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Hobson's Choice: Got them figured out yet?

Q: After watching the game against the Seahawks, loss withstanding, I certainly believe there is room for optimism as a Bengals fan. Aside from some obvious mistakes, the defense played much better and given the chance, the offense could have won the game. If the Bengals come out, like I have a feeling they will on Monday night, with a win, they can go into the bye week at 2-2 and hopefully get over some early-season injuries. Granted the game against the Patriots will be difficult, but a win could set the tone for the "second half" of the season. Is this a delusion of grandeur, or do you think there is some merit in my optimism?
--Kurt, Philadelphia, PA

KURT: Of course. That's the maddening thing about the Bengals. A year to the day they were supposed to challenge the Pats for AFC supremacy and they got blown out. Now they are on the ash heap, just when they usually stun the world.

I'm telling you, these are the Cincinnati Gumps and their logo should be a box of chocolates.

You never know what you're going to get.

But we do know that Cincinnati is one the few teams that can keep up with the Pats offensively. And they will play with emotion at home, where they are 20-13 under Marvin Lewis. On Prime Time at Paul Brown under Marvin they are 4-0.

But just when you think you've got them figured out ...

Take '03 when the 4-5 Bengals beat the 9-0 Chiefs and then kicked away the playoffs getting blown out by the last-place Browns.

Or limping into the bye week in '04 at 1-4 and then resurfacing on Monday night to dominate 5-1 Denver. Or getting cranked by Pittsburgh in '05 by two touchdowns at home and then going down there and winning the division?

Or, last Oct. 1, the 3-0 Bengals just getting hammered by those supposedly struggling 2-1 Patriots at home by 38-13.

Got them figured out yet?

'07 looks like more of the same. They should have blown out Cleveland, and then after losing a shootout up there, they should have gotten blown out in Seattle but instead lost a game their defense played well enough to win.

So, yeah, it already has the odor of an upset.

Q: The Bengals never seem to pick up an impact player in the offseason on defense. One big name makes a difference, for instance down here in Tampa Bay the Bucs signed free agent Cato June from Indianapolis, an impact player. Seems like the Bengals are always trying to just get by with regular guys on defense. Why is this?
--Chris S., St. Petersburg, FL

CHRIS: Considering the constant knock is the Bengals don't have a dominating defender or two that forces offensive coordinators to take them away, it's a good question. Of course, how soon we forget Sam Adams.

When you invest 10 of your last 13 first-day draft picks on defense, they should be more than regular guys.

And most of the free-agents are regular guys, or else they wouldn't be free. Take a look at last year's class. Adalius Thomas and Cato June were at the top of the list, but I'm not so sure after talking to Pete Prisco of

"No way you sign either guy to all that money," Prisco said. "Thomas is a 30-year-old linebacker, and June is just a guy. Believe me. Indy let him go and they're happy with Freddy Keiaho, so he must be just a guy."

Can we take a timeout here?

This is what bugs me about the whole thing and I think this goes for the defense, too.

The Bengals are 1-5 in the last six games and the only game I walked out thinking they got outrostered was the Indy game.

The losses to Denver, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Seattle certainly weren't decided by huge gaps of talent. Hell, they outgained an NFC contender at home last week. They did the same thing at Denver last Christmas Eve.

They had Pittsburgh beaten twice, with a safety that slithered away and a field goal that went awry. The defense certainly didn't get beat up physically in Cleveland because nobody was close enough.

So, I guess that's the question. If they lose because of stupid mistakes, is that a question of talent or what? Talented players would win in those situations, right? That's talent, right? Or is it something else?

OK, back to the question.

We want a difference maker, but they are few and far between. Look at how many free-agent deals go sour. Just look at the Bengals with the Adams signing.

Would a 31-year-old Warren Sapp have been the difference back in '04? Oakland has been 22, 25, and 25 against the rush since, so one big name didn't make a difference there.

There was a push to get defensive tackle Corey Simon when he got cut from the Eagles (the Bengals put a $30 million offer out there), and the Colts are still smarting from that deal.

(If there was one move I would have made it would have been re-signing linebacker Takeo Spikes. Of course, the other dynamic is the Bengals don't have much space under the salary cap, because of their highly-paid offense.

So $4 million on a 30-year-old linebacker coming off an Achilles surgery ... well, you wouldn't have the problems now, but how did they know Thurman would be bopped again and Brooks and Jeanty would get hurt?)

OK, OK. A difference maker. And what good is a highly-paid offense with a bargain-basement defense you ask?

They think Robert Geathers is potentially a 24-year-old Adalius Thomas and they locked him up for six years to be one of those difference makers. You can argue they should not have franchised Justin Smith, but who would they have given his $8.4M to? All the other free-agent ends were basically clones of him.

OK, don't re-sign him and put it all toward Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth next year. But does this franchise want to heft Sir Albert's baggage? Apparently the Titans haven't decided yet, either.

The Bengals have decided to do what their division rivals have done and Pittsburgh and Baltimore have built their top five defenses through the draft.

So it's time that these first-day picks get it done. Brooks, Madieu Williams, Frostee Rucker, Johnathan Joseph, Leon Hall. Geathers isn't a first-day pick, but he's paid like one. They are supposed to be the difference makers and they have to play, and quick.

And if they can't, now you have some decisions to make about attacking free agency. Because how long can you let the offense carry the burden?

Q: Why did Marvin Lewis go for the two-point conversion on the last touchdown? That is a ridiculous call. Big deal if they go up six that late in the game. Who cares? The bigger problem would have been if the kickoff wasn't fumbled and a field goal was made and then OT.
--Scott, Lyndhurst, N.J.

SCOTT: He must have agreed with you because he said Tuesday, "I probably should have kicked the extra point, but I went for two. We'll leave it at that."

And so will we.

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