

Plus, it's hard to pull out all the stops when you're always behind. They haven't had the lead since the first series of the second half six quarters ago, and before that they didn't take the lead against Carolina until 8:07 left in the game.

Q: Why sign Wilkerson unless: 1. Braham's return is unlikely this year or ever? 2. Ghiaciuc is not getting the job done, missing calls and not athletic enough?

You said Bengals thought Ghiaciuc was more impressive than Wilkerson, but why sign Ben if there was so much upside?
**--William W., Austin, TX

WILLIAM:** This isn't a move to put Wilkerson at center. This is a move to beef up the numbers on the offensive line now with Willie Anderson surfacing on the injury report.

If Braham wasn't going to be back this year, I would imagine that they would have put him on injured reserve by now so they could use his spot. He's off his crutches now and is moving around, so I would expect him back some time after Thanksgiving.

But he's not talking and Lewis isn't talking, so it's all guesswork. You have to assume it was more than a bone bruise, right?

What I said is that Ghiaciuc had so much more practice time than Wilkerson because Wilkerson had only three weeks of practice in 2005, and it has still taken time beyond that to get his knee right. While Wilkerson remains a good prospect, I think people are still working off the assumption he may have been one of the first centers drafted in 2005 if he didn't get hurt. But that was a projection, and things changed when he got hurt.

It doesn't appear that the move reflects a lack of confidence in Ghiaciuc at this stage. I do think there are concerns about his size and ballast at the point of attack (as showed up against the Ravens at times), but they also seem to think he's improving with the calls and his physical game.

Even if they decide at some point he's not the long-haul answer (and I think that's way premature), you have to seriously doubt they'll replace Ghiaciuc with a rookie right now given all their talk about getting the line in sync with the same five guys.

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