Tag Archives: Andy Dalton

Patriots Week 15 Report Card, Back On Winning Track with 34-13 Win Over Cincy

Steve Balestrieri
December 17, 2019 at 6:25 pm ET

 Patriots Defense/Special Teams Key Big Win

The Patriots got back in the win column with a 34-13 win over the lowly and struggling Bengals, The win couldn’t have come at a better time, after dropping two in a row and three of their last five, the team needed this one to begin to try to build some momentum in the final few weeks of the season.

The offense continues to struggle but this week, the defense helped them out by getting four interceptions of Andy Dalton and giving the offense the benefits of short fields as well as a score on a pick-six. 

The win, the 11th of the season marks the 10th year in a row that the team has won 11 or more games. It also punched their ticket to the postseason. This sets up a huge game against the Buffalo Bills next week in Gillette for the division title. 

And with the all-important bye week that comes with the #2 seed still very much in doubt, the Patriots will need to win both of those games against Buffalo and Miami to end the regular season and let some players heal up a bit. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady was facing one of the worst defenses in the NFL on Sunday, and he and the passing offense could muster just 15-29  for 128 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs. His elbow, which has been hurting for a while, was clearly bothering him. He sailed more than one pass well over his intended target. And he short-armed another to Sony Michel that was well behind him which cost the team a touchdown. 

The Patriots passing offense averaged just 4.4 yards per pass play. That is less than Sony Michel averaged on his 19 carries. Let that one sink in for a second. His pass protection was not good, getting pressured on about half of his dropbacks in the first half. And there are the drops, which usually come at the worst possible time. 

Brady really needs some rest which is why the bye week is so important, but there’ll be no rest this week with the Bills and their defense coming to town. 

Running Backs: B

The Patriots running game had their best game of the season, rushing for 177 yards on 30 carries before Brady had a couple of kneel-downs in victory formation. Granted the Bengals rush defense is awful, dead last in the league, but at least they made they look that way. Facing some other poor run defenses they haven’t been able to muster much. 

Sony Michel looked good, gaining 87 yards on 19 carries and showed good vision following his blocks and was able to drive through tackles and gain yards after contact. Rex Burkhead, right on time at the end of the season, chipped in 53 yards on 6 carries including a really nice 33-yard touchdown run. Burkhead ran straight ahead and burst through the line, dipped his shoulder and faked out the safety and had clear sailing into the end zone. 

James White had 13 yards on 3 carries. The team got N’Keal Harry involved on a couple of jet sweeps and the big rookie got 22 yards on two carries and two first downs. A much better day for the backs both in the running game and in the passing game. 

Wide Receivers: C-

The Patriots wide receivers almost rated an incomplete grade here. Julian Edelman tried to play through a myriad of issues and didn’t look anything like his normal self. He was laboring walking, never mind running but tried to gut through it like the professional and tough dude that he is. So it is of little surprise that he caught just two passes for nine yards on Sunday. 

Mohamad Sanu is also playing through an injury and he too isn’t moving anywhere near 100 percent. However, the 4th down drop was not injury-related and that is becoming a troubling trend for the Pats WR. He was targeted eight times and had just 2 catches for 13 yards.

N’Keal Harry had a pair of catches for 15 yards including a really nice 8-yard touchdown pass along the back of the end zone. His best play was wiped out due to a false start by Edelman. Harry beat the coverage down the right sideline and made a beautiful leaping catch that would have gone for 36 yards.

James White was the big recipient on Sunday, getting 3 catches for 49 yards including a nice 23-yard touchdown pass on a screen from Brady. Michel and Burkhead also chipped in as the backs combined for 6 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. 

Tight Ends: C-

Matt LaCosse was targeted 3 times and had 3 catches for 22 yards, that’s it for the group… Yuck. He played about 50 snaps compared to just 34 for Ben Watson who wasn’t targeted and pretty invisible all day. The run blocking overall was better this week. LaCosse had a really nice block on Burkhead’s touchdown run. However, in pass protection LaCosse was victimized several times and gave up several QB hits

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line play was a mixed bag on Sunday. While the team had a season-high number of yards rushing, the pass protection was not great as Tom Brady was pressured on about half of his pass plays in the first half. However, Isaiah Wynn looked much better this week. Joe Thuney was also very good and had an outstanding block that sprung White for his touchdown reception. Thuney got out in front of White and pancaked the in-the-box safety. 

