|Scouting Report: What you have to know about Bengals-Patriots||10.15.16 at 11:30 am ET|
Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Patriots-Bengals contest, set for 1 p.m. at Gillette Stadium:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
As expected, LeGarrette Blount — who was one of the top rushers in the league over the first four weeks of the 2016 season — saw his workload cut pretty dramatically last week against the Browns. Part of that was matchup-based, as New England held a sizable edge when it came to its passing game against Cleveland. In addition, there was the simple fact that with the return of Tom Brady, the Patriots were going to go back to a pass-first offense. While Blount’s production will change now that Brady is back under center, his important work will likely come in the second half of games when New England holds a lead. The bottom line is that while Blount’s total yardage won’t matter, but when he gets those yards will really tell the story. Anyway, he comes into this game with 106 carries, 389 yards and five touchdowns. The Bengals are middle of the pack when it comes to defending the run, having yielded at least 120 rushing yards in three of their first five games, including a whopping 180 yards on the ground last week against the Cowboys. On the other end of the spectrum, there they also held the Broncos to 52 rushing yards and 62 yards on the ground against the Dolphins. Basically? The very definition of feast or famine. (Overall, it’s averaged out to 114 rushing yards per game allowed, 20th in the NFL.) If you’re the Patriots and can get to an early lead, expect them to try and kill the clock and run the ball in the second half, setting up a potential big day down the stretch for Blount.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
This is going to be the matchup that decides it, one way or another. New England welcomed Brady back last week, and his 406 passing yards against the Browns effectively quieted any talk of rust following his four-week layoff. Now, the quarterback gets to take a step up in weight class against the Bengals, a team that’s 11th overall against the pass, having allowed an average of 225 yards per game through the air. This week should be like most others, as Brady will rely on Martellus Bennett (21 catches, 315 yards, 4 TDs), Rob Gronkowski (6 catches, 120 yards), Julian Edelman (24 catches, 231 yards), Chris Hogan (12 catches, 236 yards, 1 TD) and James White (17 catches, 165 yards). All of that is provided Gronkowski is over whatever illness was dogging him on Friday that caused him to miss practice. The Bengals have been OK against the pass — overall, Cincy has allowed an average of 225 passing yards per game, while the Bengals 10 sacks are tied for 17th in the NFL. The one set of numbers that stands out if you’re a Patriots’ fan? Cincy is one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to defending backs in the passing game; per Football Outsiders, the Bengals have allowed 6.6 catches and 43 yards per game against running backs. Maybe a better-than-expected week for White?
|How will Bill Belichick take away A.J. Green? Take a close look at DeAndre Hopkins||10.13.16 at 10:44 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick is the master of taking away the opponent’s biggest weapon. When it comes to the Bengals’ offense, that clearly is A.J. Green.
So how will Belichick go about it on Sunday?
A good look at what the Patriots did with DeAndre Hopkins is a good starting point.
No one in the NFL comes as close to matching Green’s remarkable skill set (especially his hands) than the Texans receiver. Hopkins is listed at 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds. Green is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds.
Last December in Houston, Logan Ryan was assigned Hopkins for most of the game and allowed one catch for 40 yards on four targets with two pass breakups. Belichick also used a bracket of Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon over the top to provide some backup. What does Green expect Sunday?
“I don’t know. Every game is different. Bill is a great coach,” Green said. “Obviously, he tries to take away the best player so we’ll see. I’ll be ready for anything.”
If it is Ryan, someone who hasn’t defended Green in New England’s two previous encounters with the Pro Bowl receiver.
“He’s a big, physical guy,” Green said of Ryan. “He’ll try to get in your face so I’ve got to be ready for it. I’m going to be ready for anything. You just never know.”
On Sept. 22, it was Ryan again who was on Hopkins for most of the game and allowed an acrobatic one-handed grab as part of a four-catch night. But that one great catch went for just 16 yards Hopkins had 40 yards on the other three catches. That’s four catches on eight targets.
