September 12, 2010
Bengal WRs Become Big Patriot Footnote
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Who dey?
Dey certainly aren't TO and 85. Dey certainly aren't Carson Palmer and his golden arm. Dey most definitely isn't this vaunted Bengal defense which was fourth overall in team defense in 2009.
Dey is a revamped Patriot offense, and Dey is also a defense which, as this column predicted, played much better than they did in the final two preseason games. It looked like a coaching mismatch from the outset, and the Patriots were able to continue their good season opener fortunes with a resounding 38-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The final score suggests a contest that was closer than the one on the field; this one was in the books for the home team almost from the get-go.
The key to the Patriot win was twofold: the Bengal coaching staff had a hideous offensive game plan, and the Patriot secondary did a pretty good job in containing Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. Ochocinco did finish with 12 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown, but none of it had any bearing on the game. Owens played the game as if he looked disinterested much of the time, as he had a few drops and never got into the flow of the Bengal offense.
Meanwhile, most every area for the Patriots clicked, and clicked very well. Tom Brady looked as fresh as ever, wistfully completing 25 of 35 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns, and at times had time to throw that could have been timed in minutes instead of seconds. The Patriot ground attack was able to generate yardage at the rate of 5.1 yards per carry. Wes Welker looked like his injury was more like a sprained ankle instead of a blown out knee. And the new tight end tandem was a terrific foreshadowing of things to come.
But you would have to put the defense at the top of the list, as they contained the Ochocinco-Owens duo quite well. Yes, the two had 19 of the total 34 team catches for Cincinnati, but Ochocinco's touchdown cut the deficit at the time to 14 points, and Owens was kept completely in check, the defense keeping the manchild in front of them for the entire contest and limiting his receptions to quick hitters in the short to intermediate range.
Part of the blame here goes to the Bengal coaches. Head coach Marvin Lewis is a defensive guru who built the incredible Baltimore Ravens defense which won Super Bowl XXXV. So he has to defer a lot of his play calling to his offensive coordinator, Bob Bratkowski. Simply stated, the play calling was poorly sequenced, called for too many run plays and non-vertical passes, and did not attack the Patriots the way they should have been attacked.
The first offensive play of the game for the Bengals was perhaps the only play of the first half which was logical, though the pass went incomplete. Owens ran a left sideline pattern and Palmer went to him, going right after rookie cornerback Devin McCourty. The pass was overthrown, but it was the absolute correct strategy. The Bengals never went back to that strategy until the second half, and by then the Patriots were playing a safe zone. For the rest of the first half, Bratkowski kept calling Cedric Benson's number and a bunch of short, quick flat passes instead of throwing more aggressively downfield.
Maybe Bratkowski thought to do what he did because the Patriot defense played better than he thought. McCourty was overall very efficient, and Darius Butler and Patrick Chung both played their best games as Patriots. Neither of these guys made huge plays on defense, they simply never allowed Cincinnati to get into their rhythm. Benson did fumble, which was caused and recovered by Rob Ninkovich. And it was Gary Guyton with the biggest play for the defense, running back a pick-six in the second quarter to give the Patriots a 24-0 lead at the time.
Cincinnati did score touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half, but by then it was 31-3 after Brandon Tate ran back the opening kickoff of the second half 97 yards for a touchdown. The Patriots were able to ease off and keep things well under control, while the offense responded with two touchdowns to seal the win.
Welker made everyone happy at the Razor with 8 catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Welker simply looked like his normal self, with all his patented moves and his tough persona. He was able to haul in a goal line pass in the second half and muscle his way across the goal line, a play which stood up after a replay review.
And those tight ends. Aaron Hernandez struck first, taking a flat pass in the first quarter and rumbling for 45 yards with no one within ten yards of him. He did drop a sure touchdown pass in the second quarter, or else he would have had two grabs. Rob Gronkowski completed the scoring for the Patriots with a one-yard touchdown pass from Brady in the fourth quarter.
The tight ends, along with the patchwork offensive line, gave Brady some outstanding protection all game long. On some plays Brady could have had as much as 15 to 20 seconds to throw. He had time to survey the field, and look at five receiving options maybe two times through the order. Brady looked like 2007 in terms of comfort level, and was generally relaxed and on top of his game for the duration.
The running back situation was very interesting. Fred Taylor started the game in place of Laurence Maroney, and sparkled with 71 yards rushing on 14 carries (5.1 average). Kevin Faulk averaged 7.1 yards per carry, and even BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged 4.4 yards. Faulk had two dropped passes, but other than that is still the best third down threat in the league.
If there was one weak area, it was in the unlikely area of placekicking. Stephen Gostkowski missed two of three field goals, but his misses were from 46 yards (wide left) and 56 yards (wide right). His leg was sound; if he had kicked the 56-yarder straight he would have made it with room to spare. He just didn't have the accuracy, and this turned out to be a game where this simply did not matter.
The Patriots should be real buoyant as they head for New Meadowlands Stadium next week for Grudge Match #1 against the Jets. Rex Ryan can flap his yap all he wants, but first he has to deal with his former team, the Ravens, on Monday night. The Patriots can sit back, watch the game, and set about their work on Wednesday.
The Patriots can be extra proud of their overall effort, and they continue their great performances on opening day (9-0 in Gillette Stadium history). Anyone who was worried about the Patriot defense in the preseason should worry no longer, at least for now.
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