Ted Karras returned to action and played in all 65 offensive snaps at center. Shaq Mason was looking more like himself, especially in the running game, albeit against the Bengals. Marcus Cannon both had a rough day. Mason injured an ankle which will require a close watch this week with the Bills coming into town.                     

 Defensive Line: B-

The defensive line had a rough day trying to contain Joe Mixon who rushed for 136 yards 25 carries. On the Bengals’ first few drives, they made it their intent to run the football and they just lined up and smashed it in there. The defensive line was getting pushed back a lot in the early going. 

Although they had issues with Mixon all game long, the defensive line keyed the big turning point in the game. On a 4th and 1 from the Patriots 30-yard line, they stuffed the run of Mixon getting him for about a half-yard loss. Danny Shelton had six tackles on the day With the only QB hit coming from Deatrich Wise, who made seven tackles and was very active. 

However, the pass rush? It seemed a half-step late, which is something we’re seeing more of in the second half of the season.

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers had some issues (among others on defense) with tackling in this game. Joe Mixon’s 29-yard run should have been a two-yard loss but Jamie Collins couldn’t wrap him up and he broke free. Collins was also so-so in coverage, although he did make a nice play and tipped a pass that appeared wide open. Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower had just five tackles between them, a quiet game for two who are normally near the top of the list. Most of the missed tackles were from the linebackers, which is a bit of an unpleasant surprise.

Ja’Whaun Bentley, however, had a big game using his size and downhill style as a run-thumper to perfection He led the team with eight tackles including 0.5 for a loss. Elandon Roberts gets high marks for playing 24 snaps on defense and 10 for being the fullback on offense.

Secondary: A

The Patriots secondary had a tremendous afternoon, allowing one touchdown an 8-yard pass play where Jonathan Jones fell down but scoring one on a 64-yard Stephon Gilmore pick-six. Gilmore and J.C. Jackson each had two interceptions and are #1 and #2 respectively in opposing QB rating when targeted. Opponents targeting Jackson have a 28.6 QBR while those targeting Gilmore have a QBR of 32.8. 

The Bengals had 6 receptions for 51 yards on 15 targets when targeting either Gilmore or Jackson on Sunday. They had four interceptions including a pick-six and two pass breakups in those plays. That is domination. Gilmore is just in a league of his own. And to think he got outvoted to the Pro Bowl by Marcus Peters? Child, please…

Overall, Andy Dalton was 17-31 for 151 yards with 1 TD and 4 INTs for a QB rating of 39.2 which is great defense, regardless of the opponent. Jonathan Jones was injured on Sunday and his injury is a big one to monitor this week. 

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams came up with yet another big play made by the outstanding tandem of Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel. Slater as a gunner, flew down the field and jarred the ball loose on Alex Ericson when he tried to field a punt with perhaps far too little room. Bethel recovered and the Patriots took the lead right before the half. 

Nick Folk made all four extra points and two field goals in two attempts. He’s solidified the position. He doesn’t have the range to go for much over 50 yards but he’s playing well and with confidence, something we haven’t had this year. 

Coaches: B

The Patriots coaching staff, especially Josh McDaniels is working overtime, trying to breathe some life into the offense. And for the 2nd week in a row, he put together a drive that went 75 yards for a touchdown. Then the offense struggled to move the ball. 

The defense was getting gashed early (a troubling trend) but then shut down the Bengals holding them to just three points after allowing them to score 10 points in the first quarter. 

Bill Belichick and the staff always seem to make good adjustments to whatever the opponent is doing well and countering it.

So the Patriots last two regular-season games will be at Gillette Stadium.  Starting with the Buffalo Bills. A win gets the Patriots the division-clinching win. But unlike other years with a late-season game against the Bills, this one won’t be easy. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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Patriots Defense Keys Big 34-13 Win Over Cincinnati

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2019 at 8:26 pm ET

This is the week of Eleven. The Patriots punched their ticket to the postseason with a 34-13 win over Cincinnati and won their 11th game of the season for the 10th straight season. This is also their 11th straight playoff appearance.