If that happens on Sunday, Ryan would have certainly done his job again. But it won’t be easy. In Cincinnati’s two wins, Green has been a force, catching 12 balls for 180 yards and a touchdown in a 23-22 win over the Jets. He hauled in 10 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown in a 22-7 win over the Dolphins. Of all the big receivers in the game, including Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas and Sammy Watkins, Belichick says Green might be the most elite.
“The quickest; very quick. He has good stop and start quickness, he’s a very good intermediate route runner. I’d say there is a number of those players you talked about [that] are really just two level players; short catch-and-run, and deep speed, built speed type routes,” Belichick said. “Green’s very good at intermediate routes, comebacks, in-cuts, curls, routes like that. He has great quickness at the top of his route and excellent hands so he’s able to extend and create separation with his length and his catching skills.
“He makes some incredible one-handed catches or catches where the defender is just draped all over him and he’s able to just get his hands a few inches out further than the defenders and make the play. His catch radius is exceptional. But I’d say the thing that really to me puts him at the top of the league in receivers is his ability to affect all three levels, particularly those intermediate routes.
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|5 things you have to know about Bengals: Underachievers still suffering playoff hangover||10.11.16 at 9:26 am ET|
What you have to know about the 2-3 Cincinnati Bengals, who visit the Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
1. The key to their entire offense has been A.J. Green.
The Jets and Dolphins could not stop him and lost because of it. The Steelers, Broncos and Cowboys did and the Bengals’ offense never got on track. He had 12 catches for 180 yards on Darrelle Revis with a touchdown in Week 1. He had 10 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown in a Week 4 win over hapless Miami. He’s had just 14 catches total for 165 yards in losses to Pittsburgh, Denver and Dallas. Former Patriot Brandon LaFell has given the Bengals a bit of a boost to the passing game with 21 catches for 276 yards and two touchdowns, both last week in garbage time. Andy Dalton has been sacked 17 times in five games, tied with Ryan Tannehill for second-most in the NFL. When he hasn’t been sacked, Dalton has been good, completing 67.4 percent of his passes for five touchdowns and just two picks. His 1503 passing yards leads the NFL.
2. Their offensive line has been horrendous and they can’t run the ball.
The Bengals thought a couple of years ago they’d be able to refortify their offensive line with tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Those two are promising but the interior line has been an abject disaster, giving up most of the pressures on Dalton up the middle. They knew they had a big problem when Dalton was sacked seven times by the Jets in the opener but managed to eke out a 23-22 win. One of the keys of the Bengals offense in the Dalton era has been play-action. Defending against Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill kept defenses honest. But not this year. And the blame isn’t entirely on Hill or Bernard. The Bengals, under new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese (replacing Hue Jackson) haven’t dedicated themselves to the run. Hill has carried the ball just 62 times for 233 yards and three touchdowns. In the loss to Dallas, Hill touched it just four times for 12 yards. They are averaging just 83.8 yards per game running the ball. Only the Giants (83.6) are worse in the NFL.
3. They miss Tyler Eifert desperately.
The Bengals thought they’d get the best red zone tight end from 2015 back from an ankle injury last week in Dallas. Then a back injury cropped up in the middle of the week and he was ruled out on Friday. There is some hope in the organization that Eifert might be able to make it back this week in Foxboro. They could certainly use it. Eifert is more important to Cincinnati than Rob Gronkowski is in New England because the Bengals don’t have a Martellus Bennett to help out on the other side of Eifert. Without Eifert, the Bengals are tied with the Jets for the third-worst red zone efficiency in football at 40 percent.
