Another edition of things I Think I Believe in honor of the Earl of Arbitration, Cincinnati sports talkmaster Lance McAlister, and Peter King of the World and Sports Illustrated:
I THINK I BELIEVE: The Pistol is here to stay. But not as 100 percent of the playbook. It's going to end up being a staple as another look, a change-of-pace to keep defenses guessing. Like the shotgun, the Wildcat or the no-huddle. The Pistol isn't an offense like the West Coast. It's simply a formation that can be used as part of the playbook and the zone read is obviously very effective with the right guy running it.
But teams can't do just one thing for long in the NFL. Particularly treating the quarterback like Mayhem. Which is why the NFL dropback passer is never going to die. Yet while offenses can't use the zone read all the time, they can certainly mix it in. With where the college game is going, the pro game is going to have to implement some form of it to take advantage of the kind of quarterbacks coming into the league. But if they can't throw, they still can't play.
The best thing that ever happened to the zone read came in Sunday's Super Bowl. It got the 49ers back in the game and when they had a chance to use it to win it on the four snaps from the Baltimore 7, they ignored the Pistol, dropped back the last three times, and invited the Ravens to blitz.
Now people have all offseason to wonder what might have been if 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick stuck it in running back Frank Gore's hands running past the pressure.
I THINK I BELIEVE: There is even one thing even more mystifying than who stole Kaepernick's Pistol in the last two minutes. How does 49ers Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss get half the targets (five) of Baltimore's Anquan Boldin?
I THINK I BELIEVE: Marvin Lewis's appointment of Hue Jackson as running backs coach and special assistant to the head coach wasn't done to help Jackson get his next job. I Think I Believe it was done to help Lewis get over the hump in his job.
Everyone knows if the Bengals are going to get back to the postseason and get Lewis's first playoff win, they have to score more points and whether it is the '04-06 Bengals, the '08-09 Ravens and the '10-11 Raiders, Jackson has been deeply involved in winning and/or prolific offenses. The title shows Jackson has Lewis's ear and when he was the wide receivers coach here several years ago he proved to be a guy that had no problems making suggestions.
It certainly is an interesting title though, isn't it? But no one doubts Jackson is going to get another head coaching gig. He doesn't need a title for that.
I THINK I BELIEVE: Lewis really wants to make a recommitment to the running game, a la 2009. That's his AFC North-Western Pennsylvania-Linebacker mentality and that's when he's at his most comfortable.
So is his quarterback. Andy Dalton is a rhythm, feel passer that can slice up defenses if he doesn't have people in his face and the passing lanes aren't clogged. In the 10 games the Bengals ran at least 25 times this past season, they were 8-2 and Dalton had a 97.4 passer rating on 20 touchdown passes and seven interceptions with 7.4 yards per pass. In the six games they didn't run it 25 times, he had a 72.3 rating with seven TDs, nine picks and less than a yard per attempt.
Some games the Bengals just flat couldn't run, such as the 14 yards on 16 carries in Pittsburgh. But in the less-than-a-TD losses against Dallas (146 rushing yards on 20 carries), Miami (80 yards on 19 carries) and Houston (80 yards on 16 carries), they ran it at least 4.2 yards per carry and seemingly could have run it more.
So the Bengals can run it. But how often and how much so they can help Dalton?
I THINK I BELIEVE: The running game is going to get a major boost. But it's not going to come in free agency. The Bengals aren't looking for Ahmad Bradshaws or Rashard Mendenhalls.
I Think I Believe they're looking for young and fast and with three picks in the first 54, look for him somewhere in there. There are a lot of backs out there and the Bengals should be able to get a solid speedster at one of those selections to team with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Is it going to be Ray Rice? Who knows? At No. 55, Ray Rice wasn't supposed to be Ray Rice.
I THINK I BELIEVE: The Bengals won't take a backup quarterback with that first pick, but don't stray from the TV during the last two days of the draft. They believe Dalton is their guy and have high regard for veteran backup Bruce Gradkowski. But I Think I Believe the Bengals also believe in developing young quarterbacks that can be groomed to be successful if called into the fray because of injury.
I THINK I BELIEVE: Old friend Frostee Rucker isn't on the radar at the moment. The defensive ends that the Bengals are eyeballing in free agency, I Think I Believe, are Michael Johnson, Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry. If Johnson and Geathers get done, which look to be the team's first priority before free agency starts in a month, there isn't a lot of room left on the depth chart.
Johnson and Geathers would be active for games, along with Carlos Dunlap, and second-year man Devon Still can swing out to end on running downs.
But, see what happens after the draft, which is deep with defensive ends.
I THINK I BELIEVE: It isn't just Rucker that isn't on Cincinnati's radar. The league's cap casualties are already piling up like cordwood and the pundits are already trying to match up potential free agents like Reggie Bush and Mike Wallace with the Bengals.
But from all indications, the Bengals have eyes for only a handful of free agents and free agents-to-be. And they're all on their own roster.
They can't talk to Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green until after this season. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap are up after this season and Johnson is up now. But those five dictate how the 2013 salary cap and the next several are going to go. I Think I Believe their immediate high-ticket free agency consists of those five.
If the Bengals do hit the market, it will be later and I Think I Believe it would be for an outside backer and/or safety.
As for Bush, the Bengals will get a back in the draft. As for Wallace, I Think I Believe they love Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones and they could pick off another wide receiver in the draft.
It's a slice of the same philosophy the Super Bowl champion Ravens are espousing this offseason. General manager Ozzie Newsome, who got in serious cap trouble after Baltimore's last title, said on Thursday the Ravens won't restructure contracts to save cap space: "We have a great nucleus of young players."
I THINK I BELIEVE: There are two players from the 2012 rookie class that could come out of nowhere and off injured reserve to help this team.
Before he hurt his knee in training camp, fifth-round cornerback Shaun Prater displayed the same toughness, brains and man skills he showed at Iowa. Lewis loves productive college players and as a three-year starter with seven interceptions in 48 games, Prater produced. The Bengals thought so much of UCLA free-agent safety Tony Dye's sophomore and junior seasons that they signed him after neck and ankle injuries limited his senior season to seven games. Before Dye injured his ankle in training camp, he flashed, particularly on special teams, but with the Bengals still seeking a young safety opposite Reggie Nelson he'll most likely get a look.
I Think I Believe: The Bengals first-round pick at No. 21 is an open bar, a grab bag, a free throw. The top needs are running back, safety, outside linebacker, followed by backup quarterback and possibly wide receiver. But in this draft those guys can be had later. And the Bengals could have up to 10 picks.
They have eight now with two second-rounders (one from the Carson Palmer trade) and two sixth-rounders (one from the Chad Johnson trade). The Bengals don't have a seventh-rounder (dealt for safety Taylor Mays), but they could get up to two late supplemental picks that are handed out at next month's league meetings.
So that opens up that first pick to either the best player on the board no matter the position (except quarterback), or the best player at a premium position.