Sweating the small stuff

10-9-01, 2:55 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson, who may hold the NFL record for attending the most player-only meetings in his six seasons, says the Bengals don't need one this week to stop their two-game slide.

Head coach Dick LeBeau already informed them Monday morning it's going to be a different week around Paul Brown Stadium as they get ready to play Cleveland.

"The leadership of the coaching staff takes the place of a team meeting," Anderson said. "We needed meetings back when we didn't have a coach like Dick LeBeau. You don't need a team meeting.

"You notice no (Bill) Parcells (team) calls a meeting, or (another) tough, aggressive mentally tough coach," Anderson said. "I just think we need to do the things he told us to do."

What LeBeau told them to do is to start paying more attention to the little things. Such as when LeBeau walks through the locker room at about 12:53 p.m. each day on the way out to a 1 p.m. practice.

"The first two weeks, the locker room was cleaned out when he came through because everyone was either already on the field or walking out there," Anderson said. "The last couple of weeks, he's had to tell guys to hurry up when he gets in there. Now, they wouldn't be late. You still got time, but we as a team kind of let the small things slip away that we were doing the first couple of weeks. There's going to be a sense of urgency around here this week."

LeBeau has called this week a "gut check," and except for quarterback, he wouldn't rule out making some lineup changes. But there's also a sense of not pushing the panic button in an effort to prevent the team from playing tight like it has so often since 1991.

"I'm not ready to panic," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "If you had told me we were 2-0 to start the season after four games, every single person in this locker room

would have taken it. Every single person. So there's no need to panic.

"We just have to realize we still have a chance to be 8-0 at home," Kitna said. "I'll continue to say it. If you lose at home, that means you have to steal two more on the road. If you go 8-0 at home, you only need two or three more wins and you're in (the playoffs)."

Asked about the people grousing about the same old Bengals, linebacker Takeo Spikes reminded them that in the previous two seasons the Bengals haven't started 2-0. For that matter, in the last six years. He invoked the Giants of 2000 when they lost two straight to fall to 7-4 and then won their last five on the way to the Super Bowl.

"They vowed to come together and decided to say, 'This is our team. This is what we have. . .let's stick together and do all the little things right,'" Spikes said. "Coach LeBeau said it best this morning. You have to be accountable for everything you do out there on the field. You wake up and look at yourself in the mirror. You ask yourself the question. Did you do possibly everything you could have to help this team win?

"If your answer is not yes, then you can't complain about anything," Spikes said. "Point blank. What bothers me is, I feel like we worked so hard on certain things and we just go throw it away the last two weeks. It's the smallest things."

How small?

Anderson talked about how the offensive line isn't keeping its leverage in the running game and playing high, particularly against a slashing, one-gap defense like the Steelers.

The Bengals are trying to figure out if they're struggling against the run, or is the No. 20 NFL ranking is a product of playing the AFC's top three defenses right in a row. And No. 4 is up next in the Browns.

How small?

Spikes talked about how defensive coordinator Mark Duffner stresses adjustments and alignments allowing aggressive play.

"The biggest thing is the alignments aren't right," Spikes said.

And outside linebacker Steve Foley said the Bengals haven't been lining up right or fitting into the gaps the right way because teams are lining up in formations the Bengals see on film, but then run different plays against the tendencies.

How small?

Left guard Matt O'Dwyer took some heat for his holding call that helped wipe out Corey Dillon's longest run of the day on a 14-yarder. He dove at the end of the play, when it wasn't really needed.

How small?

Kitna challenged the beat writers Monday to research what the average third-down distance has been for the offense the past two weeks: "We don't get it on third down because of what we do on first and second down. . .I bet the majority are (longer than) 3rd-and-8."

Actually, the average is 9.76 yards to get a first down on third down.

How small?

The defense has also had problems on third down. The killing plays in the last two games have been on third-and-seven, and third-and-5, respectively, on shallow crossing patterns that nickel corner Tom Carter wasn't able to disrupt and didn't get any help on a pass rush.

" That takes the air out of a defense," said Spikes, who combined with Justin Smith to stop Jerome Bettis on first and second down to set up last Sunday's third-and-5 with 3:12 left in a game the Bengals trailed by six. "That's frustrating. That's just one of those plays that just drives you damn crazy." P>But Spikes isn't as vocal this year as he was last year about poor coverage in the secondary. He praised cornerback Artrell Hawkins' tight coverage on the 22-yard catch by the Steelers' Bobby Shaw that converted a third-and-19.

"Look back now at the four games we've played," Spikes said. "The passing game hasn't really been hurting us. It's s not one of those crucial situations where one of our guys couldn't make the play and it was a deep ball thrown."

But Spikes is disappointed with the play of the front seven and welcomes any personnel changes LeBeau thinks will help, even if it means sitting down himself.

That won't happen and Kitna hopes LeBeau won't shuffle the lineup just for the sake of shuffling the lineup.

Kitna was adamant about that and two other things. The coaches have absolved him of responsibility for all four of his interceptions this season and he thinks he's executing the offense the way he's been asked to execute it.

And he doesn't think the shared snaps in training camp because of the quarterbacks derby have contributed to the several not-on-the-same-page throws.

"That has nothing to do with that," Kitna said. "It has to do with each guy doing his assignment on every play. It has nothing to do with timing at all."

Time also wasn't on LeBeau's mind. He's been grilled for deciding to punt from his own 15 with 1:29 left in the game and trailing the Steelers, 16-7.

" They did what I hoped they would do and that is put a guy back there to catch it," LeBeau said. "I hoped that he would that he would drop the ball and we would get the ball at midfield with a new set of downs and not be looking at fourth and 10 from our own 15-yard line. We needed two scores, not one score. They put the guy back there and he caught the ball and that was the game. That's the reason."

The Bengals made one move Monday, releasing free-agent tackle Freddie Moore of Florida A&M, a victim of a knee injury early in training camp.

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