9-1-03, 6:55 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
You have to give Marvin Lewis this.
He took a team that was in disarray on Dec. 30 and by Aug. 30 it was ranked No. 1 in the NFL on offense and sixth in defense.
Yes, those are numbers from the recently completed preseason, which doesn't mean a thing. But they back up why Lewis has a good feeling about things heading into Sunday's opener at home against the Broncos.
"I like where we are. I like what we've done so far," Lewis said. "An excellent job on third down. Very good on offense, could be a touch better on defense, but not bad. We rushed the football as a team for 100 yards a game and that's very good. We've done a nice job on the other side of the football (stopping the run).
"We've had an average of almost three turnovers a game, which is far too many, and not enough on defense," said Lewis of the 11-to-4 ratio. "Some areas we've done well. Some areas we need to get a little better. As a defensive team, we've tackled well, which we had as a big-time goal. It was something we've had to improve on."
That's one of the reasons that young linebackers such as Riall Johnson,
Dwayne Levels, and fifth-round pick Khalid Abdullah made it in a purge that saw the release of veteran backers Steve Foley and Armegis Spearman. Johnson led the team in special-team tackles most of the preseason and Levels showed up enough that they think he can back up Kevin Hardy in the middle.
The Bengals can re-work their roster until 4 p.m. Monday because of the waiver wire. But they won't be able to bring in for a workout any player on the wire that has less than four years experience. They would have to sign him sight unseen to the five-man practice squad or the 53-man roster. With the practice squad supposed to be set by 4 p.m. Monday, Lewis said he should have a pretty good idea who is going to be on his team by the time they get off the practice field.
How does a team go 1-3 in the preseason despite racking up the big numbers in the rankings?
They were outscored, 42-27, in the fourth quarter. That's 15 points and they were outscored by just 11 points (82-71) in the four games.
"What is disturbing is we've given up a disproportionate number of points in the fourth quarter," Lewis said.
Lewis liked the way his club bounced back from giving up Friday night's opening kickoff for a 95-yard touchdown return. He said the first cover team wasn't out there because they were trying to look at some guys, "and now we know." For example, cornerback Reggie Myles wasn't on the field, and he figures to be a key contain guy on kickoff coverage.