Saturday, August 16, 2003

Improvement, not win, Lewis' goal


Coach wants mistakes of opener fixed

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Coach Marvin Lewis will make his home debut tonight with the Bengals, but the rookie coach is more concerned with progress than personal firsts or a first preseason victory.

Lewis is pointing to the Sept. 7 opener against Denver.

"We go out to play to win, but we will stay with our plan," Lewis said.

The opponent is the Detroit Lions, the team that finished with the NFL's second-worst record in 2002 at 3-13. The Bengals were 2-14.

Both teams have new coaches, Lewis and Steve Mariucci, fired by the 49ers after four playoff appearances in six seasons.

Lewis lost his first preseason game Sunday against the Jets. Mariucci's Lions were 26-13 winners against the Steelers.

More than a victory, Lewis wants to see more production from the running game and the first-team offense, in general.

Lewis also wants more aggressive play from his special teams, the elimination of penalties and fewer than the four turnovers the Bengals committed against the Jets in losing 28-13 Sunday.

The Bengals rushed for just 90 yards on 30 carries.

"We have to learn to run the football," Lewis said. "We didn't do that but maybe one run on Sunday. We had a couple of nice runs that the backs made, but I do not know that we actually ran it with the precision that we need to be effective for an entire game."

Tailback Ray Jackson lost a fumble when a delayed running play failed to develop. Center Mike Goff and quarterback Jon Kitna botched a snap that was recovered by the Jets and led to their first touchdown.

Rookie quarterback Carson Palmer also threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

"We obviously cannot have any turnovers," Lewis said. "You have to take care of the football. We made first downs and then gave it right back."

Lewis will play his starters, including Kitna, longer than he did Sunday at the Meadowlands.

The first offense is expected to play into the second quarter. A question mark is Palmer's health.

Palmer, who missed the past three training camp practices because of a partially torn tendon in his right foot, will play in the first half if he is able. The injury is not considered serious.

If Palmer can't go - he will be examined shortly before kickoff - veteran backup Shane Matthews will get at least a half of playing time.

Lewis will pay close attention to the performance of his special teams. The kicking game committed three penalties against the Jets and fumbled two snaps - one on a field-goal attempt and another on an extra point. The punt coverage team also gave up a 32-yard return that led to the second Jets TD.

Lewis had fewer complaints with his defense.

Featuring four new starters, the Bengals defense held the Jets to 155 yards - a 2.7-yard average - and forced two turnovers. New middle linebacker Kevin Hardy had an interception, and Duane Clemons - one of three new defensive linemen - caused a fumble on a sack.

"It was something for us to build on," said third-year defensive end Justin Smith. "We showed confidence in each other by staying in our gaps against the run and not trying to do too much."

Run defense was a big contributor to last season's 2-14 record.

James Stewart is the Lions' featured back, and second-year quarterback Joey Harrington will start after throwing for 136 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions last week against the Steelers.

And while first overall pick Palmer's status is uncertain, the draft's No. 2 selection - former Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers - will make his NFL debut. He missed the Lions' preseason opener because of a dislocated finger.

Lions at Bengals

What: Detroit Lions at Bengals, preseason Game 2.

When: 7:30 p.m. today.

Where: Paul Brown Stadium.

TV: Tape delay at 11:35 p.m., Channel 12.

Radio: Live on WCKY-AM (1360), WOFX-FM (92.5).

Series: Bengals lead Lions 17-15 in what is the longest-running preseason series for both teams. Other than last year, the teams have met every preseason since 1970.

Tickets: Club officials said Thursday's power outage on the East Coast might prevent credit-card purchases from going through at stadium ticket windows. The Bengals will have additional portable ATMs on the plaza level.

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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