Hobson's Choice: No horsing around

Q: Just a comment on your article comparing the Bengals to the Colts. The real difference is Dungy vs. Lewis. Dungy's players know how to behave both on and off the field. Dungy can turn a failing defense into a winner. Dungy can turn a 21-3 playoff halftime deficit into a win. Dungy can win in December. Marvin deserves some credit for moving us up from bad to good. I'm not convinced that he has the talent to take the team to the next level.
**--Wayne H., Raleigh, N.C.

WAYNE:** When I compared the Bengals to the Colts, it was from a roster perspective: great offense, weak defense. What I pointed out as a major difference is that the Colts came together as a team while the Bengals admitted they didn't and that's the issue that has put Lewis' career at the crossroads.

I agree with you in the sense that Lewis has proven he's a hell of a coach. But, yes, he not only has to win in December, consistently, he has to win the tight games, and go back to his roots as a defensive guru in order to reach the greatness level of Dungy. In the end, Dungy was able to do what Lewis didn't starting in mid-December — piece together a battered defense in time for a stretch run.

It all gets back to the character issue, doesn't it? Tough people survive tough times, i.e. down the stretch against Tampa Bay, San Diego, Denver and Pittsburgh. Count me as a guy that believes guys who are smart and know how to act are going to perform under pressure better than single-digit test-score blue-chip athletes.

As far as the general manager and scouting comparisons to the Colts, there are two things that bother me in the debate.

To argue that Bengals president Mike Brown's only concern is making money and the Super Bowl be damned is to cheapen the argument. If the guy was only concerned about money, they would either be the Baltimore Bengals or the Cleveland Browns and Indy would have been the third AFC North champion this decade as the small-market team replacing Cincy in the division.

That's not to say the guy doesn't know how to turn a profit. He's never been bashful to say that he's not running a business to lose money, but let's be clear. Guys like Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer are here because they believe Mike wants to win, so rip him for how he goes about it, not if he cares.

So while the GM thing is valid to debate, it's far from a money issue. It's a philosophical issue that goes to the heart of the Paul Brown creed and one that Mike believes in his bones.

This is, more or less, a coach's organization. Heck, it was founded by a coach and it's still run that way, which is why Mike puts it all on the head man. But as the last season showed, being a head coach in 2007 is a hell of a lot different than it was in 1987 and maybe the guy could use some help, although I think the Bengals' contract negotiators and salary cap number crunchers have done as well as any GM could over the last several years.

The other thing that bothers me is the inference that the lack of a general manager and/or scouts is the reason why the Bengals have drafted a stunning roster of knuckleheads. I just don't buy it.

They knew about the baggage of Chris Henry, Odell Thurman, Frostee Rucker and A.J. Nicholson and Co., before the draft and still made the decision to take them.

So that's the problem. Someone, be it Mike or Marvin, has to step in and come up with "The Drawer." If there's a guy on the board with problems, put him in The Drawer and don't be tempted to get him a round later.

(And, by the way, that's the issue, more than money. Get as much first- and second-round talent as you can in one draft. A noble goal but, sadly -- and I disagree with them on this -- Carl Pickens, Darnay Scott and Corey Dillon were there for reasons and they eventually surfaced and proved to be more painful than their production and arguably set the team back because of their behavior like this batch threatens.)

But is all this because of not enough scouts, or because there's no Bill Polian?

Long before Lewis showed up, this is the same crew that in 2001 and 2002 drafted what looks to be the franchise's eventual two leading all-time receivers (Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh), the all-time rusher (Rudi Johnson), one of the all-time leading sackers (Justin Smith) and one of the league's top left tackles (Levi Jones).

What abut the '04 draft with Marvin when they traded for a Pro Bowler (Deltha O'Neal), drafted a potential Pro Bowler (Madieu Williams), and got an extra choice to pick up Robert Geathers, their first double-digit sacker in double-digit years.

Granted, Williams and O'Neal underachieved last season, but the point is I don't think the current regime has stood on their hands and been the butchers as they are now being portrayed in the wake of the Colts victory.

