By: Russ Goldman
Before each Patriots game this season, as a preview I will be providing my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory. So be sure to check back each week, as the plan will be to release this every Saturday morning.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on CBS. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Bengals will certainly be a huge challenge for the Patriots. On offense, the Bengals are led by Carson Palmer at quarterback. He has two high profile wide receivers in Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, which are expected to challenge New England’s very young secondary in what will be their first test of the season. This offense also has weapons in tight end Jermaine Gresham and running back Cedric Benson. This is a high powered offense that the Patriots are going to need to slow down to win.
On defense, the Bengals are now considered one of the better defenses in the NFL. They are led by linebackers Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers. They also have two exceptional cornerbacks in Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph. This group will likely challenge Tom Brady in this game against what is expected to be a pretty aggressive unit.
For opening games for the Patriots I would consider the Bengals an extremely tough opponent. However, I am confident that the Pats can find away to get their first win of the season, as the team is 8-0 in Gillette openers and have the NFL’s longest Opening Day winning streak at six.
I have “five keys” that I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats. These points I am focusing on involve all phases of the game.
1. Special teams need to really have a positive effect on field position for the Pats. I have noticed in the last few seasons that the Pats have hurt themselves with bad field position based on poor play of their special teams.
On kick off returns Brandon Tate has looked exceptional in the pre-season, and even took a kick-off back for a touchdown during the exhibition season. The Pats will need him to really have some great returns to give Tom Brady positive field position to start drives.
On both defending kick returns and punt returns last season the Patriots were decent in covering these kicks. They will need to be better than average against the Bengals, and hopefully will give Carson Palmer as long of a field as possible to start drives.
On punting, Zoltan Mesko could really be a weapon on Sunday. He has been able to both punt for distance, and also punt balls inside the twenty. The Patriots will need him to be consistent with his punting to pin back the Bengals as much as possible.
The special teams units have the ability to really change field position. The offense, and especially the defense could use their help.
Rookie Devin McCourty is expected to have his hands full tomorrow against Cincinnati. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)
2. The Patriots cornerbacks need to contain Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. I am not expecting Devin McCourty and Darius Butler to shut them down. I am hoping they can keep these two wide-outs under control in this game.
Butler and McCourty need to limit big plays, and keep down their amount of catches. These are two older receivers for the Bengals, and I think the young corners can stay with them. If these two corners can step up their game the Pats could be in decent shape.
3. The Patriots need to handle tight end Jermaine Gresham. Gresham might be a rookie, but he is a real threat in the passing game. In the pre-season he is averaging almost 11 yards per reception, and about 3 catches a game.
The Patriots have not demonstrated this pre-season the ability to contain the tight end. The question is who will be responsible for stopping this player? Will it be one of the linebackers or a defensive back? The possible defenders with the Gresham assignment could be Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, Patrick Chung or Brandon Meriweather.
Regardless of who the player is given the task of handling Gresham, it is imperative to contain him. He could be a major target on third down conversions, so the Pats will need to stop him.
4. The Patriots need to score touchdowns when they are in the redzone. The last thing the Patriots can afford to do is be forced to kick field goals when they are inside th 20. They will need to score touchdowns to put less pressure on their defense.
Last season the Patriots were not great in redzone efficiency. Their conversion rate for touchdowns was 52.3 per cent inside the 20. That ranked 13th in the NFL, and is an area of the game that the offense needs to improve.
My hope is that the new tight ends will improve this statistic. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have shown this pre-season to be effective in the redzone with catching touchdown passes. These two players could be huge in this game.
5. Tom Brady and the offense need to control the ball and the clock. I think it is time to go back to a more ball control offense for the Pats. I am not looking for 50-50 run and pass. I do think it is important that the Pats run the ball against the Bengals.
By running the ball, it will obviously help out the passing game, and also run some time off of the clock. The offense needs to take over this game, and take their time scoring. Hopefully they’ll be able to do this with a balanced attack and they’ll get some production running the football.
The passing game can also be a form of ball control utilizing Wes Welker as a possession receiver. If the Pats can be dominant in time of possession on offense, it could really help push the Pats to a victory.
This will be a tough game for the Pats, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things turn out. My prediction for the game is a 24-21 victory for the Patriots, but feel free to post yours in the comment area below this post.