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Hobson's Choice: Let down or Let's go?

Q: So I was wrong about Coles. It looked like the timing is there. Here's my next question. Do you see any letdowns this Sunday against what will be an angry Steelers team that lost to the Bears, or do the Bengals put the Steelers a game down in the division early in the year? What do you expect out of the offense, which appeared to finally be back on the 2005 road?
--Joe K., South Lebanon, OH

JOE:If there is a letdown, then everything they showed about their intangibles in Green Bay is a mirage. Given how they came through a mile of muck, starting with the week hangover of Strike Spike, hostile Lambeau, 13 penalties, and two of Carson Palmer's worst throws ever, this has been one of head coach Marvin Lewis' finest hours.

If there is a letdown at home against their arch-rival it would be a big surprise. They seem real on the inside, don't they?

If this team was going to let down, it already had two chances and turned them down. They could have tucked tail and taken a meek 6-0 loss in the opener with six minutes left, and they could have let down in the din on their own seven on a 3rd-and-34 in Green Bay late in the first half and down 21-14.

Granted, the Green Bay game was as desperate as a game that they have ever played during their decade at Paul Brown Stadium. Is the Steelers game as desperate?

Given they have never beaten them at home under Marvin and Cleveland and Baltimore are waiting on the road in the next two weeks, it may be even more desperate. A win Sunday keeps you in the AFC North hunt deep into November if you split with Cleveland and Baltimore on the road. A loss puts you in a hole. Worse, a pothole because you're going on the road.

Bengaldom is acutely aware that whenever this team seems on the verge of a big performance at home, it has been known to lay an egg. Usually on the offensive side. The 22-14 loss to Cleveland in the '03 finale. The 33-17 loss to Buffalo in '04. The 34-13 loss to New England and the 35-27 loss to Arizona in '07. The 24-7 loss to Tennessee in '08.

But the one thing this team was able to do in the opener two weeks ago that it hasn't been able to do is lay an egg on offense and still nearly win with defense and special teams. This defense is good. The punter is good. That stuff keeps you in a lot of games and Sunday should be no different.

You have to expect a lot from an offense with Carson Palmer as the quarterback and since the last three games of '06 it has underachieved terribly. The reasons? Not excuses. Reasons? The tackles got hurt, the running back couldn't break a long run, the two Pro Bowl receivers struggled with their contract issues.

Whether they're past all that business, who knows, although Chad Ochocinco and Cedric Benson look more explosive than the Chad Johnson and Rudi Johnson of '05.

With Palmer at the helm, you've got to demand 21 points per week. With this defense, they'll win a lot of games doing that. But that's the least you should expect. Peyton Manning gets three touchdowns per game on the drive to the stadium.

*Q: Did AC get hurt, replaced or was I just missing him out there? I know that they went to six O-lineman a lot, but it seemed like every time I looked at RT, Roland was there, not AC.
* --David, F., Chicago, IL

DAVID: You may have seen Monday's quotes from offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski where he said they rotated Roland with starter Anthony Collins at right tackle in the second half as well using him next to Collins or left tackle Andrew Whitworth as an extra tight end.

Brat indicated they are looking to get more from Collins, which isn't exactly where they wanted to be at this point. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander says that Roland, a former college free agent who has impressed with size and smarts, may be his best technician. But this is a spot that needs more athleticism than that. It has been manned the past two years by a five-time Pro Bowler in Willie Anderson, a franchise player in Stacy Andrews, and a top six pick in Andre Smith.

They are not giving up on Collins. The guy is an excellent athlete who mixed it up well as a rookie in the final six games of last season at left tackle and is making an adjustment to right tackle. He's going to continue to get his chances. Smith doesn't look like he's getting on the field any time soon with his broken foot.

How great to see Odom go on sack frenzy. Two of the five sacks pushed the Pack out of FG range, too. So we can thank him for keeping six points off the board.

Q: I have to say, I have often seen two or three guys on Geathers. You can't quibble with seven sacks in two games. But how much of this is due to the fact that teams can't contain Geathers without doubling/tripling him? And if Odom keeps this up won't some teams have to double them both? Leaving Tank and Michael Johnson one-on-one?
--Matt W., South Vienna, OH

MATT: You hit it on the head. As tackle Domata Peko said after Sunday's game the Packers were so concerned about Geathers exploiting their right tackle, they left Odom one-on-one with their No. 1 left tackle, Chad Clifton, and that wasn't going well for them even before Clifton hurt his ankle.

The key is having versatile guys, players that can both rush and drop as linebackers. Geathers can do it, but the critical guy in this discussion is rookie end Michael Johnson.

When defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer puts him on the field as a linebacker or end, the offensive line has to find where three guys are going to be. Geathers and Odom can play both inside and outside on the line, and Johnson was lined up at least one time Sunday split wide of the tackle.

We've seen the Bengals struggle with this concept of how-many-and-where-are-they so many times and, frankly, they handle it better than most because they play the Steelers and Ravens twice a year. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have made a living off those guys and it's nice to see the Bengals using some of that same formula.

Q: Obviously we've found a gem for punt returns in Quan Cosby. Has the team given any thought to Bernard Scott returning kickoffs? We are wasting this guy's talent sitting on the bench when he could be getting some playing time.*
--Rob P., Saddle Brook, N.J.

ROB: Whatever they do, they've got to give Scott more looks from scrimmage because Benson can't keep pounding it like this for 16 games and, agreed, Scott is a talent. They would love to have Scott return kicks, but, as he did on punt returns, he hasn't been a very smooth catch. He botched at least two in the preseason where he had to pick it up after he dropped it.

Q: Has there been any talk of bringing another TE into the mix since the coaching staff is less than pleased with the production of the two currently on the roster (or so would suggest playing a tackle at that spot in blocking situations)? There has to be a free agent out there who is worth a look. (Leonard Pope?)
--Adam J., Maysville, KY

ADAM:  Pope came in here last week for a visit and at the time my thought was they didn't sign him because they didn't feel he was a good enough blocker. After watching them use Roland so much Sunday, that would seem to bear it out. They don't look to be near signing any tight ends at the moment.

They didn't bring in any this Tuesday. According to a source close to an NFC club, the Bengals worked out two defensive linemen for what was probably a spot on the practice squad but they didn't sign Orien Harris or Derrick Jones.

Talk about full circle and then throwing in a rhombus. They had Harris last year and traded him to the Rams for running back Brian Leonard. The Rams then traded Harris to the Lions for wide receiver Ronald Curry just before training camp and Detroit cut him last week.

Jones was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2007 out of Grand Valley State. He has also been with Atlanta, Tennessee and Buffalo. According to the 2007 Steelers media guide, he's a cousin of former Reds outfielder Eric Davis.

Q: When is the last time we beat Pittsburgh in Cincy? Do you think we can win?
--Nicholas B., Aurora, OH

NICHOLAS: Dec. 30, 2001. 26-23 in OT on a Neil Rackers field goal. Dick LeBeau was the head coach, Jon Kitna threw for 411 yards, a rookie receiver with the long name (T.J. Houshmandzadeh) had his coming out with 98 yards on nine catches and Danny Farmer caught the tying TD. Only two Bengals, The Ocho and Brad St. Louis, are left.

They can win if they turn it over less than the Steelers and rush for more than 100 yards. They've got to do at least one of those to win.

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