W2W4: New England Patriots (4-1) vs Cincinnati Bengals (2-3)
By Hal Bent
New England Patriots Passing Defense vs Cincinnati Bengals Passing Offense
Andy Dalton is a quarterback who is often overlooked due to his post-season struggles. However, he has good size and strength, is intelligent, and can make all the throws necessary. The Bengals’ passing offense has been their strength in their first season under offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. Zampese has been quarterbacks coach in Cincinnati since 2003.
Former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor replaced Zampese as quarterback coach this year and he has had Dalton playing some of his best football. Dalton is averaging 300.6 yards passing per game in 2016 after averaging just 250 yards passing per game last year. The Bengals are playing without their dynamic tight end Tyler Eifert due to a back injury in 2016 and lost Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones both in free agency.
As long as the Bengals have wide receiver A.J. Green they should be fine on offense. Green already has 36 receptions for 518 yards in five games. Behind Green, the Bengals are using former Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd. Tight end C.J. Uzomah has shown some promise but he is questionable with an ankle injury. Out of the backfield, running back Giovani Bernard can be a game-changer with his ability to make any catch into a big play.
Slowing the passing game of the Bengals starts with trying to contain A.J. Green. The Patriots will likely double-cover Green with Malcolm Butler and a safety. Logan Ryan should cover LaFell on the outside. Whoever is tapped as the third cornerback is anyone’s guess: Justin Coleman has been inconsistent, Cyrus Jones hurt his playing time chances getting ejected last week, and Jonathan Jones may have the inside track after playing 32 defensive snaps last week.
Without Eifert active, safety Patrick Chung should have less pressure in coverage. A banged-up Uzomah or Ryan Hewitt or Tyler Kroft is just not comparable. Eifert being inactive lessens the impact of having to have Jamie Collins cover a Pro Bowl caliber tight end. Chung should be able to focus on helping on slowing the running backs coming out of the backfield in the passing game.
New England also needs to pressure Dalton to force him into mistakes. The Bengals have a veteran offensive line anchored by tackles Andrew Whitworth and Cedric Ogbuehi which should be a strength. Instead, the unit has been a liability. Ogbuehi red-shirted last year and is struggling this season. With the loss of longtime right tackle Andre Smith to the Vikings, teams are loading up on that side to get pressure on Dalton.
The interior line can be solid in pass protection as well but center Russell Bodine is being manhandled inside. Bodine is flanked by Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler who have been just alright in pass blocking so far in 2016. Dalton has struggled without having time to throw and the Patriots can exploit this.
Look for New England to move Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long inside and outside to try and take advantage of the gaps in protection. Despite the heavy pressure, Dalton has been fortunate to have A.J. Green on the other end of his passes as he has made up for negative plays in the passing and rushing game.
New England will be trying to limit A.J. Green as much as possible (he is a receiver who can be slowed by double-teams, not stopped). However, with the ability to pick apart a defense when not under pressure, Dalton should be able to take advantage of some of the pass rush and coverage deficiencies the Patriots have displayed thus far in 2016.