|Potential Playoff Opponents: Bengals||01.06.16 at 10:54 pm ET|
The skinny: This is the moment Marvin Lewis and the Bengals have been waiting for. They are back in the playoffs for a franchise-best fifth straight season. They have won the AFC North for the fourth time since 2005. But as everyone knows by now, their story won’t really begin until they win a playoff game. They have lost seven straight playoff games, dating back to the game against the Raiders that ended Bo Jackson‘s career in Jan. 1991 in Los Angeles. Lewis has changed the culture from the 1990s but hasn’t produced a single postseason win in six tries. They lost both games with Carson Palmer as their quarterback (2005,’09). They have lost the last four with Andy Dalton at quarterback (2011-14). Now, thanks to Dalton attempting to tackle a 310-pound defensive lineman with his throwing shoulder and hand, AJ McCarron likely gets the shot on Saturday night against the arch-nemesis Steelers. The Bengals posted their best season in the 13-year tenure of Lewis, going 12-4. The previous two times they’ve won 12 games, they lost to San Francisco in the Super Bowl. This is clearly the deepest and most skilled Bengals team in the Lewis era, and arguably the most-balanced team in the AFC. They were a missed second-quarter Mike Nugent field goal away from beating the Broncos in Denver that would’ve given them the overall No. 1 seed. But as any Bengals fan knows, the little things hurt them in the end and now they must beat a Steelers team in Cincinnati. It would be sweet revenge against a team that tore Carson Palmer‘s ACL in a similar playoff meeting in Jan. 2006 and sidelined Dalton on Dec. 13.
Offense: On a team loaded with weapons in both the passing (A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert) and running (Gio Bernard, Jeremy Hill) games, the offensive line is arguably the most important unit. They allowed just 32 sacks this season and kept Andy Dalton very clean during the team’s 8-0 start. The Bengals placed a priority late in the season on getting Hill going, as his numbers were down from his rookie season of 2014. After gaining 1,124 yards in his rookie year, he gained just 794 yards while carrying the rock nearly an identical number of times (222 in ’14, 223 this season). But the biggest difference in the offense this season is tight end Tyler Eifert. He sat out most of ’14 injured but this season, he was the favorite red zone target of Dalton and a huge reason why Dalton was getting MVP consideration midway through the season. He caught 13 touchdown passes, the most of any tight end in football (Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed tied with 11), despite missing two games with a concussion and another with a stinger.
Defense: The Bengals are led by an impact player at each level of the defense. On the defensive line, they have arguably the most disruptive and athletic defensive tackle in football in Geno Atkins. The sixth-year player out of Georgia finished with 11 sacks, tied with Aaron Donald (Rams) and Kawann Short (Panthers) as the most of any defensive tackle in football this season. He was recently diagnosed with sickle cell, a condition that limited his snaps in an overtime loss in Denver. Throw in fellow tackle Domata Peko and ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, and the Bengals can bring plenty of pressure without blitzing. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has refined his game and leads a very athletic and dynamic group of linebackers. Burfict is constantly around the ball and a fearsome tackler. The Bengals secondary has matured around the leadership of cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones. What might have once been thought laughable, Jones (3 interceptions) has helped lead younger corners like Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard (IR) along with veteran DB Leon Hall, who is now more of a slot corner. The safeties are big-time playmakers and ball hawks in George Iloka, Reggie Nelson (8 interceptions) and Shawn Williams.
|Darrelle Revis isn’t letting on if he’s going to be ‘man’-ing up against Sammy Watkins||10.11.14 at 9:05 am ET|
FOXBORO — Sammy Watkins may think that he’ll be shadowed all day by Darrelle Revis but the Patriots corner isn’t letting on.
Told Friday that Watkins said that he’s learned he’ll be on Revis Island on Sunday in Buffalo, Revis said he’s not giving away any secrets to the game plan.
“I don’t know,” Revis said. “I don’t know what he heard or what he’s been told. It really doesn’t matter to me.
“I can’t tell you the game plan. I’m looking forward to the game on Sunday. I’m looking forward to us getting the win. That’s the main goal. We go up there as a team and we do great in all three phases and hopefully come out with a win.”
Revis also downplayed the suggestion that he’s finally being allowed to play more man-to-man coverage.
“Whatever the coaches bring to the table with the game plan and what’s best for the defense,” he said. “That’s what’s most important is whatever is best for the defense. We all do our job collectively. It’s all on the defense, what we can do the best.
