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.