No hint of sweeping staff changes; Lewis apologizes; Offense sticking to run; Potential free agents

Updated: 7:40 p.m.

Head coach Marvin Lewis said Monday he's "very confident" the Bengals can retain free agent defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer while giving indications his staff is not going to change much in 2010.

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said Monday that as far as he knows he's going to be back in the job for the 10th season. And as Lewis heads into the last year of his deal he said he "imagines" he'll have talks with Bengals president Mike Brown about his own status beyond 2010.

Saturday's Wild Card loss to the Jets marked Lewis' 114th game as Bengals coach, one behind club founder Paul Brown, and third behind Sam Wyche's 132. His winning percentage of .491 (56-57-1) is third on a list headed by Forrest Gregg's .557 in 61 games and Tiger Johnson's .545 in 33 games. His two division titles tie him with Brown and Wyche and in the seven seasons before Lewis came to Cincinnati the Bengals went 34-78.

But Lewis's 0-2 record in the playoffs has him frustrated. After opening his final news conference of the 2009 season with a thank you to fans and sponsors for extending the franchise sellout streak to 53 and supplying homefield advantage, Lewis issued an apology.

"But I do need to apologize that I haven't gotten us over the hump, and I haven't gotten us beyond where we've been," he said. "That's my job and my focus to get us beyond that. And we'll get started on that very quickly."

Lewis' 56 wins are the fourth most in history by a coach without a playoff victory. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Jim Mora's 125 have a huge lead over Dick Jauron's 60. Allie Sherman has 57, followed by Lewis and, of all people, Buddy Ryan at 55. Ryan is the father of Jets head coach Rex Ryan.

The team doesn't disclose the contract statuses of assistant coaches and flux is typical for this uncertain time of year in NFL coaching circles if one doesn't have a contract. But Bratkowski made it clear that the running game commitment that fueled the heavily revised playbook of last offseason is going to stay.

"I don't think it's going be as major of an overhaul," Bratkowski said. "The various formations of the run plays and the commitment to the run game will stay the same. But it's obvious to everyone that more needs to be generated with the pass game."

Lewis said all his injured players look like they'll be ready to get on the field in the spring, but some may be limited when offseason workouts start March 29. 

For the first time in Bratkowski's nine seasons, the Bengals finished in the top 10 in NFL rushing with a No. 9 ranking while the passing game only moved from No. 30 to No. 26 despite quarterback Carson Palmer playing every game after playing only four in 2008. Bratkowski is looking for more from a renovated receiving corps that gave Palmer an average of just 6.64 yards per attempt, his lowest in any of the five seasons he played at least 13 games.

"We've got to shake loose of guys," Bratkowski said. "We left some guys hanging all over us the other night in one-on-one situations. We need to get separation because our quarterback is accurate enough to throw it even if there is (little) separation. The other night we had guys getting a hand in on balls that were very accurately thrown; we left the defender too close to us."

Lewis reiterated what his players said following a 10-6 season that claimed the AFC North but fell short in the playoffs for the second time in five seasons. He likes the foundation of the locker room and the identity that was established on offense last offseason.

"We've really kind of screwed down some pillars into the sand, which is a good thing as we move forward," Lewis said. "Now we have an opportunity to build upon that and continue to tweak the kind of things we have to do offensively. We don't want to change some of our fundamentals, but we need to be able to manufacture and make some more explosive plays.

"It's much better built. They haven't experienced any success yet, in their minds. We had a lot of young players play for us. I don't know what team had a rookie punter, a rookie returner on kicks and punts, rookie safeties, a rookie cornerback. That's a lot of young players playing. Those guys will continue to mature and get better. We'll add guys through the offseason, we'll add guys through the draft, and we'll be a much improved football team again next year."

The theme of Lewis' news conference is what is the theme of everything from Twitter to talk radio. How do the Bengals fix an anemic passing game that produced quarterback Carson Palmer's career-low 20 touchdown passes?

"It's a combination of everything," Lewis said. "It's a combination of making the play, of having the opportunity, sometimes even the luck of the draw. Sometimes the play call matches up with what they're doing defensively, where we don't have to get out of the play and go to something else. We don't, of course, want balls forced into coverage. That's the one thing our quarterback has learned: to live to play another day and take the next opportunity."

Lewis said a couple of times that he wants to make sure Palmer has the proper weaponry after a season he struggled without two of his most comfortable targets, wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry.

"I think more weapons, let's get right down to it," Lewis said. "The ones we have continue to get better with how we do it, and to expand on their opportunities. (We need to) be a little bit more efficient with it, and productive. I thought, among the things we did well, was yards after contact in the running game and passing game. Being better on third down, we got better at some of those things."

With no salary cap expected to be in place for the 2010 season, here is a list of potential Bengals free agents with starters designated with an S.

Unrestricted: RG Bobbie Williams (S), TE Reggie Kelly (S), K Shayne Graham (S), FB Jeremi Johnson (S), RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson (S), S Roy Williams (S), DT Shaun Smith

Restricted: LG Evan Mathis (S), TE J.P. Foschi (S), CB David Jones, WLB Brandon Johnson, SAM Rashad Jeanty, DL Frostee Rucker, MLB Abdul Hodge, TE Daniel Coats.

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