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A Shambles in Cincy
Peter King
October 27, 1997
With no leaders and little defense, the Bengals are going nowhere, Who will make Dallas's personnel decisions?
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October 27, 1997

A Shambles In Cincy

With no leaders and little defense, the Bengals are going nowhere, Who will make Dallas's personnel decisions?

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OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

PLAYER, TEAM

VOTES

POS.

PLAYER, TEAM

VOTES

WR

Herman Moore, Lions

16

DE

Bruce Smith, Bills

12

LT

Tony Boselli, Jaguars

12

DT

John Randle, Vikings

13

LG

Randall McDaniel, Vikings

8

DT

Bryant Young, 49ers

10

C

Dermontti Dawson, Steelers

16

DE

Reggie White, Packers

9

RG

Larry Allen, Cowboys

14

OLB

John Mobley, Broncos

11

RT

Leon Searcy, Jaguars

7

MLB

Levon Kirkland, Steelers

5

TE

Ben Coates, Patriots

12

OLB

Derrick Brooks, Buccaneers

4

WR

Tim Brown, Raiders

9

CB

Deion Sanders, Cowboys

12

QB

John Elway, Broncos

12

CB

Aeneas Williams, Cardinals

12

RB

Terrell Davis, Broncos

11

FS

Merton Hanks, 49ers

9

FB

Mike Alstott, Buccaneers

14

SS

Darren Woodson, Cowboys

8

K

Matt Stover, Ravens

6

P

Matt Turk, Redskins

7

Reporters gathered around Bengals tackle Kevin Sargent on Sunday night to get his take on why the NFL's most disappointing team has been so bad. Sargent was about to answer when he swallowed his chaw of tobacco and promptly gagged it up.

How fitting. That should have been the reaction of the hometown fans at Cinergy Field watching the Steelers' 26-10 rout of the Bengals, who were expected to be serious playoff contenders this year. As has become their habit during a 1-6 start, Cincinnati's big-time players were small-time all afternoon. Wideout Carl Pickens, for instance, was inexcusably stripped of the ball by cornerback Carnell Lake at the Pittsburgh 14 as he was streaking toward a score early in the fourth quarter. Running back Ki-Jana Carter fumbled once and stumbled for just 63 rushing yards. On one play the weak link of the Pittsburgh offensive line, 287-pound right guard Tom Myslinski, pushed 320-pound defensive end Dan Wilkinson five yards downfield and pancaked him. Surveying the damage, one Cincinnati fan, referring to a vote last March that pledged public funds for construction of a stadium, screamed, "I want my tax dollars back!"

In short, here's what's wrong with this team. First, the zone blitz, which was supposed to be a cure-all when it was installed by new assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, hasn't cured anything. Seven games, seven sacks. The Bengals linebackers can't beat the running backs who block them one-on-one, and the penetration and pursuit of the linemen have been abysmal. Second, there's nobody to take this team by the throat and shake it when it loses consecutive division games by a combined 39 points, as it has done the past two weeks. The Bengals failed to import a leader from the free-agent pool (missing out on the likes of cornerback Rod Woodson and linebackers Kevin Greene and Seth Joyner), and high-profile, high-salaried players like Pickens, Carter, Wilkinson and quarterback Jeff Blake are locker room mannequins. Third, the front office refuses to bring in a quality football man to run the show. Cincinnati's image is so bad around the league—in part because the franchise is a mom-and-pop organization—that agents are loath to encourage their clients to sign there.

Particularly puzzling is the play of the 24-year-old Wilkinson, the first pick in the 1994 draft. He will have collected $10.3 million by the end of this season, but he plays with no passion. He has a sore knee and toe, but that doesn't explain why he's a mind-boggling 12th on the team in tackles, has made no impact in a scheme that was designed for him and looked totally uninterested against the Steelers. And this was after coach Bruce Coslet took him aside following last Saturday night's team meetings, put on a tape of overachieving Pittsburgh defensive end Kevin Henry making valiant plays and said, "You're better than this guy. You can make plays like this."

In the wake of his four-tackle, no-sack game against a Steelers offense that amassed 412 yards, Wilkinson said, "There ain't much to say."

Yes, there is. Coslet faces an unwinnable situation with Wilkinson, who's eligible for free agency after this season. He knows that even if Wilkinson continues to play poorly, some team will throw $4 million a year at such a cat-quick defensive lineman. As Coslet dragged on the first of his many postgame cigarettes on Sunday, his frustration was apparent.

"When I played," said the Bengals tight end of a generation ago, "Paul Brown once told me, 'You do that again, Coslet, and I'll replace you. And no one will pick you up.' He was right. But now you can't cut most of these guys, because of cap implications. There's no fear factor. The problem with free agency is that guys who haven't done a darned thing are reaping the benefits. For many there's no motivation to be great."

At this point Cincinnati would probably accept mediocrity.

The Day of Reckoning

When it rains, it floods. That's the way things are going for the Cowboys. Last week injuries left the careers of fullback Daryl Johnston and left tackle Mark Tuinei hanging by threads. Johnston has a bulging disk in his neck, and on Sunday he missed the first game of his nine-year career, a 26-22 win over the Jaguars. Tuinei, who also watched the game in street clothes, tore up his left knee for the second time—this time it's the anterior cruciate ligament—during an Oct. 13 loss to the Redskins.

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