Monday, November 15, 1999

Too much Mike Brown, not enough talent

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Paul Shafer of Eastgate bemoans another defeat.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        Willie Anderson has a talent for truth. Like most 340-pound tackles, he has found it easier to be straightforward than shifty.

        When he tells you the plague on the Cincinnati Bengals is a shortage of talent, you tend to take him at his word. Not that there was ever much doubt on this question.

        “We have talent in certain spots,” Anderson said Sunday. “Sometimes, I don't think we know how talented we are. But at other positions, the talent is just not there. For every step forward, we take two back.”

        Pro football's most futile franchise lost again Sunday, 24-14 to Tennessee. The season tally shows an NFL-worst nine losses in 10 tries. The Bengals' record during their Decade Of Doom is 49-105.

        It isn't coaching. It isn't cyclical. It isn't an officiating conspiracy. It isn't the inevitable plight of small-market franchises.

        It comes down to this: The Bengals don't draft enough of the right players; they don't keep enough of the ones they get right; and they don't supplement their limited quality with decent depth from other sources. Bruce Coslet may take the fall for the failings of his team — “I'm fighting for my job,” he conceded Sunday — but the fault is systemic, short-sighted, suicidal stubbornness.

Cast of castoffs
        One former Bengal compared the franchise Sunday to the movie, “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray finds his life on a perpetual loop, re-experiencing the same developments day after day. The problem with this analogy is that Murray's character eventually learns from his mistakes, while Bengals owner Mike Brown steadfastly refuses to change after a decade of debacles.

        Those of us who manage to remain indifferent to the Bengals' success are sometimes appalled at their arrogance. A team that loses so persistently ought to embrace some new ideas, if for no reason other than appearances. At some point, the hands-on owner of a floundering enterprise should ask himself whether he's in the way.

        Mike Brown missed no tackles during Sunday's game, and he botched no blocks. But his failure to forestall Boomer Esiason's broadcasting career has left the critical quarterback position in unreliable or unproven hands, and his inability to woo prime free agents has produced a roster that includes eight players waived by other clubs, notably Sunday's starting quarterback Jeff Blake, center Rich Braham, fullback Clif Groce and cornerback Ty Howard.

Limited options
        You don't often win at this level with patchwork players — especially when they drop two interceptions, shank a punt, and lose four fumbles — but the Bengals keep trying. Only a draft designed to subsidize incompetence makes this team even marginally competitive.

        “Somebody told Rod Jones that he and I had the hardest job in the league,” Willie Anderson said. “We're the only tackles in the league who are always blocking from 24-7 behind.”

        It was 24-7 before the Bengals' offense put any points on the board Sunday. Blake would be sacked seven times attempting to pass and running back Corey Dillon was held to 33 yards on 14 carries. Plays that work well in theory are being discarded because Coslet lacks the personnel to carry them out.

        “He can't call (a play),” Anderson said, “if the guy isn't going to block it.”

        Dillon disputed the notion that the Bengals aren't good enough — “We've got a lot of great players,” he said. “We want to win. I'm baffled.” — but players are customarily slow to cast blame on their colleagues. Still, when a plague persists for 10 years, only a fool would continue to blame fate.

        Asked if there was any reason to believe things would get better, Coslet admitted he was stumped.

        “I'd have to really seriously think about that,” he said. “ ... There's just so many variables and so many things that need to happen for us to be better and be competitive.”

        The truth is as Willie Anderson told it. Not enough talent. Not nearly enough.



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