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Hobson's Choice: No freebies

Q: I don't understand why Carson Palmer is so quick to take a knee when he draws a defensive lineman offsides. Does he not realize that he is giving up a free play? I've seen this backfire when he takes a knee thinking that someone is offsides when they're not. Any insight on why we don't try to throw the ball downfield when this happens?
--Dan, Hamilton, OH

DAN: Nothing free in the NFL as they found out in the '04 opener when an alleged free play turned into a holding penalty.

They certainly can't run a play when a guy jumps offsides while they're in the No Huddle because there is no play called yet. Not to mention the snap count and pass protection. So there is no play to run.

When they do come out of a huddle, many times the play is changed at the line as Palmer takes time to scan the defense. So, again, there is not much of a play to run.

If a play is called and they try to get a free snap, the defense has already jumped and has a second or two head start on the offense that is waiting for the snap count. Not much good can come from that.

Take what happened in Palmer's first NFL start in The Meadowlands against the Jets. Defensive end John Abraham jumped and Palmer got off a long completion. But the only way he had time to throw the bomb was that Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson, in such bad position because of Abraham's early move, had to hold him because if he hadn't Abraham had such a jump that he might have beheaded Palmer.

So they'll take the five yards instead of the mayhem.

Q: In response to the "Backermania" article, I'm curious to know two things: 1. What do YOU think a 3-4 with Rucker-Peko-Fanene up front and Jeanty-Johnson-Brooks-Geathers as backers would look like? With maybe our first two picks given to DL & LB? 2) Do we have the COACHES to make that change happen? Is that going to disrupt too much? If our guys up front and in the middle are just getting in sync now, is it something we should be doing? I know Marvin has pooh-pooed every talk and you've been a fan of the move, so I'm curious what you think, looking to next year.
--Don, Delaware, OH

DON: It's certainly intriguing, especially now that they've got more linebackers than Penn State's attic. All eyes will be on that defensive huddle when it breaks for the first snap of May's OTAs.

I like the 3-4, but my fate isn't tied to it, so whether Marvin Lewis or Chuck Bresnahan like it is another matter.

The reason I like it, besides watching teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New England bludgeon people with it for years, is that it opens up the draft pool. Colleges are loaded with the so-called tweeners, those defensive ends not big enough to play in a 4-3 in the pros but suited to play outside backer in a 3-4.

The Bengals already have Geathers (who can obviously play both), Brooks, Jeanty and Eric Henderson that fit that 3-4 OLB mold. Strong enough to stand up to a tight end in the running game, athletic enough to rush the passer as an end, or standing up.

Where they are lacking numbers is at inside backer, the cover guys like a Landon Johnson or Dhani Jones type. Corey Mays, who broke in with New England's 3-4, might be a guy. Or, dare we breathe it, Odell Thurman?

They could re-sign Johnson and/or Jones, or look in the draft or free agency.

Peko seems to the one true nose tackle, the one guy they have that could play all three line spots. Michael Myers could also probably play the middle.

Yeah, I like Rucker and Fanene at the ends, but I don't know how you can write them in as your starters. They've played so little because of injury that you just don't know enough about their talent and/or durability.

Which is why you wonder when they'll start playing Rucker. Re-signing free agent ends Bryan Robinson (34 next year) and Justin Smith (making eight and a half mill) are options but are they real options? Smith has admitted he's not a 3-4 fit (but he could be) and Robinson can do it.

And the thing is, both of those guys are solid and they're still trying to win games. Both guys have been good players. John Thornton could also play end and he's having a fine year, so even though he's got a big salary next year, wouldn't you still bring him back for the final year of his deal?

But that's another gig. People love to dump on this defensive line and, yeah they lack a sacker, but when they've got healthy backers behind them they play pretty productively.

The coaches would tell you that they already play variations of a 3-4 on passing downs, so it wouldn't be that massive of an overhaul. Lewis came out of the Steelers' 3-4 and Bresnahan is a Belichick 3-4 disciple who a lot of it in Oakland so this wouldn't be Greek to them.

We'll keep asking about a switch, but it's doubtful Marvin would confirm it.

Keep an eye on the draft and if that doesn't provide a clue, there's always that first defensive huddle of the spring.

Q: Heinz Field obviously played a major role in Monday night's game. It looks like there is a chance of showers in Pittsburgh on Sunday. What factors do you see it playing in Sunday's game? How will it hurt the Bengals? How will it help the Bengals?
--Brad, Atlanta, GA

Brad: Just showers? How about a hurricane? How about a monsoon? How about a tsunami?

The brutal field has to help the Bengals because it negates Fast Willie Parker's speed and explosiveness on the perimeter. He's nowhere near the mudder that running back Rudi Johnson is for the Bengals.

And it should help the Bengals passing game. Defenders have a miserable time covering receivers in slippery, soggy conditions because the receivers know where they're going and the defenders don't. The split second you have to react on a good surface is wiped away in a slipped second.

How about snow and rain?

It would begin to look a lot like Christmas.

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