The defense picked off Andy Dalton four times and the Special Teams recovered a fumble as once again those units carried the team to an easy victory. But none of the questions about the offense were answered, despite putting up 34 points. 

Some of our observations include:

The offensive line had a very mixed day, on one hand they did very good in run support as the team rushed for a season-high 175 yards on 32 carries. Of course, Cincinnati has the worst run defense in the NFL and came into this one allowing over 150 yards per game. But the pass protection for Tom Brady was terrible for virtually most of the game. Brady was sacked twice and pressured on half of his dropbacks.

Sony Michel had a good, solid day and ran for 89 yards on 19 carries. He displayed good vision and followed his blocks well. He was able to break a few tackles and was getting some nice yards after contact.  

Brady was clearly bothered by his elbow injury. During the warmups, Mike Giardi of NFL Network said he was having trouble throwing the ball. He sailed several throws including one to Mohamad Sanu in the end zone. 

He also short-armed a throw to Sony Michel on a perfectly designed play that should have been a touchdown. Brady finished 15 – 29 for just 128 yards with 2 TDs and 0 Interceptions.

Edelman and Sanu are both hobbled, Edelman especially so. He looks like he can barely move at this point. He finished with just two catches for nine yards on five targets. Sanu had just two catches for 13 yards on eight targets. He had another key drop on fourth down,

Josh McDaniels said earlier this week that they were planning on getting N’Keal Harry more involved with the offense. He had two carries in the running game for 22 yards and two catches for 15 yards including a nice 8-yard touchdown pass reception where he cut across the back of the end zone. 

Harry also had the Patriots best play of the day, he beat his coverage down the right sideline where Brady dropped a perfect pass to him where he made a nice catch for a 36-yard gain. Unfortunately, it was wiped out by a false start by Edelman.

The offense continues to struggle especially in the passing game. On their opening drive where they went 75 yards in eight plays where James White hit a very nicely executed screen pass for a 22-yard touchdown. It was keyed by an excellent block by Joe Thuney, however, they didn’t put together another long drive for the rest of the game. Fortunately, the defense and STs set them up with short fields.  

The run defense was gashed early, on Cincinnati’s opening drive, Joe Mixon was proving very hard to bring down and the Bengals ran the ball on every play all the way to the Patriots eight-yard line. There Andy Dalton threw his first pass, an eight-yard TD to TE Cethan Carter with Jonathan Jones falling down in coverage. It would be the only TD that the Bengals would score.

Although the defense stiffened and allowed only two field goals after that, they never really figured out stopping Mixon who had a very good day on the ground, gaining 136 yards on 25 carries. 

With the score tied at 10-10, the game flipped with one big special teams’ play. Jake Bailey skied a punt and Matthew Slater racing downfield stripped the ball away from Alex Erickson. Justin Bethel recovered at the Cincinnati 23. Although the offense moved backward with a sack on 3rd down. It allowed them to kick a field goal and go into the half with a 13-10 lead. 

That’s when the wheels came off for Dalton and the Bengals. On the third play from scrimmage in the 3rd quarter, Stephon Gilmore picked him off, cradling the ball in his right arm while holding off Tyler Boyd with his left. 

Brady moved them 43 yards on a short field for a touchdown with Harry making the catch at the back of the end zone. Dalton moved the Bengals to the Patriots 41 when he was too late throwing an out route and Gilmore jumped the route and picked it off going 64-yards for another touchdown making the score 27-10 and the rout was on.

The Bengals kicked a field goal making it 27-13 and then tried an on-side kick that went only five yards. The Patriots took over at the Cincinnati 40 and cashed in again. After a two-yard pass from Brady to Matt LaCosse and a five-yard penalty on the Bengals, Rex Burkhead took a handoff up the middle, juked the safety Bates and raced 33 yards for a touchdown making it 34-13. 

The secondary once again was stellar, besides Gilmore’s two interceptions, J.C. Jackson had two of his own, both were outstanding plays. The first he went up high and after corralling the ball, he was able to come down with both feet inbounds. On the other Dalton tried to go deep down the left sideline and Jackson turned and tracked the ball, getting inside leverage, picked it off easily. 

