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Hobson's Choice: Passing thoughts

Q: I assume that I can get in line with everyone else regarding the frustration with the Bengals. Just some quick hits, is Carson holding onto the ball too long? Is his lack of mobility becoming an issue? Are Bratkowski's schemes becoming ineffective? Do we have a running game? I don't get to watch many games being in Chicago so let me know what you think.
--Wes C., Chicago, IL

WES: In the last two games the passing game is as ineffective as it's ever been under Brat, save for the Gus Frerotte foray. Jon Kitna never went 1-for-18 on third down, but given the track record you have to believe it's a two-game blip.

Understand that I offer no defense or offense, excuses or elixirs. I'm just laying out what I think are the reasons for the struggles of the offense.

Not in any order: Palmer is getting a little more pressure, there is no Chris Henry, and there is no consistent viable option if Chad Johnson isn't open.

Carson, by the way, has good mobility for a guy his size and if he didn't the Chiefs would have dumped him seven or eight times.

Levi's problems on Sunday came out of the blue and all indications are it's not health related. So that's good and bad, but if you get play like that out of your left tackle, a Bill Walsh scheme isn't going to do anything, either. Ask Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb.

But the line simply isn't what was in '05, starting with center Rich Braham's injury early in '06. Jones hurt his knee, and Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson hurt his knee and foot, and both didn't work in the pre camps.

Still, this is a line that has played well without its top two tackles. Stacy Andrews and Andrew Whitworth have to be the best backup tandem in the league and Scott Kooistra (one of those seventh-round picks) is a valued swingman who has played two spots. And the offense has to be viewed as a unit.

Take a look at the fourth-and-one play in the third quarter Sunday in Kansas City. With starting tight end Reggie Kelly out briefly with a sprained ankle, rookie Daniel Coats couldn't wall off the edge like Kelly would have done in his sleep.

Except for Jones' 17-minute episode with Jared Allen, that lack of consistency on the line (lineups and not talent) shows up more in the running game.

You can gripe about injuries not mattering, but frankly they do. They matter at linebacker and they matter on the line.

As far as the scheme goes, Brat's is having a nice run here. He's put up numbers no one else has and without a pass-catching tight end and a speed back out of the backfield.

That looks to be catching up to them with no third receiver. No one seems to be open when both Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are swallowed in the Cover 2, which is all anybody with any sort of marbles is going to play against them.

And, yes, you have to run the ball to beat Cover 2. And, sure, they have a running game. Kenny Watson hit his average of 5.2 yards Sunday in K.C. But you have to mothball it if you're going to whiff on 17 of 18 third-down tries when you don't have the lead. In the last two games, they've had the lead for all of 6:46 and the ball for all of 47 minutes out of 120.

No time to run.

It's a Catch 22. You can't be effective running the ball if you can't do it often enough.

I know Marvin likes to say Henry isn't on the team. But when he was, he scored 15 touchdowns in two years and that 6-4 leaper is the elephant in the room. You don't have him and that's tough.

And are these the answers? Like Palmer said Sunday, if they knew, there wouldn't be a problem.

Q: OK. When do we start to question Marvin Lewis's ability to motivate and lead this football team? I like him, he appears to be a nice guy, maybe a front office guy, but not a leader of a football team. He doesn't appear to inspire toughness or demand execution with the talent he has both offensively and defensively.
--Greg D., Chapmanville, W. Va.

GREG: Sorry kids, but I'm a Marvin guy because I can still taste the acrid smoke of the '90s and feel the '05 playoff vibrations of Paul Brown Stadium. Your insults will be creative and blistering, but save them for someone that cares what you think of them. The comparisons to the '90s and turn of the century are lamer than injured reserve.

The e-mails will be positively Hallmark heart-warming on this one, I'm sure. I would agree with you, Greg if there were never a 2003-2005. And to be questioning and wondering right now is absolutely fair given they are 9-15 since the day they clinched the AFC North.

But to use a pet Mike Brown phrase, in order to get this ox cart out of the ditch, Lewis had to be all of those things.

Inspirational. Tough. Demanding.

I know he's tough. You don't start on the ground floor of coaching, the grad assistant office running film through the snow and ice and darkness of the Mountain West to become an African-American head coach in the National Football League without being tough.

To take this team from 2-14 to a game within the division title in his first season, to winning the division in the same decade of Akili Smith, bad grass, Sean Brewer, the weekly network insults, was nothing short of brilliant.

I don't know if he's changed the last couple of years. They theorize that he let the chemistry get away after the '05 North title, when the messy, dramatic, emotional playoff loss to the Steelers was quickly followed by the spate of arrests.

Who knows? How can you quantify that in wins and losses, even if it is true?

All I know is this: Just last year the chemistry was good enough that he had them, literally, one play away (the Justin Smith roughing call, a blown extra-point snap, a missed field goal) from joining Forrest Gregg as the only Bengals coach to log back-to-back playoff berths.

That's pretty tough to just throw away.

The guys in the '90s never got that close. They never played for division titles in front of full houses or coached five Pro Bowlers, or hosted a playoff party on the plaza in January.

Look, I've got my criticisms of the guy. He's such a big-picture guy that sometimes you wonder if he takes on too much as the head coach.

But I also think he has the same qualities of coaches that win Super Bowls. We've already seen it in 2003-2005. He knows football. He knows players. He's tough, smart, single-minded.

Maybe they all have to go back. Lewis, his coaches, players, fans, to remember what it was like just even two years ago.

Yeah, I'm a Marvin guy.

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