A frozen tundra encapsulates the country as the Cincinnati Bengals prepare to face the New England Patriots in perpetually cold Foxborough. MA. You better believe this game will reflect the environment.
The kings of second-half adjustments did it again last week against the Patriots’ former quarterback, but falling behind early to Bill Belichick’s current team is a dangerous proposition considering the strengths of his roster. The defense remains stingy on all levels like they’ve been for two decades, and they’ve had equal responsibility putting points on the board as their offensive counterparts. At the very least, the offense can still run it down your throat and bleed the clock out beyond saving.
There’s nothing flashy about this week. The trenches will carry heavy weight in the result of the game. A few matchups come to mind when diving deeper.
Jonah Williams vs. Josh Uche
Credit where credit is due. Williams has been one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in football during the Bengals’ six-game win streak. Excluding Week 14 vs. the Cleveland Browns, he’s allowed just seven pressures in over 200 pass blocking snaps. Ohio’s other team has remained a thorn in his side since coming into the league, but he’s really been a top-notch left tackle over the past two months. This week is yet another test of how he handles elite competition.
The Patriots are sending edge defender Matt Judon to the Pro Bowl Games, but there’s an argument his teammate on the other side of the formation has been even better this year. Uche has completely broken out as a pass-rusher in his third season. Many believed the former Michigan Wolverine would have to become a linebacker in the NFL after measuring in at 6-1 during the 2020 offseason. Instead, Uche has eclipsed the 10-sack mark and is Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest graded edge defender with an impressive 22.3% win rate.
Uche will rush against Williams for the majority of this game, but Bill Belichick is always liable to switch things up.
B.J. Hill vs. Michael Onwenu
Williams isn’t the only one on a heater since Week 9. Hill has been as stout as they come for 3-techniques, recording 11 defense stops and continuing his season-long run of not missing any tackles. Cincinnati has enjoyed a full rotation at defensive tackle since Josh Tupou returned earlier this month, making Hill’s job and role more manageable.
Stopping the run is priority No. 1 when facing New England. The interior of their offensive line remains the strength of the unit, despite trading Shaq Mason during the offseason. Onwenu has transitioned seamlessly to right guard after spending his first two seasons moving all across the line. He’s on his way to being another gem the team has developed at offensive line. Hill and the Bengals’ interior defensive line will have their hands full.
Logan Wilson vs. Rhamondre Stevenson
There’s not much creativity to this Patriots offense. A career defensive coach is calling the plays, after all.
Screens are a very prevalent call from
defensive offensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The 60 receptions Stevenson has on the season does enough to tell the story. He has 67 more yards after the catch than just yards. What’s even crazier is his Average Depth of Target: A whopping -0.6 yards.
There won’t be much need for Wilson and Co. to take deep drops into coverage this week. His goal will to be tracking the ball behind the line, whether Stevenson is leaking out to the flats, or behind his convoy of blockers.
Oh, and Stevenson does run the ball, very effectively I might add. He’s averaging nearly four yards per carry...after contact. His 13 runs of 15 yards or more is seventh in the league.