Dalton finished 17-31 for 151 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. His QB rating was just 39.2. While the pass rush didn’t record a sack, they did bring some pressure on Dalton and did influence some of those picks. 

But scoring 34 points on short fields against the 1-13 Bengals is one thing. With a passing game averaging 4.4 yards per play? That isn’t going to cut it. With awful pass protection and wide receivers again dropping more passes (New England now leads the league in that dubious category), it hardly appears they’ve found an identity. And the Bills defense is coming to town next week. 

The defense and special teams will always give them a chance to win but the play of the offense remains a huge red flag with two games left on the regular-season schedule. If they can win those next two games, they’ll get an all-important bye until the divisional round. They can use the rest of the bye, but first, a huge game for the division awaits against the Bills. 


Prior to the game, social media was abuzz at the film that the Bengals released of the Patriots filming their sideline in Cleveland. This was just a short clip that was gotten by Jay Glazer. We’ll learn more later when the entire film is released but contrary to what Patriots fans are saying, this…if it is indicative of the entire film (and a big if), then it is damning evidence. 

It doesn’t show the field, the plays or the Cleveland sideline, it is focused on the Cincinnati bench. Of course, since the Bengals released this, could it be that they want to release something more beneficial to their side? Of course, but that tape, again, if it is indicative of the entire film, will result in a stiff penalty… No reason for being that dumb to leave a large monitor in the press box showing what you’re doing. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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Patriots-Bengals Week 15 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 13, 2019 at 6:50 am ET

One more for the road. The Patriots play their last regular-season road game of the 2019 schedule with a trip to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. It is the first 1:00 p.m. start for the team in two months.

Several weeks ago before the Baltimore game, we had this one circled as a game where several players may get a respite and see a reduced workload (Julian Edelman) and maybe see a lot of a younger player like Damien Harris and Joejuan Williams. Now, after losing three of five, that isn’t going to happen. This game has become important for holding off  Kansas City for the #2 seed and the all-important bye. And to hold off the Bills in the division. 

With a win on Sunday night, the Patriots would win the 11th game of the year, marking 10 straight seasons with at least 11 wins, which is an NFL record.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Andrew Catalon will handle play-by-play duties with James Lofton as the color analyst. Amanda Balionis will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (10-3) lost to the Chiefs 23-16 last Sunday at Gillette Stadium 

The Bengals (1-12) are coming off of a 27-19 loss to Cleveland 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Bengals have met 25 times since Cincinnati entered the league in 1968 and the Patriots hold an overall 16-9 all-time edge. Of course, the most famous matchup was the “we’re on to Cincinnati game…which just happened to be after a loss to the Chiefs.

The Patriots have won the last two meetings including a 35-17 win in Gillette the last time the two teams met. The last game in Cincinnati was a 13-6 win for the Bengals back in 2013 in that monsoon game where neither team was able to do anything offensively. 

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Bengals Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Cincinnati

The Patriots running game had an awful outing last week, gaining 94 yards against the Chiefs 31st ranked run defense. Kansas City entered the game allowing 141.3 yards per game and then dominated the Patriots upfront. By the end of the game, the Chiefs woeful run defense was preening and talking about how they hope to see the Patriots again in the playoffs… that is bad. 

Enter Cincinnati’s run defense. If you thought the Chiefs were bad, the Bengals, have been worse. Cincy’s porous run defense is dead last in the NFL allowing a whopping 156.7 yards per game on the ground. This should be a mismatch…right?

The offensive line has to open some holes this week for Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead. But honestly, I’d look at giving some snaps to Brandon Bolden, who has been effective whenever he’s been tasked and Damien Harris, giving Sony a week off. Will they do either of those? Nope. Will the Patriots run roughshod over another sieve run defense? While I’m not from Missouri, …show me. 

Patriots WRs vs Bengals Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game has consisted of Julian Edelman, James White, and a big question mark. That makes the opposing defense’s job a heckuva lot easier. They need both Phillip Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu to step up (sounds like a broken record at this point). Tom Brady’s pass protection has been shoddy and inconsistent for much of the season. 