“I take one week at a time. Whatever my assignment is, it is. I just have to go out there and play and compete. As a defense, we have to compete and play. It’s a challenge but at the same time, you go out there and you just execute your job. I’m just happy to play Sunday. That’s my motto. I’m just happy to be playing and playing on Sunday.”
|Bill Belichick: Patriots ‘stuck together as a team and supported each other’||10.06.14 at 1:20 pm ET|
Emotion can often be a false flag when it comes to forecasting the success or failure of a football team, but it certainly appeared that it played a sizable role for the Patriots on Sunday night.
In the wake of last Monday’s drubbing at the hands of the Chiefs, there was a palpable sense of energy surrounding New England. Whether it was provided by quarterback Tom Brady (who played as if his hair was on fire for much of the early going), the Gillette Stadium crowd (one of the loudest in recent memory) or the collective efforts of a team trying to erase the memory of one of the worst losses in recent franchise history, it was in abundance for the Patriots in the 43-17 win.
Coach Bill Belichick wasn’t surprised to see his team respond like it did.
“When you had the result that we had Monday night as a team, I think everybody rallied around each other. I mean, who else is there to rally around?” he asked on a conference call with the media Monday morning. “That’s all we have: guys that can go out there and play and make a difference. Nobody else is going to make any plays unless we go out and make them ourselves.
“Of course they stuck together as a team and supported each other. That’s what any team should do.”
To Belichick’s point, there was more fire on Sunday night than the team had all season long. That emotion and energy level manifested itself several ways, including their best start of the year, with touchdowns on the first two scoring drives of the night.
“I thought they played hard. I think we’ve played hard a lot this year, but we were able to execute things a little bit better,” Belichick said. “Get off the field on third down, convert some third downs, or fourth downs, as the case may be. So, of course there was more emotion and energy as we were making plays, especially in the first — well, throughout the game, but especially in the first quarter.”
Belichick not only praised the play and preparation up and down the roster, but also had kind words for his coaches for their ability to not only digest the Chiefs’ loss and put it in the rearview quickly, but to create a game plan for a Bengals team that came into the game as only one of two unbeaten teams left in the league.
“I just think it’s tough when you play on the road Monday night,” Belichick said when asked about the performance of the coaches. “Get back here at whatever it was, five in the morning and then you go through the tape of the game, which was obviously a painful process. Then get ready for an undefeated team, a team that had given up three points in the first half of their first three games and been pretty dominant. To turn around and get a game plan ready and address some of the problems that we had in Kansas City and all that.
“It’s handling the preparation for all the situations ‘ with only three games, a lot of that is going back and digging through key games and situations from last year to look at tendencies or look at plays you want to run. Again I just think as a staff they did a good job of doing those things on a short week against a good football team that’s well coached that gives you a lot of problems on every down and every situation. I thought they worked hard and they did a good job; as did the players.”
Here are a few other highlights from his Monday Q&A:
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|Revis Report, Week 5: On challenges of moving from outside to slot||10.03.14 at 12:41 am ET|
Each week, we’ll present The Revis Report, a look at what’s on tap for the Patriots cornerback. This week, New England returns home for a date with the Bengals.
Overview: Revis and the Patriots will play their second regular-season home game of the year — and make their second consecutive nationally televised broadcast appearance — Sunday night against the Bengals. The fact that they are on a short week after a brutal road loss probably is a good thing for the Patriots, who will be attempting to avoid a two-game skid after a 41-14 defeat to the Chiefs in Kansas City.
It was an opportunity for a new player like Revis to experience his first awful loss as a member of the franchise. How does he feel about the way the team has responded?
“I think we’re very upbeat,” Revis said after practice on Thursday. “It’s been a short week this week, and we made the corrections and we moved on to Cincinnati. It was a terrible loss for us, but at the same time, it’s a short week and we had to move on. I feel like the team is upbeat and we’re looking forward to this matchup against Cincinnati on Sunday.”
Revis said he and the rest of the organization haven’t spent a lot of time contemplating what happened last Monday.
“No, I’m really not looking into it that much. I think this is a winning organization and you just have to move on,” he said. “It was an embarrassment. Yes, it was. But at the same time, you have to put it in the past. We have 12 more games left, and we can focus on those 12 more games and we can do what we need to do in those last 12 games. We have a 12-game season, that’s how you can look at it.”
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