Patriots-Bengals Preview/Review: New England wins war of attrition
PREVIEW: Here we have two teams at opposite ends of the food chain. The 10-3 Patriots and the 1-12 Bengals. Unfortunately, they have one thing in common. Neither one scores much. So this game has the potential to look like a Patriots-Bengals game from the not-so-distant past. Not the “On to Cincinnati” game people remember from 2014, but the ugly slog in the rain a year earlier when the Patriots lost 13-6 at Cincy. So many elements are the same now for the Patriots offense — limited talent at wideout and a lack of protection up front. Because of the Patriots offensive struggles, what seemed for months like a simple walkover game has the potential to be uncomfortably competitive.
REVIEW: Both teams scored honest-to-goodness, drive-the-field touchdowns on their first drives. After that, the game devolved into a mistake-filled war of attrition. The Patriots' ensuing drives ended punt, downs, field goal, punt, field goal — the last coming five seconds before the half when the Bengals muffed a punt. The second half went touchdown, punt, punt, touchdown, punt. Cincy went touchdown, field goal, downs, punt, interception, interception, punt, interception. What else do you need to know? A muffed punt, two picks to start the second half, hello 1-13.
When the Patriots Ran
PREVIEW: Hoping the Patriots get their all-important run game working at a somewhat competent level this week? It’s on them because the Bengals won’t help them. Down in, down out, the Bengals front-seven anchored by Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap is a tough group to run against. The Patriots' labors in running the ball goes to personnel in front of the running back, not the guy with the ball. The lack of tight end presence, the absence of a fullback, the subpar offensive line performance because of injury or just plain operator error, it’s been an issue all season. Advantage: Bengals
REVIEW: The first drive was a balanced thing of beauty and showed the effectiveness of the running game when they catch a team leaning — 8 and 12 yard gains for Michel, then a 10-yard sweep by N’Keal Harry to get to the Cincy 23. The next drive showed the flip side. A 2-yard gain by Michel on the first play of the next series got the Pats behind the sticks. They went three-and-out. On their other scoring drive in the first half, a 12-yard run by Michel was the key. There are not enough consistent 4-to-6-yard gains in their offense. Instead it’s 1, 2, 12. Either way, the Patriots carried 32 times for 175 yards. Michel had 19 for 89. Rex Burkhead had six for 53 including a 33-yard score. The jet sweep is going to be a bigger component of the offense in the coming weeks because Harry is running it well. Advantage: Patriots
When the Patriots Passed
PREVIEW: Only once in their past six games have the Patriots been over 40 percent on third-down conversions. The Patriots need a healthy Mohamed Sanu desperately. If he can be a factor — and he hasn’t been in three weeks, then there could be a trickle-down effect. Until then, Brady will be reduced to ducking, running and trying to deliver to raw receivers who he doesn’t yet have extreme faith in. In their past three games, Cincy has allowed 203, 239 and 192 yards passing and kept quarterbacks under 50 percent completions in two of three. Advantage: Bengals
REVIEW: Brady’s first throw of the game sailed high to Mohamed Sanu, kicking off a day in which Brady and the Patriots' trade deadline acquisition couldn’t get hooked up. Sanu caught two passes for 13 yards. He was targeted eight times. That initial pass and a fourth-down throw that came in very hot were missed connections. An end zone throw after the Patriots recovered a muffed punt when Sanu got behind his man but Brady put too much heat and not enough arc onto the throw sailed past Sanu’s reach as well. A reduced Julian Edelman (2 catches, 9 yards) meant someone had to step forward and that was Harry with support from Matt LaCosse and James White. Overall, the protection for Brady was still spotty and the passing game was nothing that would make any defensive coordinator sweat. Advantage: Bengals
When the Bengals Ran