Cincinnati’s pass defense hasn’t fared much better than their run defense and is 19th in the league. Their corners, William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard are okay but not special. The closest thing to a ballhawk in the back end in safety Jessie Bates with three interceptions. Their pass rush has a couple of names to watch. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, although they haven’t accounted for a bunch of sacks, just 21 as a team.

Again, on paper, this seems like a mismatch but this time, I do give the edge to the Patriots as Tom Brady can find a way to manipulate this secondary….if he has time to throw. Atkins is a big, disruptive inside presence. He can do damage and will be going against the #3 center in James Ferentz. Dunlap and Sam Hubbard are guys who can bring the pressure from the edges. Protection is the key here.

So, Josh McDaniels, are the Patriots going to get N’Keal Harry more involved in the passing game anytime soon? This would be a prime week to do so. It isn’t exactly like Dorsett and Sanu are lighting it up and not allowing him a chance to play…throw him the damn ball this week.  

Next up the Bengals offense:

Bengals RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots run defense has been rock solid and it all begins with the outstanding work of Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton inside. They’re both doing a great job of penetrating and holding up the line of scrimmage allowing the Patriots linebackers to fly up and make plays. 

Cincinnati has a couple of talented running backs in Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard, but when they’re constantly playing catchup, it has been difficult for them to stick with the running game, which is why their paltry 85.8 yards per game average is a tad misleading. Mixon has gained 789 yards and six touchdowns on the ground this year and is capable of producing a big game. 

Look for Cincinnati to get Mixon going this week in an attempt to stick close and dictate the pace and tempo of the game. But this is a matchup the Patriots can and should win with the play of the front seven which has been very good all season.  

Bengals WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Bengals passing game has Andy Dalton back under center and he gave the team, their only win of the season over the Jets. He’s kept games close, and will try to once again. The problem with their passing game sounds like the Patriots. He has Tyler Boyd, who is having a very good year (73 catches, 833 yards, 3 TDs), Gio Bernard out of the backfield and a not a lot elsewhere. John Ross is their speedster and is back after spending time on IR. Bengals QBs have been sacked 43 times for 309 yards this season. 

The Patriots pass defense has been excellent this season. Expect Boyd to get matched up with Stephon Gilmore this week and Ross to get watched by Jonathan Jones or J.C. Jackson. Bernard will bear watching out of the backfield, he’s a very good weapon there. But look for the defense to be aggressive in this one and try to get after Dalton to force the issue and some turnovers.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New Englan

The Patriots special teams has Nick Folk back as their kicker. While he had a field goal blocked last week, that was a rare failure of the blocking up front. Jake Bailey has been outstanding punting this season and the coverage units have been terrific. Nate Ebner blocked the Patriots’ fourth punt of the season. 

Cincinnati has the reliable Randy Bullock who has been perfect on PATs and has made 21-25 field goal attempts. Kevin Huber had done a very good job of punting. Like NE, the Bengals haven’t generated much in way of the return game. Look for the Patriots to try to make it five blocks this season and give their struggling offense a short field.

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 11-3 and now this game becomes a must-win, there are no more alibis left to give if they want a bye and a guaranteed home game for the division round of the postseason.   

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Protect Brady and Get Others Involved in the Passing Game – The Patriots can’t be a two-man passing team in the last three games and into the postseason. That means other players have to step up and the coaches have to get others involved. This is a prime week to make that happen.

Getting Harry, Dorsett, Sanu, and Jakobi Meyers more involved in the passing game, shouldn’t be that hard, but yet here we are. It all begins with Brady’s protection but they have to start winning some battles on the line. Getting more from tight ends Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse would be a welcome sight as well. Get it done.

The Defense Should Pin Their Ears Back- The Patriots defense has been a constant bright spot all season, this week, they should feast on a Bengals offensive line who have been gashed for 43 sacks. With a limited offense, the Patriots can dictate where and when the pass rush is coming from. Look for Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins to be very active this week.

Turnover Time  – The Patriots are +19 in the turnover department, tops in the NFL. Cincinnati is -11, 30th in the league and a big reason they are 1-12. The Patriots defense was huge earlier in the year at getting turnovers and helping out the offense. That has slowed a bit in the second half…time to feast.



