Bengals are better, but they're still short on bite

November 05, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

OK, the Cincinnati Bengals are in first place in the AFC North, and they have one of the league's top offenses and young quarterbacks, yet they don't appear to be much better than the Ravens.

If the Ravens (2-5) beat the Bengals (6-2) tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium, it won't be a shock, or even a mild surprise. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis has done an incredible job turning around one of the NFL's worst franchises during the past three years, but the Bengals still lack a major ingredient.

The Bengals don't have a toughness about them. They aren't very physical. In a league that prides itself on fear and intimidation, the Bengals seem to lack those components.

If you look at some of the recent Super Bowl winners like the Ravens, Buccaneers and Patriots, they were teams that were going to out-tough you. If there was a barroom brawl, guys like Ray Lewis, John Lynch, Willie McGinest and Tony Siragusa would be the last ones standing.

You can even go back to the 1970s with the Steelers, who had Joe Greene and Jack Lambert, or the Cowboys of the 1990s with Erik Williams and Larry Allen.

Who would be the Bengals' last guys standing?

The best way to shut down a finesse team like the Bengals is to physically smack them around. The Ravens have the personnel to do it; they just have to match the intensity they played with Monday night against Pittsburgh.

That's the major concern for tomorrow. Did the Ravens play their Super Bowl last week against the Steelers? Do they still want to show the rest of the NFL that they can play without superstars Ed Reed and Ray Lewis?

The Ravens have as much talent as most of the other teams in a mediocre league. It's about focus, just as it was Monday night, when the pressure was on because the Ravens were facing a division rival on national TV, and running back Jamal Lewis was auditioning for the free-agent market.

But, can they do it again? Can they get Jamal Lewis going against a team he has owned during the past seven meetings? If they do, the Bengals are in trouble. They aren't that tough yet.

If you're not getting enough boxing action on TV, then you should tune in to the Ravens. The night before the Ravens played the Bears in Chicago, the feature bout was one of those David-vs.-Goliath battles, as offensive tackle Orlando Brown got into a fight with running back Chester Taylor at the team hotel.

According to witnesses, tables were moved around the floor and chairs flew as teammates were pushed into action to break up the altercation. Brown allegedly tried to avoid the fight but couldn't pull himself away after words were exchanged with Taylor.

We don't know whether to congratulate Taylor for his guts or condemn him for his stupidity. Taylor weighs 215 pounds. Brown, nicknamed Zeus for obvious reasons, weighs 360 on a bad day.

By the way, David didn't win this one even with a rock, slingshot and sledgehammer.

Of course, Ravens coach Brian Billick warned his players about talking to the media about the incident. Guess they didn't all get the message.

Billick has been telling friends around the league that he will remain as coach regardless of the team's final record in 2005. He has also told that to certain members of his coaching staff as well.

Billick may be trying to quell some of the speculation that he will be fired if the team continues to falter. Two more national publications put him on the coaching hot seat this week with Houston's Dom Capers, New Orleans' Jim Haslett, Minnesota's Mike Tice and Green Bay's Mike Sherman.

He also may be trying to keep his staff intact because some of them have already put out feelers for other jobs around the league.

Sniff. Sniff.

You smell something burning around here?

Several veterans have complained about team officials strictly enforcing a policy banning alcohol on team flights. According to some of them, the Ravens didn't care about consumption until recently.

But according to Dick Cass, the policy has been in effect for the two years he has been team president, and it dates back to the 1980s when the franchise was still in Cleveland.

In the past two years, there have been at least two incidents, one involving a prominent player and the other a former assistant coach who were pulled over because they were suspected of drinking and driving after returning on the team plane.

Different teams have different policies. Maybe the entire organization should just sit down, pour a couple of drinks and talk about it.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Schaub is the hot backup around the league who will draw a lot of interest from other teams during the offseason. Several teams have already inquired about trading for Schaub, the backup to Michael Vick.

Schaub is 6 feet 5 and weighs 235 pounds. He is already playing in a West Coast offense and is extremely accurate, a must for this type of system. Besides being big, strong and intelligent, Schaub runs well and has good touch on his passes.

He won't be a restricted free agent until the end of 2006, so he's probably going to cost a team a mid-first-round pick for his services. But a team in desperate need of a quarterback might be willing to make a deal for the second-year player out of Virginia.

Earth to Billick and Ozzie Newsome: Are you there?

The Ravens have had problems getting players on and off the field on special teams this season because of an influx of new and old, as well as injured players. Tight end Dan Wilcox had a unique way of explaining it.

"It's just like being in a singing group, like the Temptations," Wilcox said. "You lose your lead singer, the new guy comes in, it's not going to sound the same. That's just kind of what's going on right now. You've got to get to know these guys, get the feel so you know when to come in and sing your part."

Sounds like a ball of confusion to me.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Bengals@Ravens Tomorrow, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Bengals by 3

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