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Hobson's Choice: Hall on mark

Q: All I'm seeing reports on is how Leon Hall is being beaten by Green and Irons. Otherwise it's very quiet. Any good news out of camp on the first rounder?
--MAP, Jackson, OH

MAP: Those reports must have been filed by a Buckeye fan. Unless it's a live scrimmage situation like this Friday night, you can't make that kind of judgment based on how the coaches want the players to practice.

After one play early in camp when Carson Palmer squeezed a great pass into Chad Johnson despite excellent coverage by cornerback Deltha O'Neal on the sidelines, a guy told me, "Deltha would have made that play in a game."

One DB told me, "Marvin tells us is if we're there at the same time as the receiver, let them catch it because they don't want any collisions."

Now if an Irons or a Green or a Chad beats Hall flat out deep, well, the edge is always to the offense and even Pro Bowler Champ Bailey has routinely been savaged by Chad the two times they've played. Who doesn't Chad beat deep? Hall isn't getting beat like a drum.

The best news about the first-rounder is that there is no news. He's here with no media-sapping holdout. He's performing as advertised, which means he's poised and polished. And, remember, he's got a physical game and you won't see that until they start playing other teams. His coaches certainly seem pleased.

Q: Everyone is overlooking the obvious when talking about the problems in the run game last year. The reason we finished in the lower third of the league is because our coaching staff called too many pass plays, simple as that. Rudi never got a chance to get rolling in most games because we relied too much on the big play and didn't try to grind out drives the hard way. The only way we'll get those numbers back up is if Bratkowski and Co. commit to the run and stick to it the whole game. I know you're going to come back and have some witty comment about the power of Palmer, and how we should trust in him, and you're right. He's amazing. But they need to run the ball more. You can't live on the pass alone. You know it, and I know it, and most of the NFL knows it. Winning teams run the ball effectively, and they stick to the run throughout the game.
--Kelly, Washington, D.C.

KELLY: The only witty thing I can come up with isn't witty at all. You're preaching to the choir so take a look at this Hobson's Choice from Nov. 8, three days after the 26-20 loss in Baltimore and four days before the 49-41 loss to San Diego:

"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 thought 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. "

So, yeah, put me down in the category of run the ball more, but it's not the first appearance on the bandwagon.

Something that Willie Anderson said last week here at camp is a keeper. He said the Bengals have to do a better job running the ball on second down, and he thinks that is directly tied to the nine-point drop in the third-down rate.

There are three reasons why Carson Palmer completed just 62 percent of his passes last year after completing 68 percent in '05. One is Kimo von Oelhoffen, two is the 4.2 yards per carry on running plays in '05 compared to 3.7 in '06 and three are the 51 throws to Chris Perry out of the backfield in '05.

Reasons for the 3.7? No change-of-pace back, the loss of Braham, and maybe, just maybe, not a full-blown commitment to the run. But then again, it's hard to blame Bratkowski for getting the ball in the hands of Johnson, Henry, and Houshmandzadeh. Imagine the ire if Palmer throws it only 20 times.

But we hear you.

And we think you'll like Kenny Irons. He'll make Rudi Johnson better.

Q: With all the attention going to the DBs, has the D-line improved enough to put pressure on the QB or even slow down the running game? I spent a lot of time last season watching opposing quarterbacks sit in the pocket waiting for a receiver to get open. The offense looks as solid as it ever has in recent years. I don't think there will be a problem putting points up on the board.
--Brian, Cincinnati, OH

BRIAN: They've slowed down the running game but, you're right, and the pass rush has to come from up the middle and that's where the increased playing time of tackle Domata Peko and the experiments with Jonathan Fanene and Frostee Rucker come into play.

No longer are the Bengals automatic patsies in the running game.

Pittsburgh ended up gouging them for 207 in the finale, but the offense couldn't stay on the field and allowed the Steelers 45 rushes.

They did have solid games against top rushing teams like San Diego (the No. 2-ranked Chargers got just 107 on the ground, the No. 9 Chiefs got just 113, the No. 8 Broncos got less than four yards per carry) in finishing 15th against the run for their second best run ranking in the last decade.

But ends Justin Smith and Robert Geathers need help on the edge in the pass rush. Whether that comes from the athleticism of Peko and the ability of Rucker and Fanene on passing downs to move from end to tackle remains to be seen.

It may be time, also, to take the gloves off those backers/ends that have proven they can pass rush at other levels, such as Rashad Jeanty in the CFL and Eric Henderson in the ACC.

On paper the D-tackles are better pass rushing with the promotion of Peko (2.5 sacks in limited time as a rookie could translate to five or six), but only if Fanene and Rucker can stay healthy. So far Fanene has, Rucker hasn't.

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