This should be a walk in the park for the Patriots who are clearly the better team. But the offensive struggles have made every game a slogfest. The Bengals are playing for nothing but pride and jobs at this point of the season. But this week is their Super Bowl with a chance to knock off the defending champs. Plus the entire filming fiasco of last week, should light a fire under their behinds. Unless the defense gets a score or a slew of turnovers, this one will remain closer than anyone wants.  Patriots  20-10

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” heads back home for the final two regular-season games of the season and next week is a big one with the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and breakdown game analysis


Patriots Film Review, Execution, Mismatches Key Victory

Steve Balestrieri
October 18, 2016 at 10:32 am ET

All-22 Film Looks at Turning Points in the NE Win

Reviewing this week’s game film from the Patriots win over the Bengals highlights a couple of key plays that led to the victory. Courtesy of the NFL’s All-22 Coaches’ Film we get a nice look at how they were able to do that.

The margin between winning and losing in the NFL often comes down to executing a few keys plays at important points in the game. In this case, the Patriots made them and the Bengals didn’t at crunch time and New England came away with a hard-fought win.

Here are some of the key plays of the game that allowed the Patriots to come from behind twice to winning by three scores.

James White 15-yard TD Reception: Late in the first half the Patriots are down 7-3, but Brady has the team moving after hitting a big 39-yard pass play to Chris Hogan that set the team up for a go-ahead score. The Patriots aligned trips left with three WRs, (Mitchell, Amendola, and Edelman) and TE Rob Gronkowski in-line on the right-hand side. James White is the lone back, aligned next to Brady on the right.


The Bengals show their four-man front and have four defenders lined up evenly spaced at the 10-yard line trying to take away the short middle of the field. At the snap, Gronkowski takes his defender straight up the field into the end zone. That clears out a large amount of space for White who drifts out into the right flat.

Karlos Dansby has to come over from his position in the middle of the field and doesn’t have the speed to catch White, who had a big advantage in terms of room for him to move at the snap. It was an easy pitch and catch for a touchdown.


Dont’a Hightower Sack/Safety: This is the play that ultimately turned the tide and led the way to the Patriots second comeback and one that once they took the lead, they never looked back. The Bengals had taken the lead 14-10 early in the third quarter and after stopping the Patriots offense, had a chance to make it a two-score game.

But after getting backed up to the 8-yard line due to a holding penalty, they had the down/yardage against them as well as field position. The Patriots hadn’t been getting pressure on Andy Dalton much to this point, so Matt Patricia started getting a little creative and it paid off.


The Patriots align in man coverage with the two safeties deep in the middle of the field. At the snap, both linebackers, Elandon Roberts on the left and Hightower, on the right come on an A-gap blitz. Roberts is picked up but Hightower loops around from his right to left and gets a free lane right at Dalton.

But the Patriots rushed just four, at the snap both defensive ends, Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich drop back into coverage. Dalton sees it coming and wants to go to his hot route, TE Tyler Kroft. But by dropping, Flowers is in perfect position, right in the throwing lane. Dalton has to pull the ball down and is sacked by Hightower resulting in a safety.


Bennett 24-yard reception: After the Patriots got the ball back at their 32-yard line, they were in business with good field position and the opportunity to get back in front. On their first play from scrimmage Brady hit TE Martellus Bennett with a 24-yard pass to put New England on the Bengals side of the field. It all stemmed from an excellent fake by Brady that set them up for a big gain.

The Patriots go 4-wide with a WR and TE split wide to each side. Bennett and Hogan were split wide right and Gronkowski and Edelman wide left. The Bengals again had five defenders, five yards deep trying to take away the short pass across the middle of the field. So Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels decides to go vertical.


At the snap, both receivers on the right run straight down the field.  Gronkowski and Edelman on the left run crosses back to the right side. LeGarrett Blount, aligned to Brady’s right side, drifts out in the flat in an attempt to find some open space. Brady did an ever so slight pump fake, more of a shoulder dip, but it works. The inside linebacker, Vontaze Burfict and the safety covering Bennett bite hard on the play fake.

