After a rough loss on Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys, a game where nothing encouraging seemed to materialize until it was too late, the Bengals are on to New England. Due to the disappointing 2-3 start to the season, a win over the Patriots will only return the Bengals to a .500 record. But, it would also be their first win over an opponent with more than one win after Week 5. If the Bengals were able to pull off a victory in Week 6, it would provide a lot of confidence going forward for a team that needs to start pulling it together soon if they want a real chance to make a playoff push in the second half of the season.
It won’t be a simple task as the Patriots are currently boasting the NFL’s seventh ranked offense (377.2 yards per game), and 12th ranked defense (345.0 yards allowed per game). But, a challenge like this is exactly what the Bengals need right now. If they can’t rise to the challenge, they will sink even further into a losing record that will be hard to escape from. But, if they win, it could the season and offer plenty of momentum going forward.
However, if the Bengals are going to pull it off, they will need to be prepared. Defeating the New England Patriots with a well rested and motivated Tom Brady is not going to be an easy task. If the Bengals can take full advantage of these key matchups, the prospect of a win becomes much easier.
C David Andrews vs DT Geno Atkins
This matchup will be interestingly to say the least. Patriots center David Andrews is one of New England’s biggest undrafted success stories of the past two years. This is due to his solid play at center while starter Bryan Stork was injured in 2015 and his ability to take Stork’s spot on the team for good this offseason.
Geno Atkins, on the other hand, is an established veteran who has proven to be one of the Bengals’ best defensive weapons so far this season. In fact, despite the fact that his stats look relatively average among defensive linemen (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks), he has ranked among the Bengals’ top five graded defensive players by Pro Football Focus every week except for last week against the Dallas Cowboys.
We all know what Atkins can do when he is on his ‘A’ game, as evidenced by his performance in Week 4 against the Miami Dolphins. Atkins dominated at the line, recording numerous pressures and even taking down Tannehill by himself once and with some help a second time.
If Andrews is not careful, one of the NFL’s elite defensive tackles (cough, Atkins) could take advantage of his matchup against a relatively inexperienced second year player. In this scenario, Tom Brady would have a nightmare of a game.
Patriots’ pass rush vs Bengals offensive line
Despite most members of the Bengals’ offensive line consistently receiving praise for their efforts this year, they have done a terrible job of protecting quarterback Andy Dalton in passing situations this year. In fact, the Bengals rank second worst so far in sacks allowed (17). The Bengals’ offensive line is on track to give up the most sacks in Bengals history. Consider this, Dalton was sacked only 20 times last season, in 12 and 1⁄4 games.
That’s a big problem for Dalton who, according to Pro Football Focus, sees his quarterback rating drop from the 90-110 range when protected well to around 40-70 when blitzed or pressured. Granted, there have been games where he has played well in the face of blitzes and pressures, but the Bengals can’t take that chance against an elite team like the New England Patriots.
Luckily, the Bengals’ offensive line is matched up against a Patriots defensive line that ranks 22nd in sacks this year (seven). The only team the Bengals have faced this year who have compiled that many sacks or less is the Pittsburgh Steelers (eight), who only brought Dalton down once on the day. Granted, the Bengals still lost, but that was primarily due to the inability to get anything going on the ground, or stop the Steelers on the ground.
TE Rob Gronkowski vs Bengals pass coverage
As arguably the NFL’s best tight end, Rob Gronkowski is going to make plays on Sunday. We are just going to have to accept that. He got off to a slow start this season due to some injury problems, but a huge five-catch, 109 yard game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4 showed that he is getting back to the elite player we all know he can be.
Therefore, it should go without saying that the Bengals’ primary defensive focus on Sunday should be to slow Gronkowski down. They aren’t going to stop him, but letting him run wild could result in huge problem for the Bengals. He is a big, easy target for Tom Brady who recorded 11 receiving touchdowns last year (seventh most in the NFL). Granted. he has yet to find his way to the endzone this year. But, if the Bengals give him a chance, he will complete big, chunk plays and extend drives.
The Bengals have the 11th worst ranking in passing yards allowed per attempt (7.5). But, they have also allowed wide receivers to do most of that damage. Against tight ends, the Bengals rank seventh best in yards allowed this season (150). They have been average in the endzone, allowing three touchdowns to tight ends in 2016. But, as a whole they have been better than most teams against tight ends.
The Bengals not allowing much production from tight ends has partially been due to their poor performance against wide receivers. But, it also has a lot to do with the fact that the Bengals are boasting a linebacker corps that has been effective in pass coverage. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Vincent Rey and Karlos Dansby are the No. 1 and No. 9 linebackers (who have played at least 50 percent of the team’s snaps) in pass coverage, respectively.
It could be tough for the Bengals to keep in check a player like Gronkowski, who shredded them for 100 yards and a touchdown on six receptions last time the two teams met in 2014. But, if there’s one thing the Bengals’ defense does well this year, it’s covering tight ends. If they can pull it off, they will have a much better chance of winning due to this key matchup.