After re-watching this past week’s ugly loss to the Bengals, I have come away with two major conclusions. The first is, this “new and improved” defense of theirs, is very impressive. Despite losing Vince Wilfork last week, and his partner, Tommy Kelly in the second half, they put forth a solid effort and limited the Bengals to 13 total points. The second thing I noticed, was that the offense performed even worse than it appeared when watching live. You could try and blame the receivers, or the offensive line, or Tom Brady himself, but it was a group effort and they all contributed towards their pathetic six point showing.
Passing Offense: C-
Aside from an impressive 53 yard catch and run from rookie Aaron Dobson late in the fourth quarter, this unit did absolutely nothing all game long. The receivers couldn’t gain separation, and even when they did, Brady seemed to deliver an inaccurate throw most of the time. The offensive line certainly didn’t help the situation by allowing Brady to go down four times throughout the game. After last week’s encouraging game versus the Falcons, I was expecting this offense to kick it into high gear, and make some noise against the Bengals stout defensive unit. But they did the opposite, totaling a mere 248 yards, with only 166 of them coming through the air. Brandon Bolden led the team with six catches, followed by Amendola with four and Thompkins hauling in three receptions.
Rushing Offense: C
The only reason this group gets a C instead of a D or an F, is because they were without Stevan Ridley, who instantly improves the Pats running attack. LeGarrette Blount received the majority of the carries, gaining 51 yards on 12 carries. The Patriots offensive line didn’t exactly open up monster truck sized holes for him, but it wouldn’t have mattered with the way Blount ran the ball. He hits the hole with an incredible lack of enthusiasm, and it costs him valuable yardage. Blount also coughed up the football when the Patriots were driving in Bengals territory, which cost the Pats at least three points. After this fumble, Bolden got most of the snaps out of the backfield, although he didn’t play much better than Blount. The lack of a running game contributed to the lack of production through the air for New England, and this is where Stevan Ridley could have really helped the Pats. Even though sometimes he doesn’t gain a lot of yards, he keeps the threat of a solid running attack there, which allows Brady to effectively manipulate the defense with play-action.
Pass Defense: B+
This was probably the brightest area of the day for the Patriots. They limited the Bengals aerial attack to 179 yards, while also intercepting Andy Dalton the first time they ventured into the red zone. The Pats secondary played almost exclusively man coverage, and this hindered Dalton’s ability to get into a solid rhythm with his receivers. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard were great on the outside, as they have been all season, and Devin McCourty continues to keep everything in front of him as the Pats free safety. The effect of McCourty’s solid play is seen in how successful the Bengals were in trying to throw deep on the Pats. The longest passing play of the game was a 28 yarder to Marvin Jones late in the third quarter on Cincy’s only touchdown drive of the contest. One negative thing to take away from this part of the game, was the Patriots linebackers. These guys struggled in coverage once again, a week after getting torched by Tony Gonzalez, they allowed the Bengals tight ends to finish the game with nine catches for 77 yards.
Rush Defense: B
Playing without Vince Wilfork is a tall task, and for the majority of the game, New England’s front seven elevated their level of play, and shut down the Bengals ground game. But in the second half it began to falter, specifically after Tommy Kelly went down with a leg injury. This left two undrafted rookies in at defensive tackle in Joe Vellano and Chris Jones. They were decent, but it was obvious that Cincinnati had a much easier time pushing them off the ball, and gaining solid yardage. This hurt the Pats late in the game when the Bengals were attempting to run some time off the clock. If New England had been able to stop them a little bit earlier, Brady and company may have avoided the random rain storm that attacked the Cincinnati while they were trying to drive down the field for a game tying touchdown.
Special Teams: A
Aside from kickoff returns (putrid, as usual), the Pats special teams excelled. Julian Edelman set up the offense with good field position all game long with his punt returns, and punter Ryan Allen returned the favor by downing five of his eight punts inside the 20 yard line. I was very critical of the Pats signing Allen and cutting Zoltan Mesko, but he has proven me wrong with his play through the first five weeks of the season.