Yesterday I posted two keys for the Patriots coming from the offensive side of the ball, so today I bring you keys from the other side. This will be the Pats first game without their big man in the middle, Vince Wilfork (although they played most of last week’s game against Atlanta without him), and it will be interesting to see how not only New England adjusts, but to see how the Bengals attack this unit.
Keys For The Patriots:
1. Bring The Heat, Play Man Coverage
Right now, Andy Dalton is struggling. He has thrown for a mere 1,003 yards while being intercepted four times through four games. His quarterback rating currently sits at 83.2, and his QBR at 52.9. Dalton needs to get it going quickly, or his job security down in Cincinnati may become shaky. With Dalton being such a young quarterback, the best way to force him into mistakes is by sending pressure at him, and see how he reacts. The Pats have gotten decent production out of their pass rush, registering nine sacks through four games, but I think that they will have to dial up more blitzes on Sunday in order to get to Dalton, especially with Wilfork out of the picture. The likes of Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Tommy Kelly have been solid in their pass rush, but at times they can disappear, and the Pats should keep pressure on Dalton all game long, therefore blitzing will be needed.
By bringing extra rushers, the Patriots will have to play a lot more man coverage in the back end, but with the way Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard are playing right now, I don’t think that this will be a problem. Pro Football Focus has Talib ranked second in the NFL among cornerbacks through four weeks, above both Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis. A.J. Green will present a tough assignment for the man that roams “Area 31″ (term created by Musket Fire’s own Tim Dillon), but Talib’s unique combination of size, speed and aggressiveness could be all he needs to shut down the talented Green.
Up until last week’s game with Atlanta, Talib’s play had largely flown under the radar, but his performance against Julio Jones vaulted him into the spotlight. Now his partner, Alfonzo Dennard is flying under the radar. Dennard’s height holds him back in a lot of areas on the field, but his ability to cover one on one cannot be questioned. In terms of pure cover ability, I believe that he is the most talented corner on the Patriots roster, and having him locked onto Mohamed Sanu or Dane Sanzenbacher is a win for New England. If Dennard were three inches taller, he would be in the discussion to be one of the top corners in the league. That is how much I respect Dennard’s game, and the duo of him and Talib will be a productive one for years to come (as long as the Pats pay them).
2. Watch The TE’s
Last week in Atlanta, the Patriots linebackers were absolutely shredded by tight end Tony Gonzalez. He racked up 12 catches, 149 yards and two touchdowns against the Pats linebacking core, and the challenge continues this week in the form of Jermaine Gresham, and Tyler Eifert. The Bengals like to run a two tight end set for a good portion of the game, and it has been very productive through four weeks. Eifert and Gresham have combined to catch 30 balls going for 340 yards, and while there are no touchdowns between them, they certainly present the threat when in the red zone. The talents of A.J. Green on the outside opens up a lot of room for these guys to make plays, but make no mistake that they are both very skilled football players. Both are big guys as they stand at 6’5 and 6’6 respectively, so taking that into consideration, I believe that the Pats should jam them at the line of scrimmage, to avoid getting caught in a bad situation with one of their shorter linebackers in pursuit. Obviously jamming them both every single play will be impossible, but the more they do it, the less success the Bengals will have. Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes will have their work cut out for them this weekend, and I sure hope that they are up to the challenge.