Make Tom Brady uncomfortable in the pocket.
Easier said than done, right?
But when Brady is under pressure, he morphs from a Hall of Fame quarterback to someone that the Jacksonville Jaguars may think twice about acquiring. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady has been under pressure in 48 drop backs this year, taking six sacks, while only completing 50 percent of his throws. He's yet to throw a touchdown under pressure and his passer rating is an anemic 69.2.
This works only if the Bengals defensive pass rush can swim upstream against New England's offensive line. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer haven't allowed a quarterback sack this season, so Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry (assuming Michael Johnson fails to pass concussion protocols before kickoff) will have their work cutout for them. In truth, Cincinnati will need the pass rush with three cornerbacks out and Reggie Nelson only now recovering from a hamstring injury from two weeks ago. Additionally, the secondary needs to be more aggressive on the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing for New England's route-runners.
Enter big Geno Atkins.
"Since the 2008 season, Brady has completed 33 percent of his passes on those plays with one touchdown and two interceptions (43.6 passer rating) on 64 drop-backs when facing pressure from center," writes Nick Underhill with MassLive.com. "He was sacked on 14.1 percent of those plays."
Karen Guregian with the Boston Herald emphasizes that Atkins could have one of the biggest impacts on Sunday.
Geno Atkins vs. either guard Logan Mankins or Dan Connolly is a big matchup. Atkins is a beast. They've been talking about him all week, but I think the whole Bengals line is a beast. In the past the Patriots line has had a little bit of trouble with the big, physical fronts such as the one the Bengals possess.
Balance with the run... and be effective.
We can't possibly drive this point home enough this year.
When the Bengals utilize a balanced approach and abandon the Andy Dalton throws-every-down philosophy, the Bengals offense is effective. It's basically the difference between quick, high-potent scoring (make big plays every possession), or the slow burn of sustained possessions. Unfortunately the former has led to turnovers and quick possessions that result in three and out. Against someone like Tom Brady, the best defense might be keeping him off the field while wearing down New England's defense.
Yet, balancing the team's offensive play-calling is useless if they're not effective on the ground.
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.
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.
Find a way to fix the problems between Andy Dalton and A.J. Green
A.J. Green is running the wrong routes and Andy Dalton is wildly off-target on passes to his star wide receiver. This is the quarter-season summary for the Bengals offense and it's been disappointing (if not a bit misleading). For those of you looking for the status quo, then you're relatively satisfied (because this was relatively the same thing that we saw last year). If you're looking for growth, then you're expecting more.
Now, it would be nice if the team followed a blue-print for balanced distribution among their other receivers and tight ends, but that's unrealistic so why fight it anymore. Regardless, the more Green and Dalton falter on Sunday, the more opportunities that New England will have to overcome their own personnel issues with inexperience at wide receiver.
The issues between Dalton and Green were showcased last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, when Green ran a go-route while Dalton under-threw the pass on a curl/hook. Green's frustrated body language was visible and it's clear that these two just aren't on the same page right now.
When they finally hook up, it's the most beautiful thing in football.
No more turnovers.
OK, the not-turning-the-ball over part is probably not on the revolutionary football thoughts checklist. However, the Bengals have turned the ball over (specifically, fumbles and interceptions) multiple times in 19 games dating back to '11. They're 9-10 in those games.
Yet, it's not just the act of turning the ball over; it's the 197 points scored over the past two-plus seasons.
Cincinnati has lost five fumbles and thrown five interceptions this year, leading to 27 points, including 14 against the Bears in a game that Cincinnati lost by three points. In their best impression of self-destruction against the Packers, the Bengals turned it over four times with 13 points allowed off those turnover. Fortunately, the Packers did their own self-destruction, which ended with a game-winning Terence Newman fumble return for a touchdown.
Even if turnovers do not lead to points for the opposition, at the very least it kills drives. Such as a third quarter fumble at midfield against the Browns or an interception on an eight-play drive at Chicago's 38-yard line.
We know that Cincinnati will have their struggles (perhaps they'll go a quarter or two without a first down). At the very least, prevent unscheduled and additional possessions for the Patriots by eliminating turnovers.
Your turn. Add more keys.