Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Bengals Q&A

Ask Mark
Even though the Bengals lost a heart-breaker at Arizona, many readers are impressed by the direction the team is headed under Marvin Lewis and starting to ask about his plans for specific position groups - particularly both lines.

Question, from Jason in Littlestown, Pa.: Looking at the statistics, I have concerns about line play on both sides. The Bengals are 31st in rushing yards per game. I know some of the rushing problems can be attributed to Corey Dillon being hurt, but even last year when he was healthy, they had problems in short yardage.

Defensively, they are 23rd in rushing yards per game. Their sack leader is (Duane) Clemens with four. What is up with Justin Smith? I know a lot of things can contribute to some of these poor numbers, but it seems to me they need to upgrade both signs of the line in the draft or free agency.Would you agree?

Answer: The performance of both the offensive and defensive lines has been inconsistent. The defense has had some good games stopping the run and pressuring the passer. The offensive line has had some productive games blocking in the run game.

It is just the midpoint of the season, but the Bengals are likely to pursue interior offensive linemen in free agency and could look for a big defensive tackle in the draft. A probable consideration in the first round could be a big-play cornerback - especially given the questions surrounding starter Jeff Burris' health related to repeated concussions.

Q, from Rich in Frederick, Md.: Before I ask the question, it feels good that the Bengals are a competitive team, and I do enjoy watching them for the most part. Things seem to be going in the right direction and there appears to be a plan.

I am curious as to why is it that I rarely see a swing pass to the running backs? Two years ago, I remember that Dillon was to get more touches this way and yet he rarely, or the running backs as a whole, get the ball on pass plays. Also, our tight end situation seems adequate, so why not throw some more simple stuff in the middle of the field, especially on third down? Lastly, overall, how do you feel the O-line is performing?

A: The passes to running backs are down because Dillon (groin) and Brandon Bennett (back) have been slowed by injuries. The Bengals are going to the tight ends more often and effectively. Reggie Kelly, Tony Stewart and Matt Schobel have a combined 39 receptions for 444 yards and two touchdowns.

As for the offensive line, the linemen would be the first to say they have not performed as consistently well as they would like. It is a line in transition, especially in the interior. Former starter Matt O'Dwyer has been deactivated in recent games. Rookie Eric Steinbach is the new starter at left guard. And center Rich Braham wasn't supposed to be starting. Right guard Mike Goff was supposed to be the center.

Q, from Doug in Lakeside Park: I realize it takes a good offensive line to produce a decent running game and the Bengals need some improvement. But I feel Rudi Johnson should be taking the handoffs instead of Dillon.

First, Dillon is hurt. Second, we can win without Dillon in the lineup. Third, Dillon is part of the old problem that Marvin Lewis wants out of the organization. You don't hear the other players talking like Dillon that they are un-appreciated, do you?

A: Yes, Dillon is hurt, and his struggles this year are because of the aggravated groin injury. Right now, Johnson is running more effectively with the line than Dillon.

But a productive Dillon would help the Bengals win. The organization does have options regarding Dillon after the season. But it is difficult to dismiss what Dillon has accomplished in a Bengals uniform and the fact, that when he's healthy, Dillon possesses a rare combination of power and speed.

And, no, other than Dillon and former Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes, no Bengals player has been as critical of the organization in recent years - dating back to Carl Pickens' departure in 2000.

Q, from Andrew in Englewood (near Dayton): Why don't people in the home vicinity of Cincinnati get first priority to have their questions answered in your Q&A? We are the ones getting blacked-out for every home game. It seems like maybe one local fan gets their questions answered.

Is there any chance that we might get a home game televised the remainder of the season?

A: The attempt is to select the questions that reflect what's on the minds of the most people who write in. There is no geographic preference.

As for local television, the season finale against Cleveland (Dec. 28) is all but a lock to be on live TV. It will sell out. Houston doesn't look good for this coming Sunday, but a Bengals victory and the draw of the league's hottest team, Kansas City, could mean a sellout and a live telecast on Nov. 16. The only thing that's going to get more games on live TV is more victories, which will result in more demand for tickets.

Q, from J.R. in Canton: This past year, the Bengals considered drafting cornerback Terrence Newman. Who selected him, and how has he done?

A: Newman went to Dallas with the fifth overall pick in the April draft. He is listed on the Cowboys depth chart as the starter at left cornerback. He has 33 tackles, one sack, one interception and nine passes broken up.

He and safety Roy Williams - the Cowboys first-round selection in 2002 - are the backbone of what has the look of a dynamic secondary for many years.



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