Q: Am I missing the boat on this?: The Bengals get bashed by both the national media and some Bengals followers about their run defense. It seems to me that they held the run down somewhat respectfully last year. What killed them is the third-down conversions/pass rush. Agree or disagree?
--Mitch, Indianapolis, IN
MITCH: Respectfully disagree. You can't allow middle-of-the-road backs like Jamal Lewis to run for 216 yards, rookie backs like Marshawn Lynch to get their first 100-yard days with 153, and a quarterback in his first NFL start to get 138 yards from Frank Gore. But you have to look at the offense as much as the run defense.
No question that the third-down ratio and lack of pass rush are huge factors.
But take a look at that San Francisco game, that miserable 20-13 loss to an awful team.
After holding Gore to 36 yards on 11 carries in the first half, the Bengals defense let him rip off 86 yards on 12 carries in the third quarter and that allowed neophyte quarterback Shaun Hill to beat them despite having the NFL's sixth worst rushing attack.
The Bengals had a shot to beat the Bills in the fourth quarter, but a missed tackle turned into Lynch's 56-yard touchdown run.
Lewis, who averaged 78 yards in his 14 other games last season, got 144 of his 216 on three runs.
So the knock is legit.
But the Bengals offense let it happen a lot of times. If teams continually have the ball and the lead, they're going to run it more and get more yards.
Out in Frisco, the Niners had the ball nearly 36 minutes, in large part because the Bengals converted just three of 10 first downs. In back-to-back games against New England and Kansas City, the Bengals allowed backup back Sammie Morris 117 yards and a Chiefs running game that would finish last in the league 121.
But that was because the offense was 1-for-18 on third downs in those games. That 3.6-yard effort in Kansas City was actually heroic against Larry Johnson, given they had one training camp linebacker and the Chiefs had the ball for more than 35 minutes.
Agreed there is more to it than run defense.
But disagree that they held their own.
If they hold their own like that this year against these running games in the NFC East and AFC South, they'll go 6-10.
Q: After hearing that Willie is looking and feeling good, do you think that they will shop Levi around? I don't know what the cap penalties would be, but with the young, versatile Andrews and Whitworth along with the impressive rookie Collins, it seems like we can afford to trade Levi if the offer is right. What are your thoughts on this subject?
--Adam W., Cincinnati, OH
ADAM: It would seem Willie and Levi are separate issues. Levi has requested a trade, but Anthony Collins isn't ready yet and Andrew Whitworth indicated last week he believes his position for this year is left guard. That indicates Jones is their guy at left tackle for at least this year, or else Whit would be lining up at left tackle and Scott Kooistra at left guard.
If by next year they think Collins and Whitworth can be some kind of a combination on the left side, maybe they would deal Levi then. The salary cap hit would be smaller, but, gee, when Levi is healthy, his guy doesn't sack the quarterback.
But the right side is a separate issue with too many variables. Even if Willie is healthy, are they willing to move Andrews to guard? Would Willie want to be a backup? Can they even get Andrews signed to long-term deal before he goes on the market next year?
Are we looking at bookend tackles in the next few seasons of Collins on the left and Whitworth on the right?
Whatever they do, the No. 1 priority has to be protecting Carson Palmer at all times. This year. Next year. In 2014. All times. They have to put the five best pass protectors on the field. Anderson and Jones have to qualify for that right now and in the foreseeable future.
Q: Saw on ESPN that Chad will be reporting ... or at least he should be reporting. I hate to say it, but don't his offseason tantrums have some validity? He is only getting $3M this season. That is not a lot of money when it comes to the other top WRs that make more than Chad: Moss, Fitzgerald, Holt, Smith, etc. Now T.O. got a new deal at 34 years old. I just do not understand why management will not spend more money to keep arguably the best receiving duo (Chad and T.J.) in the game together. Can you make some sense of this?
--Andy, Cincinnati, OH
ANDY: You have to look at the total amount of money they've given Chad, including bonuses, which gives him about a $7 million per year average.
True, it's not the numbers of Moss and Owens, but that's because the deal is two years old. It was good enough when he signed it that it was one of the top two or three receiver deals and since it was done four years before the deal was up, agent Drew Rosenhaus called it "historic."
The Bengals just got done giving Johnson $16 million over the past few years. What the Bengals want to know is how can you keep asking for a new deal every few years? When you get into this thing, you know deals are going to go past you. The tradeoff is you get the money now.
Since the Bengals gave him a new deal so soon into his first extension, I'm pretty sure Chad's claims of being underpaid aren't very valid.
Owens got the big money in Dallas because he's the only high-priced receiver they've got and bully for them. Denver wouldn't have advised it after Rod Smith ran out of gas with a lot of cap hits left. But at 34, Owens doesn't look like he's going to stop producing any time soon.
Same with Houshmandzadeh, a free agent after this season. Are you going to pay him more than Chad? $7M per is about the rate these days. He turns 31 in September. Should you give him $18-20M guaranteed?
The only team that seems to have been able to pay two Pro Bowl receivers is the Colts with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. The difference between Indy and Cincy is that the Bengals have put more money into their offensive line than the Colts.
You can debate the merits of it, but that's where the Bengals have put their money.
Another Rosenhaus client, Anquan Boldin in Arizona, has been unable to get paid after running mate Larry Fitzgerald raked in about $10 million per year and has been asking around about a trade.
The Bengals would love to have them both. But for how long and how much? Those numbers are as big as yards per catch.