Hobson's Choice: Some observations

Q: Now that we have 10 games of the 2007 season in the books, I would like to hear your thoughts on grading the team so far this season. From head coach to the fans. I don't think you could give any part of this team a better grade then a C. Except maybe T.J. and the fans.
--Greg W., Jacksonville, Fla.

GREG: I'm not a grade guy. When I handed in that last final in Magazine Writing at the 'Cuse more than a few Mays ago, I washed my hands of them. Besides, I'm not a teacher, I'm an observer and the first observation is it's the most disappointing season in 10 years.

Ah, 1997. Bruce Coslet's first full season as head coach after a 7-2 finish. Jeff Blake in his third full season at quarterback after two upper echelon seasons. Dick LeBeau returning to work his Steelers magic running the defense. A come-from-behind win at home over Arizona on Opening Day.

Then they lost seven straight and it was one long drop to Akili Smith.

Observations?

These are only mine, so they certainly carry no weight:

  • The head coach is no different than the guy that challenged Bill Belichick for Coach of the Year in 2003 and led the Bengals to the 2005 AFC North title. Look, the guy can coach. He proved it with the 2000 Ravens and he proved it here when he brought this franchise back from Hades during '03-'05. You guys know how I feel on this. I'm a Marv Guy. If he brought this team from that far back, then the Super Bowl is a much shorter hop.

And the people who call him Marvin Shula should be ashamed of themselves. Dave Shula isn't in the same universe with Marvin Lewis when it comes to accomplishments as an NFL assistant and head coach. It's like calling "W," George Washington Bush.

Lewis was given nothing in his climb up the coaching ranks that began as a GA at Idaho State, and wound through the game's backwater of Long Beach and New Mexico.

But as Lewis observed Monday, his players aren't playing with the same hard edge that they had in his first few years here.

And Lewis would be the first to tell you that falls on him. But what that tells me is that after the season he and Mike Brown have to sit down and come up with a clear, concise do-not-touch prerequisites of what kind of player they want on this team. Make the player fit into a system, not the other way around.

You'd have to say that every position (but kicker and maybe punter) has underachieved, although the linebackers deserve a mulligan because of the injuries and Carson Palmer has been good enough to keep his team in every game. Any lesser of a quarterback and they'd be 1-7, too.

Is it underachieving or are they not good enough? That's something else they have to figure out.

Yeah, it's supposed to be an elite offense. But they can't run the ball, they can't finish it off in the red zone and whatever happened to the long ball?

Chad seems to be the symbol of it all. The guy is truly a great player with big numbers in the prime of an elite career. But all we remember about this year is the wrong route against New England, the drop against Buffalo, the fumble against the Cards. Like his offense, he's brilliant but unfocused at crunch time.

Yet given that three of these offensive players went to the Pro Bowl in '05 and T.J. is having a Pro Bowl season this year, they must be talented enough.

There seems to be hope on defense. Talking this week to The Guru (a former top football executive for an NFL team), he said, "There are a lot of good young guys on this defense that any team would like to have. Geathers. Ndukwe. Madieu Williams. Leon Hall. Jeanty is a good young player."

But they seem to be searching for an identity of what to do, a way to package the talent. The mayhem at linebacker probably has a lot to do with it, but it seems like the perennial AFC contenders like the Patriots, Steelers, Broncos and Titans look for players that fit them instead of the other way around.

Maybe that's the theme of the offseason for not only Chad, but for Lewis, his coaches and front office.

Focus. Don't make it too hard. It was only 29 games ago this team won a title.

By the way, the fans have never had an off year.

T.J. is the MVP and should go to the Pro Bowl with kicker Shayne Graham. Safety Chinedum Ndukwe is their Rookie of the Year , Geathers is their Defensive Player of the Year, and Herana-Daze Jones is their Special Teams Player of the Year.

Just a few observations.


Q: I know it may be a little early to look at the draft. But assuming with the record the Bengals have they would have around the sixth pick or so. It would probably be best if they went defense, defense, defense on the first day. Even though we have Rudi, and Kenny Irons waiting, Darren McFadden is a Bo Jackson-caliber back that only comes around once every 10 years or so. If Darren McFadden is available where the Bengals pick, do they pull the trigger and get him?
--Hunter, Lexington, KY

HUNTER: Ooh, when you say No. 6, that gets me thinking about Pro Bowl defensive tackles like Richard Seymour. If McFadden is as good as that, he'll be gone at No. 6.

First of all, hate those top 10 picks because they cost so much money and they rarely translate to that value. But if there's a Seymour (No. 6, 2001), Casey Hampton (No. 19, 2001), Albert Haynesworth (No. 15, 2002), John Henderson (No. 9, 2002) type of D-lineman there, please stay put and take him.

Or, if not, trade down and get two defensive starters.

I agree. McFadden is going to be a heck of an NFL player. But if Carson Palmer is going to get this team to a Super Bowl, right now he needs a Richard Seymour more than an Adrian Peterson.


Q: I respect Willie for speaking up about this team's need to get back to being scrappy and more physical. But it would mean a little more if he could actually play a full game! I know Willie has been a warrior for this team in the past and I appreciate him for it. But he should have gotten his foot injury taken care of before the season started instead of waiting until training camp began to deal with it. Before telling everyone else how to act and what to do, Willie needs to get out of the tub and on to the field! Then maybe his comments will carry a little more weight in the locker room.
--Rich, Pleasant City, OH

RICH: With all due respect, you're as out of line as the ref who told Whitworth he was "lousy." To challenge a man who went 112 straight NFL games without missing a start to get out of the tub is unseemly.

Anderson could have the retirement party this Sunday at the 50 complete with the Rich Braham vehicle and he'd have every right to comment on this team for the next 40 years.

He's been a Pro Bowler, grinder, and community helper dating back to the days when guys played games here with their cars packed in the parking lot for the trip home and used their Saturday nights in the hotel to party instead of prepare.

It's not like that any more with the help of guys like Lewis and Anderson. People demand for leaders on this team to speak up and show some direction and resolve, but when they do they get ridiculed. They can't win.

And as far as his foot goes, it was a dicey situation because he was looking for ways to avoid season-ending surgery. It's not like he blew it off so could have the summer free.

But the foot is not the issue now, anyway. It's the knee he injured in Seattle on Sept. 23.

Sorry to vent like that, but really. Ever been in a car wreck? Could you be in 112 and go to work the next day? Not only go to work, but be the best in your field?

If anybody has a right to say anything on this team, it's Willie Anderson.

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