No, they don't have a playoff victory in the free-agency era so they can't win any debates on the GM issue. But be careful what you wish for because if it's not Marty Schottenheimer and A.J. Smith in San Diego, it's Floyd Reese and Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. Sometimes the middle man between the owner and the coach only gets in the way.

Q: Dude, the Bengals have a running back who can't gain more than three yards 90 percent of the time, two offensive tackles who can barely walk, a corps of wide receivers who are 'me-first type guys, and a suspect defense.

You need to quit talking about the Super Bowl, like you did at this time last year, and worry about the Bengals just winning a playoff game.
**--Sean, Erlanger, KY

DUDE:** Dude, you may be right, but you're forgetting one guy. Carson Palmer. He alone makes them a Super Bowl contender because the state of NFL quarterbacking is Division 1-AA and you only have to go as far as Sunday and Rex Grossman to realize that.

Oh yeah.


Look, I agree with you about the defense. But I think you're whiffing offensively. The tackles are reportedly coming back healthy, the running back had the fourth most yards of any back in the AFC, and the receivers are so selfish that they carried this team to the brink of the playoffs.

OK, one of the reasons they didn't make it is because Chad Johnson didn't show up in the last three games, but he's also one of the reasons they were in position to make it. The guy to worry about there is Chris Henry, who has so many stipulations in his probation agreements that he could be gone for the year if he runs a skinny post fat.

But Chad and T.J.? If the Bengals win a playoff game, they'll be two of the biggest reasons why. In this day and age, who isn't saying, "Just give me the damn ball?" And don't say the Colts' Marvin Harrison, who moped through these check-down playoffs with body language that didn't need a dictionary.

Hey, I didn't like Rudi Johnson's 3.8-yards-per carry, either, and it's a given the Bengals need a make-you-miss-all-the-way threat. But Rudi is so good in the red zone and with a lead that if you put him with a guy like Chris Perry, he's better and so is the team.

Dude, I understand your concerns. But they're on the wrong side of the ball.

Q: OK, can we have the 3-4 debate? Assuming we keep our current roster minus Odell and Justin Smith, here's how I see it:

We could potentially do a 3-4 with Sam Adams at NT, Thornton and Robinson at DE, with Peko, Rucker and Fanene rotating in some combination. LB could be Simmons and Brooks in the middle, Geathers and Jeanty on the outside.

There must be something inherently wrong with this formation. Or we must have more confidence in the 4-3, or else we would have seen it, right? Is Sam too out of shape to play 3-4 NT? Are Thornton and Robinson too small/not aggressive enough against the run?

I feel like the LBs are up to the task, and if we (when we) get help from the draft, is this an option? I know a lot of people would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.
** --Steve M., Washington, D.C.

STEVE:** You're right. What is inherently wrong is there remains a distinct possibility they franchise Justin Smith, which kills any 3-4, and they just dropped a ton of beans on Geathers and he's more of 4-3 end with merely 3-4 potential.

But to play it out, young pass rushers like Rashad Jeanty, Ahmad Brooks and Eric Henderson have them at least toying with the 3-4.

Sam Adams has never played in a 3-4, but certainly Peko and Shaun Smith could hold down the nose with Fanene and Rucker, Robinson, and Thornton at end if you're going to make Geathers an outside backer. Or maybe Geathers and Henderson are just standup ends.

I think they're better suited up front for a 3-4 simply because they don't have much size at linebacker. Jeanty is fine at strong at 245, but guys like Landon Johnson and Caleb Miller would probably be too light, although Andre Frazier is a guy that would get a longer look. I like an alignment of Jeanty, Simmons, Brooks, and Geathers, but you just have to wonder how long it would take Geathers to adjust.

Now, if they draft an outside 3-4 backer like Manny Lawson, a guy that broke Lewis' heart when he went to the Niners two slots ahead of the Bengals last year, all bets are off. But only if Justin is gone.

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