Sep 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Georgia Dome. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 30-23. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
In the second of three big challenges in a row, the New England Patriots will take on the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown stadium in Cincinnati. This game is coming off the heels of a very nice win in Atlanta over the Falcons on Sunday Night Football, a 30-23 win. The Bengals most recently lost to the upstart Cleveland Browns, but even despite this loss, are not to be taken lightly. This is a team with a few explosive weapons, and a very stout physical defense. Right now the Bengals are looking for a season defining win, and something to give themselves momentum in a very wide open AFC north division race, so you know they will be gunning for the Patriots hard. So, lets look what I believe the New England Patriots must do to win this game.
1. Make Other Weapons Beat Them
There are two weapons on the Bengals that have me pretty frightened going up against. One is obvious, AJ Green, the pro bowl receiver and near superstar. The other is a bit more obscure, but it’s their new feature running back Giovanni Bernard. Both of these players have the ability to make big plays, AJ Green can beat you all over the field, and Bernard is a dual threat to score at all times, he might be even more dangerous in the passing game. We all know who’s taking AJ Green. That duty will fall to Aqib Talib for the most part, and after the way he managed to lock down Julio Jones and Roddy White whenever he was on them, I have the confidence that Green will have his hands full, and should be somewhat removed from the game. Gio Bernard is a bit trickier to deal with, and with Big Vince Wilfork out with a season ending Achilles injury, the front four and linebackers are going to have to pay extra attention to him. My best guess at how to contain him, is always having someone keeping an eye on him, and get enough pressure on Dalton, so that him and Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis will be forced to stay in and pass protect. This isn’t to say that players like Marvin Jones, Mohammed Sanu and Green-Ellis aren’t capable of making big plays, but they really are pedestrian to what Bernard and Green are capable of.
2. Find a Way to Stop the Dynamic Tight Ends
Everyone saw it last week, the Patriots had major struggles containing Tony Gonzalez of the Falcons, as he gashed them for 149 yards on 12 catches and two touchdowns. This of course during the final drive was negated due to the Patriots jamming Gonzalez at the line with two players. This can’t necessarily be done with the two Bengal tight ends, Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Greshem, but something needs to be done to prevent them doing the same sort of damage that Gonzalez did. Greshem is the more familiar target to quarterback Andy Dalton, but Eifert has shown more of a big play kind of ability. We won’t know what will work until the Patriots get on the field, but I would like to see a player like Jamie Collins get a shot at them. Other than that, it will have to be a team effort again to try to stop these two. The last thing the Patriots want is Andy Dalton getting confidence in the fact that the Patriots can’t cover his tight ends to save their lives.
3. Time for Jerod Mayo and Donta Hightower to Play to Their Abilities
The Patriots defense has been a revelation so far this year, led by Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the defensive line, and Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty in the secondary, but arguably the best unit on this defense hasn’t really been pulling their weight so far this year, they’re the linebackers, and more specifically Hightower and Mayo. We all know that both are very talented players, Mayo has been one for years, and Hightower is a high potential player picked in the first round of last year, but they have been playing below what they are really capable of. Both have had some real struggles in the passing game, evident by Hightower getting used and abused by Tony Gonzalez last night, and Mayo just not the same player this year for the most part. This defense has improved so much, and even with the linebacker corps being a bit of a disappointment this year, have been fantastic. So you can imagine how good this unit could be if these two really get their games going.
4. Someone has to Step up in the Running Game
It’s already been noted that Stevan Ridley will not be playing on Sunday versus the Bengals, so that means the running game will come down to the duo of LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Last game we saw a bit of a revival in the running game, led by LeGarrette Blount who ripped off a huge run to give the Patriots a big lead in the 4th quarter, but I’m still not totally convinced. Ridley was the most consistent runner against the Falcons, when you take away he 47 yard touchdown run away, Blount was only running for about two yards per carry, where as Ridley was closer to five yards per carry. Bolden was also not very good as he was close to three yards per carry on his six total carries. Ridley had begun to run a lot better since his weeks one and two debacles, so I feel this is a very big blow to an offense that really needs every weapon it can get. This is a very good defense the Patriots are playing, so being able to stay balanced and control the ball will be key, and that starts and ends with the running game.
So there you guys have it, my essentials that the New England Patriots must achieve in order for them to win in Cincinnati. The Bengals might be 2-2 at the moment, and have had a few disappointing losses, they are no pushovers. The Patriots will once again have to play at or around their best level of football in order to head home with a win, and an intact undefeated record of 5-0.