During our preview mania session on Saturday, we asked five questions about the Bengals heading into week five against the New England Patriots. Let's answer those queries.
How will the Bengals respond after the horrifying loss to the Cleveland Browns?
Quite well, actually.
Though the defense was the catalyst with an assist from special teams (and the weather), the offense did just enough not to lose the game. In reality, the Bengals appear to be simplifying things on offense with more reliance on the running game and extremely conservative approach.
With 0:57 remaining in the first half, the Bengals have first-and-ten from their own seven-yard line. The Bengals called BenJarvus Green-Ellis' number three times to milk the clock and force New England to use their timeouts. No passes attempted to generate a first down. The Bengals applied the same approach with 2:32 remaining in the game, leading 13-6. From their own nine-yard line, the Bengals called Green-Ellis three times again, forcing New England to use two of their three timeouts. No passes attempted.
What the Bengals learned against Cleveland: Make things simple on offense, be more conservative with the play-calling and let the defense raise hell. So far, so good.
Can Cincinnati's depleted secondary defend against New England's depleted passing game?
In a way, they did.
Though most of the credit should be applied to Cincinnati's pass rush, making Tom Brady uncomfortable in the pocket, several of the team's sacks could be identified as coverage sacks. Terence Newman knocked down a deep pass down the right sidelines to Aaron Dobson near the goalline, and we've documented Adam Jones' fourth quarter production more than enough. Chris Crocker also had his best game of the season (out of two games) and a nomination for player of the game.
Will Cincinnati focus on getting the running game going?
Yes. And we believe that this is two-fold. One, the Patriots were missing Vince Wilfork in the middle, allowing the Bengals to drive more runs up the gut. Two, there might be an approach to simplify things for Dalton on offense and rely more on the offense.
At the end of the day, the Bengals finished with a season-high 162 yards rushing on 39 attempts (also a season-high). BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard combined for 129 yards on 31 attempts.
Have the Bengals fixed their turnover issue?
During Cincinnati's third possession of the game, the offense moved the ball from their own 19-yard line to New England's nine on seven plays. During the eighth, Dalton rolled out to the right (which he didn't need to do) and threw across his body where Brandon Spikes stepped in front of Tyler Eifert for the interception. There was a momentary "heated exchange" between Dalton and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden as the quarterback came off the field.
With 3:34 remaining in the game and a 13-6 lead, Giovani Bernard fumbled the football at midfield. Neither turnover led to points for New England.
Will the Bengals passing offense use greater distribution?
For the most part, it was better. A.J. Green predictably led the offense with eight targets, but Tyler Eifert had seven and Gresham added four. Jones and Sanu had two each and Giovani Bernard was the target on three.