W2W4: New England Patriots (4-1) vs Cincinnati Bengals (2-3)

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is back. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is back. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount is on pace for his best season. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /

New England Patriots Rushing Offense vs Cincinnati Bengals Rushing Defense

The New England Patriots running game took a step backwards on Sunday as quarterback Tom Brady and his 406 yards passing took precedence in the offense. The rushing offense ground out 98 yards but it took 35 attempts. LeGarrette Blount averaged just over two yards per carry against the Cleveland Browns as he had just 37 yards on 18 attempt.

It was James White who had the strong game on the ground as he had 26 yards on five carries. White ran hard between the tackles and added another 63 yards through the air. D.J. Foster got some carries in garbage time and had six rushes for 17 yards in his first chance at some extended playing time–even if it was garbage time.

New England had Cameron Fleming filling in at right tackle for Marcus Cannon (calf injury). Fleming is a better run blocker than Cannon (though Cannon is a much better pass blocker and all-around tackle). Running to the right side of the line the Patriots gained 39 yards on 13 carries compared to 23 yards to the left on nine carries.

For Cincinnati last week, Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict were targeted repeatedly by Dallas’ powerful offensive line. Combined, they managed only four stops in 54 snaps (per ProFootballFocus.com). Burfict was only playing his second game of the season and is usually one of the better run stuffers in the league. Dallas was able to get their blockers to the second level and push the linebacker away from the  point of attack most of the game–that signals a failure on the defensive line.

Domata Peko is a space-eater on defense in the middle of the defensive line but last week Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, and Carlos Dunlap were not holding their own in the running game. Part of that is due to Dallas’ offensive line, but the Jets in week one and Pittsburgh (without Le’veon Bell) gashed the Bengals’ front seven in the running game. They improved versus Denver and Miami, but the same troubling in ability to set the edge and maintain gap coverage reared back up in Dallas.

New England is not likely to run much against Cincinnati unless they leap out to a lead and want to control the game in the second half. Cincinnati will be fortunate not to be bullied by the New England offensive line like last week. Left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Joe Thuney struggled in run blocking last week after a consistent start to the season. and both will need to improve on Sunday.

The Bengals’ struggles on defense include stopping the run and there is little reason to expect those struggles to end this week. If the Patriots jump out to an early lead at home, expect the running game to wear down the Bengals defense in the second half.