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Bengals tailor draft for foes


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Bengals tailor draft for foes

Team keeps rivals in mind

By Kevin Goheen

Post staff reporter

In 18 games against the Bengals in his career, Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis has gained 1,725 yards. Eleven times against the Bengals Bettis has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game.

Baltimore's Jamal Lewis doesn't have the yardage totals against the Bengals that Bettis does, having gained 948 yards in seven career games, but he can top Bettis in that he has gained at least 100 yards every time he's faced the Bengals.

The Bengals know all too well about these statistics. They know the success the two bulldozers in cleats have had against them in the past, mainly because most of those games have ended up with the Bengals losing.

It will be a factor in the type of players the Bengals take in this year's NFL draft, which will be held this Saturday and Sunday. It's always a factor in any transaction a team makes.

"You have to put your football team together to defend the three teams that you're going to play six times a season in your division," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "If you don't do that then you're going to be in trouble."

In the AFC North that means dealing with the physical running games of the Steelers and Ravens as well as their aggressive defenses. Cleveland has brought up the rear of the division the last two seasons but the Browns have former New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel as their new head coach as well as former Baltimore director of player personnel Phil Savage as the organization's new general manager so it stands to reason the Browns will work to shape themselves into that same mold.

The Bengals finished 2-4 in the AFC North last season and haven't won more division games than they've lost since going 5-3 in the old AFC Central in 1996. The NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002 with the addition of the Houston Texans and with that expansion came a realignment of the two conferences into four four-team divisions. Each division winner automatically qualifies for the playoffs and gets to host at least one game in the postseason. There are only two wild cards for the remaining 12 teams in each conference.

That doesn't leave much room for error.

Two seasons ago the Bengals were 7-5 and tied with Baltimore for first place in the division heading into the final four games. The Ravens won three of their final four, beating the Bengals, Cleveland and Pittsburgh to claim the championship. The Bengals dropped three of four, including that game against the Ravens and the season finale against the Browns, to finish 8-8 and out of the postseason.

"I think prior to Tennessee and Jacksonville moving out of the division, our team in Baltimore was put together to compete against the teams in our division," said Lewis, speaking of his days as Baltimore's defensive coordinator before the NFL's realignment. "That's important. We need to have corners that can cover the big, fast wide receivers. We have to be able to tackle the big backs. I think that's important as you continue down the road. We're not quite sure of Cleveland's agenda yet but I think with Baltimore and Pittsburgh it hasn't changed much.

"Hopefully we're put together that way when people look at us, that we've got an outstanding group of receivers, that we've got a back that can churn it out and the development of our defensive team."


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