PREVIEW: They don’t make a lot of progress on the ground. Joe Mixon, their main back, is averaging 3.8 per carry (789 yards on 206 carries) and has three rushing touchdowns. He and Andy Dalton account for all of the Bengals rushing touchdowns this season so — as you might imagine — they are horrible in the red zone. Gio Bernard is the change-up back. He’s averaging 3.2 per carry. The Patriots have been solid against the run the past two games. With Dalton being no threat to run the ball — unlike all of the quarterbacks the Patriots have faced their past five games — Cincy is easier to defend and will be muffled. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: The Patriots allowed 164 yards on 32 carries and Joe Mixon had 136 on 25. He broke an astonishing number of tackles, especially at the second level. It was not an auspicious day for the Patriots run defense after a couple of weeks in a row of being fine. The odd thing is, it’s not the front, necessarily, and it’s not that they are getting gashed. They are flat out missing tackles. Advantage: Bengals
When the Bengals Passed
PREVIEW: After being benched, Dalton has been given the reins to the offense once again and while the Bengals passing game has rebounded a bit, it’s still going to be very, very tough sledding for them to get anything on the Patriots secondary. Tyler Boyd is having a nice season with 73 catches for 833 yards and three scores. He’s a skinny dude — 6-2, 185 — and doesn’t present the same level challenge as the other No. 1s the Patriots have seen recently. Tyler Eifert is an effective if brittle tight end in the passing game. Mixon and Bernard are utilized in the passing game. I’ll be fairly surprised if Cincy gets more than 200 yards passing. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: Aside from the touchdown throw to cap the Bengals first drive which came on Jonathan Jones, the Bengals needed some outstanding catches to win their matchups and too often, they couldn’t. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was adamant that the four picks thrown by Andy Dalton weren’t on him as much as they were on the Cincy receivers for not winning individual matchups often enough and forcing Dalton to throw into harm’s way. Advantage: Patriots
PREVIEW: The Bengals special teams' strengths are kickoff returns (26.9 per return) and coverage (19.7 per return). Country star/kicker Randy Bullock is 7-of-11 outside 40 yards this season. Punter Kevin Huber has dropped 26 of his 61 punts inside the opponent’s 20. They are solid in punt coverage, unimposing on returns. The Patriots have pretty much put up the white flag on returning punts this season. They’ve returned seven punts in their past eight games, one in their past three. Nick Folk has been a steady replacement so far. Rookie Jake Bailey continues to have a terrific year with his top-tier coverage guys Nate Ebner, Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel. The Patriots blocked another punt last week, their fourth of the year. The Bengals haven’t had a punt blocked. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: Another big play in punt coverage. Between downed punts, punt blocks and forced mistakes on returns, the punt coverage unit has been an actual force in point-production for the Patriots in 2019. Nick Folk should get the 12th player award or something. He’s been steady as hell for this team since the kicker shuffle began. The Patriots punt return plan? Still an enigma. Advantage: Patriots
PREVIEW: Alex Kemp’s crew has this game. The second-year referee has only had one Patriots game since he’s been in charge of a crew and that was last September when the Patriots played at Miami. His crew has had modest penalty numbers for the most part in recent weeks. In each of his crew’s first four games this season, one of the teams got double-digit flags. Since then, only once has a team been flagged 10 or more times (Carolina, November 24).
REVIEW: Nothing distastrous from the stripes. A nice departure from what’s become the norm. The Patriots had four penalties for 30 yards. The Bengals had five for 25.
The Line & Prediction
PREVIEW: The Patriots are favored by 10 and the total is 41. Ten out of the Patriots' 13 games this season have gone under. New England’s failed to cover in four of their last five games. I’m 6-6 against the spread, 9-3-1 vs. the total.
Patriots 19, Bengals 6
REVIEW: The Patriots covered easily and the game went well over the total. Puts me 7-6 against the spread and 9-4-1 against the total.
Patriots 34, Bengals 13
- Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13
- Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0
- Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6
- Week 4: Patriots 19, Bills 13
- Week 5: Patriots 30, Redskins 13
- Week 6: Patriots 16, Giants 3
- Week 7: Patriots 16, Jets 13
- Week 8: Patriots 27, Browns 10
- Week 9: Patriots 23, Ravens 13
- Week 10: Patriots 26, Eagles 13
- Week 11: Cowboys 23, Patriots 16
- Week 12: Patriots 24, Texans 23
- Week 13: Chiefs 27, Patriots 20
- Week 14: Patriots 19, Bengals 6