Hobson's Choice: Man Up

Q: Is the locker room divided? I don't like what I'm hearing out of the locker room. One week it's Chad complaining about not throwing downfield. The next week it's Willie and Rudi complaining we don't run enough. Someone better step up in the locker room and get a hold of this now or the season's over. The Bengals are a team. They win and lose as a team. It's as simple as that.
**--Bill, Monroe, N.J.

BILL:** They're certainly united in their frustration, a sign of a team that has bigger expectations than any Bengals team in recent memory rather than the ones that used to show up on Sundays just to get paid on Mondays and spew those numbing Nuke LaLoosh clichés.

A sign of division? I think it's a sign of caring.

You almost expect skill guys like Rudi and Chad to gripe about not getting the ball. It's league-wide and it's probably as old as the second forward pass Knute Rockne ordered. Heck, Tiki Barber, Mr. NFL, called out his head coach's play-calling last season and it didn't seem to dent his untouchable rep at all.

And I don't think Rudi or Chad are malicious or malignant in the Carl Pickens-Terrell Owens mold. They're always here working and have bought into the program, and their serious words should at least be considered.

But when a Pro Bowl offensive lineman with no stats or no contract on the line like Anderson steps up and says something like he did after Sunday's game, that makes you sit up and take notice. Marvin Lewis no doubt didn't like it because he thinks those types of frustration postgamers divide a team. But guys know where Willie is coming from and they know it isn't because he wants to blow it up a la Corey Dillon.

Whether Lewis or his teammates want to hear it, Anderson has earned every right to say it. Never mind that he nailed it.

The perennial AFC playoff teams of this era - New England, Pittsburgh, Denver, Baltimore, San Diego - continually win the games they're supposed to no matter who gets hurt, or where the game is, or what happened the week before, by simply imposing their will. Willie probably wishes he hadn't said they need more "tough," guys, but he's right in the sense they need to respond better in tough situations.

Man up?

He said it perfectly.

That should be the next T-shirt in the Pro Shop.

Man Up.


Q: Keep away? That is all you heard from the radio guys, but it seemed that our coaches wanted to get into a shootout with Vick and Co. and it cost them. The first drive we run it right down their throat and the drive ends with cheers of Rudi, Rudi, Rudi! My question is this. Do you feel we were out-oached Sunday or just out-played? From not throwing the red flag on the Jenkins catch to totally abandoning the run to the WR screens on third and five. What gives?
**--Woody, Whiteman AFB, MO

WOODY:** I won't go as far to say they were out-coached, but I do think the game revealed that there is a certain struggle for players and coaches to find a style with which they are BOTH comfortable and gets them through the rocky moments.

Cal it an identity crisis.

It's hard to for me to quibble with a defensive game plan that put the pressure on a career 54-percent passer to make all the throws. To me, that's pretty sound football. You blitz Vick like the Falcons blitzed Palmer, and he would have run for 170 in the time it took to say "Hopalong Cassady." They had the right idea, but they got let down by a secondary that made 0.0 plays. One interception on any scoring drive, and the Bengals win.

As for the offensive game calling, look, I don't sit in the meetings, I'm not on the practice field, I'm not on the phones, and I didn't call two national championship seasons like Bob Bratkowski did at the University of Miami.

In his defense, I doubt his original call sheet had a 36-18 imbalance on pass to run. And, remember, in the No Huddle offense, quarterback Carson Palmer makes the call. Plus there are checks at the line of scrimmage as defenses shift. And the pass numbers ballooned with a two-minute drill at the end of the half that netted a field goal and the Falcons two-score lead with 7:42 left.

That said, there is a very fine line between being flexible and being inefficient at everything because it all has to be so precise on offense.

And that's another thing Willie nailed. This is an offense with a 1,400-yard back that has never truly embraced the running game like Pittsburgh and Denver have and like Baltimore will now that Jim Fassel is gone.

Bratkowski does an outstanding job with his flexibility by keeping teams off balance with formations and tendencies in a painstaking effort to keep balance. But with the multiplicity comes a split personality. It's almost like a jack of all trades can't be a master of any.

And, maybe the question is, "Why should they run it when they have one of the best quarterbacks and corps of receivers in the game?"

Michael Vick gave the answer in a 37-minute retort Sunday. It's one of the only ways your defense can survive in an offensive age.

Plus, the Bengals are built for the run with a huge and strong offensive line, a durable, meat-and-potatoes back, and a big-time thrower that has everyone backing up.

Out-coached on Sunday?

Nah, although the timeout before the kickoff should never happen and may have cost them the game. But the defense had the right idea and if the Bengals score a TD on the second half's second drive instead of a field goal, it's probably the game and they give Brat a key to the city.

But the bigger question is more big-picture and philosophical.

It seems lately that the path to the Super Bowl is well grounded.


Q: I get that Michael Vick is an outstanding talent - no doubt. I get that he buys a lot of time with his feet in the pocket. What I don't get is when Marvin and Chuck are going to get that Tory James simply no longer has what it takes to be a starter.

Great as a nickel back, simply not a starter now. He is a liability every single week. Is JJ really not ready> Do we need to be concerned he hasn't unseated Tory yet?
** --Floyds K., Indiana

FLOYDS:** Everyone can agree that the secondary played poorly Sunday and it's really the first time that Johnathan Joseph looked like a rookie at cornerback. The guy's got seven pass breakups already and may be their Rookie of the Year along with left tackle Andrew Whitworth, so what's the concern?

When you draft a guy in the first round like they did Joseph, it's only a mater of time before they start him. As it is, he's on the field a ton anyway, because teams use multi-receiver sets so often on third down.

It's anybody's guess when they make the move, but you'd have to feel it would be for the long haul since James is 33 and a free agent.

But as much as James has struggled this season, his track record here is such I'd have to believe they'd like him back as the nickel (at a nickel rate, of course), but he obviously has to play better for that to happen.

No question he hasn't looked good several times this season, but on Sunday Vick played so well, no one looked good back there. Even if they make the move soon, look for James to have somewhere between five and seven picks (he's only got one now) and they'll impact games. He has had that knack here, but he has to start playing like he did the past two years and not like a guy at the end.

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