Bengals vs. Patriots: Five Questions Heading Into Sunday

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals really need a win against the New England Patriots to rebuild their overall confidence, but there are questions on whether they can do that.

How will the Bengals respond after horrifying Browns loss?

The defensive effort last week wasn't bad, but with the Browns converting 50 percent of their third downs without a forced turnover, it certainly wasn't clutch. Yet, Cincinnati held Cleveland to 17 points and the Bengals offense was terrible.

It was the lowest point-total since the Bengals were shutout during the regular season finale in 2009 against the New York Jets (when most of the first-teamers were pulled by half time).

Can Cincinnai's depleted secondary defend against New England's depleted passing game?

Currently both sides are dealing with own their walking wounded. Danny Amendola feels good, but is questionable with a groin that he injured four weeks ago. Rob Gronkowski is close, but according to reports, he's not expected to play. Matt Slater is doubtful. Aaron Dobson (neck) and Kenbrell Thompkins (shoulder) are questionable, but should play. New England signed Austin Collin in response to those injuries.

Cincinnati will be defending New England's receivers with their own issues in the secondary. Worst case scenario has Leon Hall, Brandon Ghee, and Dre Kirkpatrick sitting, leaving Terence Newman, Adam Jones, and Chris Lewis-Harris as the only healthy cornerbacks. As a result, Chris Crocker and Taylor Mays, two safeties with some experience at nickel, could be covering the slot.

Will Cincinnati focus on getting the running game going?

Last year, the Bengals ran the football less than 25 times in only six games, winning twice (Pittsburgh, Baltimore). And during games that they ran 30 times or more, Cincinnati was an undefeated 5-0. In fact, the Bengals have an eight-game winning streak when running the football that many times, last losing to the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 20, 2011.

Unfortunately, the same trend is developing this year. Cincinnati has run the football more than 25 times once (the win against Pittsburgh). However, the Bengals ineffective rushing offense isn't so much about how much they run, rather the effectiveness. Looking at the Bengals rushing offense in the first four games over the last six years, this year's iteration is one of the worst -- which includes that god-awful 2008 season which began the season with Chris Perry as the team's feature back.

SEASON RUSHES YARDS AVG. TD
2013 99 334 3.4 4
2012 115 440 3.8 3
2011 105 461 4.4 2
2010 111 368 3.3 2
2009 110 491 4.5 3
2008 95 329 3.5 2

BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the biggest culprit, averaging 2.7 yards/rush this season on 52 carries. The lack of production has forced the Bengals to use Giovani Bernard with greater frequency. In the past two games, Bernard has run the football 20 times for 87 yards rushing. Green-Ellis has generated only 42 yards on 16 carries. Who makes the most sense to ignite the running game this year? That was a rhetorical question.

Have the Bengals fixed their turnover issues?

Cincinnati's offense has turned the ball over nine times this year, and the four teams (Vikings, Giants, Jets, Steelers) with more turnovers are a combined 3-13. The four interceptions are one thing are a concern, but the Bengals are on pace to lose 20 fumbles and currently the Steelers (0-4) and Giants (0-4) are the only teams with more.

Granted three of Cincinnati's five fumbles were against the Green Bay Packers, but the Bengals have committed multiple turnovers against the Bears and Browns as well -- both losses.

Will the Bengals passing offense use greater distribution?

A.J. Green is Andy Dalton's favorite target. Not totally unbelievable considering that Green is one of the more athletically gifted players in the NFL. But it makes things difficult when Dalton's loving-eyes stare down Green's routes. Of Dalton's 148 attempted passes, 33.8 percent have targeted Green whereas the other first-team receivers (Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu) have been targeted a combined 26.4 percent for only 23 receptions and 226 yards receiving.

And the most effective group on the Bengals offense is tight end, with Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert combining for 30 receptions for 340 yards receiving. They've been targeted a combined 41 times (only two passes more than Green on his own).

There's no question that you get the football to your best player. But when communication is disrupted with a quarterback failing to distribute the football (or blame the play-calling if you want), it tends to slow up an offense that was projected as fairly explosive.

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