BY GEOFF HOBSON
The common thread running through the Bengals' decade of drudgery has been their search for consistent play at left tackle and cornerback.
Sunday's 35-3 dismantling by Tennessee reminded everyone those two positions, as well as pass rusher, lead the Bengals' off-season priority list.
After watching Monday's film, Bengals President Mike Brown agreed with coach Dick LeBeau that their players played hard enough. But there weren't enough of them to go around at the key spots.
"If you look at players like Corey Dillon and Willie Anderson and Takeo Spikes, we have some very good players," Brown said.
"But we don't have them everywhere and we need help in more than one position," Brown said. "Tennessee has other guys like (running back) Eddie George who week in and week out do the something extra that get them there. We do need a couple of difference-makers. It is a fact that we've had players who some Sundays just totally don't hold up their end of it."
After the Titans lit up Cincinnati for six passes of 20 yards or more and backup defensive end Henry Ford tortured left tackle Rod Jones, LeBeau said he's considering lineup shuffles on the offensive line and in the secondary.
Jones and veteran cornerback Tom Carter could be looking at their second benchings of the season. That's about $13.6 million worth of pine. That's the combined the $9 million Jones signed for the next three years this past off season and the $4.6 million Carter makes from this year and next year.
Brown wouldn't get specific about players. But when asked if the failure at key positions is a coaching or talent issue, he said, "When we have these terrible games, we've got some players that just don't hold up."
The only thing that looks to be saving Carter is . . .
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rookie Robert Bean's knee sprain that has him doubtful for Sunday against Jacksonville. With the other starting cornerback, Rodney Heath, on injured reserve, Carter would have to start with another demoted starter, Artrell Hawkins, and rookie Mark Roman would play in the nickel package.
Since the only other healthy corner is former receiver/running back Sirr Parker, someone like strong safety Chris Carter might have to convert.
"We're not sure what we're going to do there," said secondary coach Ray Horton.
But LeBeau and Brown are certain they don't like what they see.
"I was not happy with the way we played in the offensive line, but I want to sit down with Paul and discuss that a little longer," LeBeau said of meeting with offensive line coach Paul Alexander.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see a change in the offensive line (or) perhaps a change in the secondary. We're going to keep looking for people who make plays."
The Bengals have been outscored, 135-24, by Jacksonville, Tennessee and Baltimore in five games this season and Brown agrees there's a disparity.
"Right now, Baltimore, Jacksonville and Tennessee are better than we are," Brown said. "Better than we are anyway you take it, but I don't think the disparity is all that insurmountable. I really don't."
Brown pointed to last season, when Baltimore and Tennessee needed last-play field goals to beat the Bengals. But Sunday's play of the offensive line (four sacks, 60 yards rushing) was disturbing after a solid two months that brought them the NFL rushing lead.
"That may have been due to them," Brown said. "They may have been better physically or more clever than us mentally. Maybe both. But the result was our offense line had a terrible time and the result was we got shellacked."
John Jackson replaced Jones after they got shutout in Pittsburgh Oct. 15. But Jackson hasn't played since re-aggravating a hamstring pull Nov. 12 in Dallas. He says he's 90 percent and LeBeau said Jackson will be discussed.
Don't look for Jackson to move to right tackle if Willie Anderson (sprained ankle) can't play. The one move is to stick with Jamain Stephens.
What hasn't been discussed much is moving Jones to left guard next season, re-signing Jackson for another year and drafting a left tackle with the first pick. That's because Alexander doesn't want to talk about next year yet, but some club insiders don't think Jones panned out inside at guard.
As for Sunday, Alexander wasn't happy with the way his team performed in adversity Sunday in noisy Adelphia Coliseum. He thought the stadium's game day manager deserved a game ball for the way he pumped the building full of sound not only when the Bengals broke the huddle, but when they called the play in the huddle.
"We did a bad job of executing in a hostile stadium," Alexander said. "The noise was a factor we didn't really overcome. It's something we have to figure out a way to play better in that type of situation."