Curran's Preview Review

Curran's Preview Review
October 6, 2013, 7:30 pm
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FOXBORO – Well, the Patriots aren’t going undefeated. They lose 13-6 in Cincinnati. They are 4-1. Why? An undermanned offense that the Bengals solved early and kept off-key the rest of the way. A defense that was outstanding until the Bengals faced a few “must have” plays and converted them. Luck that broke the Patriots way in the first few weeks turning its back on them in Cincy.
 
 
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Excellent test this week for the New England offense with a very talented Bengals team that hasn’t quite played to its defensive capability (24 and 30 points allowed to Bears and Packers; 17 in a loss to Cleveland last week). The Patriots were able to assert themselves on the ground last week against Atlanta. The Bengals have been tough against the run, allowing just 46 yards on 15 carries last week to Willis McGahee. The week before, in the win over Green Bay, the Bengals harassed Aaron Rodgers into a two-pick, four-sack game at Cincy. So when they’re going well, they can be a big problem. The Patriots have a shot at getting both Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski back. Amendola’s the more likely, it seems, at this point. If the Patriots can establish themselves on the ground with Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount, then they’ll set up play-action for Tom Brady who’s done an excellent job protecting the football this year. He’ll need to do the same Sunday and he’ll need to do it with a banged-up wideout group. Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson are both questionable as well with shoulder and neck injuries. The Patriots catch a break with Michael Johnson being listed as questionable and missing  a lot of practice this week. Domata Peko and the brilliant Geno Atkins are the defensive tackles. The Bengals secondary has some talent with Reggie Nelson, Pacman Jones, Terrence Newman and Leon Hall, though Hall and Kirkpatrick are both dinged. This will come down to how effectively the Patriots run it.
 
The Bengals figured early on that, to get the Patriots offense off its spot, it needed to get upfield with its front-seven. The Patriots have dealt with good fronts before but against Cincy, they didn’t respond. Sacks on the first two drives for Cincy (both seemingly on Nate Solder) and two more at critical junctures (third-and-9 at the Cincy 42 early in the second half; third-and-10 at Bengals 44 with 3:40 left) were indicators of the heat Brady faced. That pressure, coupled with the outstanding job by the Bengals secondary and no intermediate tight end threat to challenge the middle of the field was a bad recipe. Brady wasn’t going to put the ball in spots where it was up for grabs so he was putting receivers in tough conversion spots. There were some missed throws (behind Michael Hoomanawanui), some drops (two by Danny Amendola, two by Bolden, one by Edelman) and the Bengals did an overall adequate job against the Patriots running game. The Patriots carried 18 times for 82 yards but the killer fumble by Blount when the Patriots were about to tack on at least three was a nut punch. So too was going 1 for 12 on third down. The Bengals are very good defensively. As we pointed out in the preview, they bothered the hell out of Aaron Rodgers in the win over Green Bay and Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, they’ve done better against the Super Bowl winners they’ve faced that they did against Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer. Go figure.
 
 
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
Andy Dalton has been a very uneven performer this season. Last week, he was no good – 23 for 42 and a pick with two sacks against Cleveland. Against Green Bay he was 20 for 28 with two TDs and a pick. The Patriots, for the first time this season, brought some extra pressure against the Falcons. The design wasn’t to get sacks as much as it was to force Matt Ryan to get the ball out more quickly. Expect the same approach this week. Dalton tries to pound the ball to A.J. Green, with good reason. Green is talented. But the 50 attempts his way have resulted in just 26 receptions. Look for the Patriots to put a safety over the top of Green all game and make Dalton have to go elsewhere or force it in. In the first game without Vince Wilfork, anticipate the Bengals testing the middle. As nice a player as BenJarvus Green-Ellis was at one point, he too often goes down on first contact and his YPC shows that – 2.7 on 52 carries.
 
Dalton was just keeping his hands at 10 and 2 for the Bengals on Sunday and he almost messed that up too. His pick inside the Patriots 10-yard line in the first half was egregious. But he also answered the bell when the Bengals faced one of their most important plays of the game. The third-and-15 throw  from his own 2 that went for 28 yards down the right sideline to Marvin Jones was not just outstanding in execution but also in getting the ball snapped when the Patriots were unsettled. That sent Cincy on a 14-play touchdown drive that had three third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion. As expected the Bengals challenged the middle of the Patriots defensive line with no Vince Wilfork. They had their moments but overall, the play of Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly was terrific. Really, the entire front-seven was really good. And Aqib Talib had another really good game limiting AJ Green to 5 catches and 61 yards. The spot the Pats got exploited was the tight ends. With the linebackers having so much run responsibility (and not being the best cover guys to begin with) Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert had nine catches for 77 yards on the Pats. Jimmy Graham comes next. Shudder to think.
 
THE KICKING GAME
Old friend Brandon Tate handles the Bengals return chores. He’s averaging 7 yards on punt returns and 23.5 on KOR. Pedestrian. Mike Nugent is 4 for 5 on field goals, his only miss coming from outside 50 yards. Kevin Huber is the punter and he’s got a solid net of 41.1. For the Patriots, Ryan Allen has been pretty good through his first four games, though his four touchbacks are a little high. Stephen Gostkowski is having a tremendous season on kickoffs and field goals. Kickoff returns continue to lag for the Patriots. Julian Edelman is one of the league’s best punt returners.
 
Nothing doing in the return game because Ryan Allen had a tremendous game punting for the Patriots (five inside the 20, a 42 net). Stephen Gostkowski made both his field goals. Leon Washington came back and brought one kickoff out then got hurt. Devin McCourty took the returning job after that and was much better. Julian Edelman had a 24-yard punt return but also muffed one that he recovered.
 
