Week 6 is already here and the Bengals (2-3) go northeast to take on the Patriots (4-1) and Tom Brady on his revenge tour. Many fans believe this is a lost game for Cincinnati, and indeed New England looked scary against the Browns last Sunday.
In Brady’s first game back at home in Foxboro, the Bengals will need to be on their A game on offense, defense and special teams and also pray that their communications don’t break down in order to come away as winners. Patriots’ head coach and Sith Master, Bill Belichick is known to gameplan beautifully, and he will probably try to take away Cincy’s best player, A.J. Green.
With that said, here’s a list of Patriots key players outside of Brady and Rob Gronkowski that you should keep an eye on.
Martellus Bennett, tight end:
Remember how good New England’s offense was with Aaron Hernández and Gronkowski? Now Brady has another big, athletic and sure-handed target down the seams and he’s enjoying it. Bennett, free of Jay Cutler at last, had a superb game against the Browns in Week 5, and with Gronkowski commanding a lot of attention from Cincinnati’s defense, he could be poised for another huge performance.
The Bengals have concerns at the linebacker position and their safeties are struggling in coverage. It is safe to presume Belichick will want to attack there. In 2014 the Pats’ tight ends, Gronk and Tim Wright combined for 11 catches, 185 receiving yards and a touchdown against Cincy. Bennett is way better than Wright.
Malcom Brown, defensive tackle:
The Patriots play a lot of multiple fronts and have versatile defenders all along the line, but 2015 first-round pick, Malcom Brown is emerging as one of the stars for the team. The 6-2 tackle has a great combination of size and athleticism to play three downs, and notched his two first sacks of the season against Cleveland.
Brown could take advantage of a Bengals’ offensive line that has struggled mightly to start the season. Cincinnati couldn’t run the football against the Cowboys and also let their weak pass rush get to Andy Dalton too many times, so it’s concerning to think what the more talented Patriots front seven could do on Sunday.
Dont’a Hightower, inside linebacker:
The toughest player in New England, Hightower might not be the most talented at the position, but he sets the tone for the defense. He is mighty good against the run and also a extremely good pass rusher. Alongside fellow linebacker Jamie Collins they man the middle of the field.
Hightower’s only concern is injuries, as he’s been often sidelined and even played the 2014 Super Bowl with a torn labrum. He returned last week after missing two games with a partial tear in his meniscus.
If the Bengals want to have any success running the football they’ll need to beat Hightower.
Julian Edelman, wide receiver:
New England’s offense is very dynamic, often sharing the targets among many receivers. Edelman - like Gronk - is a mainstay, though, and with Brady back you can expect him to be targeted plenty. We’ve already talked about how the Bengals have a hole underneath, and as the Cowboys showed last Sunday, shifty, sure-handed slot receivers can take advantage.
Edelman is way better than Cole Beasley, and there is no way Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby or Shawn Williams can cover him consistently. If Cincy somehow takes away both Gronk and Bennett, Edelman could see a jump in production. With Brady back they can be BFFs again.
Devin McCourty, free safety:
Ever since the Texans stopped the Bengals offense on Monday Night Football last season, you have to wonder why every team doesn't do the same against Cincy: double Green with your number two cornerback and a safety and dare them to beat your top back one-on-one.
The Pats have a pretty good cornerback in Malcolm Butler and another above-average one in Logan Ryan, but the key in their secondary is McCourty. If he’s able to keep Dalton away from Green, the Bengals will have to rely on their secondary weapons, something that hasn’t paid off yet this season.