Injuries, inexperience, up-and-down play and the desire to prove themselves to the public--these are all feelings and experiences that both the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals have had of late. The longtime NFL bullies from the Northeast experienced an embarrassing loss at the hands of the Chiefs on Monday Night Football and people are beginning to question the effectiveness of the Hall of Fame duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and there are smatterings of that with these two franchises. Both head coaches have worked out trade deals, mostly for players that wore their welcome out in Cincinnati, while some other moves were waiver wire cast-offs, no longer coveted by their team. It's safe to assume that there is mutual admiration between Belichick and Marvin Lewis, given the personnel moves over the years.
On Monday, our own Josh Kirkendall gave us three story lines to follow leading up to this mammoth prime time match-up coming on Sunday Night Football. In the piece, Kirkendall notes the quarterback battle, the aforementioned injuries and the game being a big test as the main points. All valid.
However, I contend that the biggest battle will take place in the week leading up to the game and on the sidelines. The biggest factors? Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis against the always-grouchy Belichick. On paper and when looking at history, that match-up doesn't seem to play into Cincinnati's favor.
Lewis' abysmal 6-17 record in prime time television brings shivers to a fan base that is craving one of the few statement wins of the twelve-year tenure. Unfortunately, the numbers and stats in head-to-head games between the two clubs aren't pretty.
Inside The Numbers:
Lewis is 1-4 as the Bengals' head coach versus Belichick. Understandable, maybe, as other high-quality coaches have also struggled against "BB" over the years. In fact, the Monday Night beatdown was Andy Reid's first career win against Belichick, also standing at a 1-4 head-to-head record.
The alarming stats don't necessary come just with the win-loss record, but mostly in the way that Lewis' teams have performed against Belichick's Patriots. Have a look:
Record: 1-4, win-less at Foxboro Stadium.
Games In Prime Time: One (0-1).
Point Differential: In their four losses, the Bengals have been outscored 152-91 by the Patriots. That, my friends, equates to a point differential average of 16.75 per game in their losses and 12.2 in all five games.
Points Allowed Per Game: The average amount of points given up to Brady and Co. is 36.25 per game in the losses. If you factor in their lone win, it drops to 31.6 points per game allowed. Ouch.
Turnovers Committed: Eleven, averaging 2.2 per game.
Turnovers Forced: Four, 0.8 per game (Two in 2013 game).
Marvin Lewis' Record After A Bye: 4-7, .364 winning percentage.
Marvin Lewis' Record In Primetime Games (Including Playoffs): 6-17, .260 winning percentage.
Long Week(s) Versus Short Week:
Players and coaches will tell you that a short week where the team traveled on the road is difficult to rebound from. In fact, road teams that have to travel on a Thursday have about a 25-30% win percentage. The Patriots have a couple more days than that to rest, but they are coming home after they were dominated throughout the entire game. They won't be happy about the loss or the fact that they are being raked across the coals by the media this week.
The Bengals are likely to get wide receiver Marvin Jones and linebacker Vontaze Burfict back this week along with resting up across the board. Additionally, Cincinnati will have had two weeks of preparation time for New England. For you social media buffs out there, many Bengals players were seen studying Patriots film, even when taking a break from football (Carlos Dunlap), or celebrating a birthday (Adam Jones). That is a sight for sore eyes to longtime fans of the club.
What will win the day? Extra time off and resting up a talented roster? Or will the seething, battle-tested leaders in New England once again silence any doubters? In this writer's opinion, it's going to depend on the effectiveness of Lewis' game plan of preparing his players over the past two weeks. The players can talk all that they want about "execution", but Lewis and his staff will need to make sure that they are as best-prepared as possible to nab a victory.
The Little Things:
Cue the song from 1990s Alt-Rock group, Bush. In the NFL, and as the band opined about twenty years ago: "It's the little things that kill". That has been an Achilles Heel for the Bengals, even with the Lewis-led renaissance. In these huge games, mistakes that haven't occurred all season rear their ugly heads and make the team look incredibly sloppy to the casual NFL fan. Many times, Cincinnati's first impression to the mainstream isn't a good one, hence why many don't take them seriously, even when they are playing high-quality football as a whole.
Though he has been better about it in recent years, challenges have always been, well, a challenge for ol' Marv. Wasting timeouts on frivolous challenges and/or inefficient play-calling will hurt the team Sunday Night. Doing something completely different from their lone win against the dynamic duo last year, along with taking notes from the Chiefs on Monday would be a sin. Play confident as they have done in the first three games--it is, after all, just another game on the schedule.
Ironically, it's those same little things that Belichick has helped cement him as one of the NFL's best coaches in its history. His attention to detail is usually impeccable, making showdowns with him an exhausting and daunting task.
Show Poise, Confidence And Growth:
Unfortunately, the lights of NBC have not been friendly to the Bengals of late. The debacles against Pittsburgh the past two seasons, as well as some Wild Card embarrassments evoke terrible visions within Bengaldom. Throw in the fact that the Bengals haven't won in New England in almost thirty years (1986) with the aforementioned numbers above and fate doesn't seem to be on The Queen City's side.
Though this game might not mean all that much at the end of the season, it is a good measuring stick for the Bengals and their head coach. They are taking the stroll down the street with the corner to turn in view. The players will need to "ignore the noise", as they have put it, especially with the growing buzz surrounding this contest. If they do, it will be another stepping stone towards the culmination of a truly special season. If they cower in the bling of the Super Bowl hardware that Brady and Belichick have collected, questions will once again abound on the seriousness of the 2014 Bengals.