PATRIOTS INJURY REPORT
OUT: Stevan Ridley, RB. DOUBTFUL: Matt Slater, WR. QUESTIONABLE: Danny Amendola, WR; Brandon Bolden, RB; Aaron Dobson, WR; Rob Gronkowski, TE; Donta Hightower, LB; Jerod Mayo, LB; Kenbrell Thompkins, WR; Sebastian Vollmer, RT; Leon Washington, RB; Tavon Wilson, S; PROBABLE: Kyle Arrington, CB; Will Svitek, OL.
 
All questionable players except for Rob Gronkowski played. The Patriots missed Gronk a lot. Again. They also could have used Stevan Ridley in the red zone. And it continues to be difficult for the team to overcome the loss of Aaron Hernandez (OUT: murder charge).
 
Tommy Kelly hurt his right leg but appears to be ok going forward. Washington hurt his leg and didn’t return. Jerod Mayo and Alfonzo Dennard were hobbled in the second half.
 
BENGALS INJURY REPORT
DOUBTFUL: Leon Hall, CB; Mike Pollak, G QUESTIONABLE: Michael Johnson, DE; Dre Kirkpatrick, PROBABLE: CB; Vontae Burfict, LB; James Harrison, LB; Reggie Nelson, S.
 
No Leon Hall and no Michael Johnson but the Bengals’ defense played outstanding without those two.
 
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
The Patriots dealing with the loss of Vince Wilfork and how the Bengals go about probing that area for weakness. With no signings from outside the organization made this week, the Patriots appear ready to address the absence of their big man with the people in house and, perhaps, by scheme. Expect the Bengals to run between the tackles on first down with Benjarvus Green-Ellis and expect the Patriots to get more snaps for their best run-stopping linebacker Brandon Spikes.
 
Yeah. Pretty much The first four snaps of the game, Cincy rammed it into the middle of the Patriots defense. And the 162 yards gained on 39 carries – 129 on 32 between Green-Ellis and Giovanni Bernard – were evidence of what the Bengals intended to do on Sunday. Run where Vince was.
 

PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
Geno Atkins. Let Bill Belichick tell you why Atkins is a handful: “This guy has some power rushes where he just takes linemen back, those guards back and it just looks like they’re on roller skates. He just walks them, literally, right back into the quarterback. He’s very quick. He can get the edge and work up or up-and-under on the guards. Then when they try to set deep or take those quick moves away from him, he can turn those into power moves and collapse the pocket. He can ruin a game, there’s no question the guy can ruin a game by myself. Every play, you can’t get away from him either. There aren’t many plays you can run where you can say, ‘We don’t really have to block the three-technique.’ You have to block him and he’s a factor in the running game, he’s a factor in the passing game. You try to throw screens and stuff like that, he’s quick and fast, he’ll run those plays down. The guy is a really good player.”
 
Atkins had five tackles including a sack but his impact – and that of the entire Bengals front – was felt early. You could almost hear Belichick saying, “There’s no play where we decided to leave Geno Atkins unblocked so he got a free run at the quarterback” after the first sack when Atkins breezed into a vacancy.
 
BENGALS GOTTA STOP …
Julian Edelman. The NFL’s leading receiver in receptions is going to be a focal point – again – with the number of injured wideouts around the Patriots offense. Edelman was held in check in the first half against Atlanta, then had all seven of his receptions after halftime. Cincy is more talented on the back end of its defense and it’d be smart if the Bengals sic one of their corners on him full-time.
 
The Bengals did a much better job with the extra attention they sent Edelman’s way than the Falcons did a week earlier. The problem was that the Patriots didn’t get the protection necessary on most occasions for Edelman to work clear and get great separation. And if he doesn’t get that, he’s going to have a tough time on contested passes. Edelman wound up with two catches for 35 yards. Pacman Jones caused a drop/breakup in the end zone as well that would have made the score 13-10.
 
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF …
The Patriots offense spends some time under siege. The offensive line did a terrific job on the road last week in Atlanta. They’ll get another big challenge this week against an even better front. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins have 5.5. sacks between them. The Patriots have allowed seven sacks in four games. They allowed no sacks last week. With a better secondary to deal with, it may take more time for the Patriots’ receivers to uncover.
 
I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn before I wrote this. I just figured Cincy would bring the best fastball the Patriots saw defensively. And I felt the secondary would be a pain in the posterior. Nailed it.
 
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“They can rush the quarterback. They have guys at all four spots that can rush and then when they bring the backups in, those guys rush. It’s really unique in that pretty much whoever is in there can get an edge on a guy, can get to the quarterback, force the ball out quickly. Then with [Terence] Newman, Pacman [Adam Jones], Leon [Hall], Reggie Nelson, they have first down draft picks everywhere. [Rey] Maualuga and [Vontaze] Burfict and [James] Harrison, they’re loaded. That’s why they have one of the best defenses in the league.” – Tom Brady on the Bengals defense.

Brady knew what he was getting into when he wheeled into town and the Bengals gave him everything he could have expected, holding him to 18 for 38, 197 yards, four sacks and the game-sealing pick on a ball that slipped from his grip in the downpour.

THAT SUMS IT UP BENGALS STYLE
“He has to continue to develop the ways to move and shake free. That is the constant challenge for a receiver. If you just stay stationary and stay in one spot it is pretty easy for people to take you out of a football game, so we have to create ways to move him around. We’ve got to create chances for him to be one-on-one, and A.J. has to continue to embrace those opportunities and get better with them as time goes on with different ways to move him around.” – Marvin Lewis on wide receiver A.J. Green
 
The Bengals’ game plan went away from Green and the result was a more productive game from him in terms of return on throw investment.
 
THE WINNER IS...
Bengals 21, Patriots 20
 
I hedged my bet (changed my mind) in the TV pregame saying 17-13 Patriots, but there it is.