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Hobson's Choice: Lewis Talks Big Picture

Q: How do you think the Bengals will attack the issue of running the ball in the offseason? The Bengals should consider drafting Albert Dukes out of Oklahoma with their first-round pick, if he is still around. When the Bengals have a healthy Carson Palmer and a solid O-line, they are Super Bowl contenders, not to mention our young and improving defense.
--James Kyle T., Cincinnati, OH

JAMES: After an offseason of emphasizing the run and then watching one of the worst rush efforts in team history, Marvin Lewis has to be thinking about more than personnel. You figure philosophy, scheme, technique all have to be in play to respond to a meek 3.4 yards per rush. Certainly that's the way he sounded this week.

Whether that means changes in the offensive staff remains to be seen. This same group of coaches has had a lot of success here. From the way Lewis talked at Wednesday's news conference he's staying and all issues are going to be examined. Not just personnel.

Asked if this team had enough talent he said, "Not right now, obviously. "

But he also said, "Talent is spread out evenly across the league, pretty much. It's what we do as coaches -- because we're responsible for it, too, and I'm responsible for it -- to give players every opportunity to get better."

Just what the specifics are in the that big picture is what Lewis has to work on, whether it's staffing, personnel, or whatever it is.

There are some that are going to counsel Lewis caution because of Carson Palmer's injury and the fact their numbers are skewed because they played the top two defenses in football four times in the Steelers and Ravens. Plus, they'll point to running back Rudi Johnson's injury that wiped out much of his 2007.

But Palmer's loss can lull you into security. It's been a problem since 2006. In the 46 games since the Wild Card Game against the Steelers, they've averaged 3.6 yards per rush. In the 48 games before the Wild Card loss, 4.2. Nearly 50 games isn't a blip, excuse, or injury.

It's a trend of declining productivity.

Certainly, a lot of the answers are personnel. And some of the answers have to be to draft a running back high, re-sign Cedric Benson, and maybe another veteran because they need to find a guy that can go the distance to complement Benson's hard-charging.

But if you can't beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh, join them. They've had problems, too, this season. The Ravens have a rookie quarterback and a battered Willis McGahee and are at just 3.8 per rush. Pittsburgh's offensive line has been dinged and Willie Parker has been limping and they've struggled at 3.6, a real drop for their proud tradition.

But they get first downs.

Sure, they have great defenses, but the reason Baltimore has a 33:18 time of possession and Pittsburgh is at 31:24 is because they run the ball when they have to. Plus, they run it well enough to be in manageable third downs. The Ravens and Steelers are 13th and 15th, respectively in the NFL converting.

It means they can move people when they want to and have to. A 28th ranking on third-down conversions and a 27:49 time of possession reflect the Bengals' problems on the ground.

Scheme? Philosophy? Technique? Personnel?

Two things we know. The inability to run it just didn't show up with an elbow tear and Lewis has to fix it.

Q: With Albert Haynesworth being a free agent after the season, and us having to let go of Chad or T.J, wouldn't you say this is a major trade for us to consider?
--Blake, Harrisonburg, VA

BLAKE: They don't have to let one of them go and Houshmandzadeh's numbers in a season of muck is proof he's worth the franchise tag.

Believe me, Haynesworth would be a nice get, a real game changer. Maybe Pat Sims isn't that dominant kind of tackle, but in the nine games since he's been teamed with Domata Peko as a starter or coming off the bench, the Bengals are giving up 3.5 per rush. Get a playmaking middle backer or an edge pass rusher before that.

But this is more of an argument for keeping Houshmandzadeh and Chad more than it is against acquiring Haynesworth because at this point, with their backups so unproven and raw, they have become indispensible.

Particularly T.J. We've now watched two quarterbacks continually go to him in key situations. They say that Houshmandzadeh is virtually a coach in the huddle. Not just for the kids, but Chad also leans on him. He plays all three spots and he's the one guy that the QBs can always trust to be in the right spot. Take him out of the mix and it could be a train wreck.

And when he's healthy, Chad stretches the field like few receivers can. Take him out of the mix, and they're playing under a 70-yard bubble.

That's the way it looks now, you say?

Run the ball, which is how this all started.

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