By the time they stop and recover, Bennett is running free down the field and Brady hits him with a pass at the 45-yard line. Bennett loses his footing but still had time to get up and get another 10-11 yards after the catch. The Pats would score soon after with Gronkowski catching a four-yard score to put the Patriots back on top for good 19-14.


James White 4-yard Touchdown: White’s second touchdown pass put the Patriots up by two scores and really put Cincinnati under pressure in the pivotal second half. Once the Hightower safety and Gronk touchdown put the team ahead, the momentum completely flipped and the Patriots began to totally take over the game.

The Patriots held Cincinnati to a three-and-out with three straight incompletions after the Gronk score. They took over with a chance to open things up and Brady immediately hit Gronkowski with a huge 38-yard pass and run that set them up.

On the White score, the Patriots are lined up with the Trips left again but this time Bennett is in the slot. Gronkowski is again inline on the right side just as in the previous formation for White’s early touchdown.


The Bengals go with their front four and have the five defenders aligned at the goal line with a deep safety in the middle. Karlos Dansby, (circled) is in the middle of the formation. At the snap, Gronkowski takes his defender (Kirkpatrick), deep into the end zone. The nearest linebacker Burfict comes on a blitz and is picked up inside.

White flairs out into the flat and Dansby has a tremendous amount of territory to make up and he is not going to get there in time. White has another easy touchdown and it was just another well-designed play by McDaniels and executed by Brady and White.


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Week 6 Patriots Report Card, Big Comeback Win Over Cincinnati

Steve Balestrieri
October 17, 2016 at 10:54 am ET

The Patriots are 5-1 after a big come from behind win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. They remain a game ahead of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. Miami remains three games back and the Jets play tonight.

Yesterday’s game wasn’t easy nor always pretty, but the team made the adjustments they needed to make to take home the win. The second half adjustments made it a point to use the Patriots tight ends against the Bengals linebackers in space which turned out to be a big mismatch.

The defense as well made adjustments in the second half and played much tougher when they switched from a three-safety look in sub-packages to going with an extra corner in the third quarter. Sunday Eric Rowe made his Pats debut and had a key play defending A.J. Green in the end zone.

So we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A
Tom Brady had some struggles in the first half as the Bengals did a very good job or disrupting the short passing game and getting pressure on him with their front four. But late in the half, Brady heated up and had excellent production from there onward.

Brady finished another stellar performance in Gillette completing 29 of 35 for 376 yards and three more touchdown passes. He also completed his 5000th pass during the game becoming only the 4th QB in the history of the NFL to pass that milestone.

Brady continues to amaze at age 39, he shows no signs of slowing down and appears as good as ever. His pocket awareness and ability to see the field are unparalleled. System QB? In the four games he was missing, the Patriots passed for 840 yards. In the two games since his return, they’ve passed for 782.

Running Backs: B
LeGarrette Blount had some success running the ball early in the game, but the Bengals really clamped down on the running game in the second half. Blount found the going much tougher as the game went on but still managed to grind out 50 yards in 13 carries, including the one-yard touchdown that sealed the win. He also added two catches for 20 yards in the passing game.

James White celebrated a career milestone with his first two touchdown game of his career on Sunday. It is interesting to see all of these players setting career highs with Brady back at the helm, no? He had touchdown receptions of four and 15 yards and totaled 47 yards on eight receptions. He added seven carries for 19 yards in the running game.

D.J. Foster was active Sunday but was used just on the kickoff return team. He did have one return for 30 yards.

Wide Receivers: B-
The wide receivers didn’t have big statistical days on Sunday. The Bengals were doing a good job of covering them in the short-medium range and disrupting the timing.

Chris Hogan had just one catch but it was a big 39-yard reception that set the Patriots up for their first touchdown. Hogan isn’t getting a ton of receptions but he’s quickly becoming a producer of big plays when he gets his hands on the ball. While he’s caught just 13 passes on the season thus far, he’s averaging 21.2 yards per catch.

Julian Edelman chipped in four passes for 30 yards and seems like his normal burst in cutting and changing direction is still not quite 100 percent. He did return one kickoff and three punts for 49 yards including a nice 23-yard return in the fourth quarter.

Danny Amendola chipped in with two catches for 30 yards, including a key third-down reception. Malcolm Mitchell played only about a dozen snaps and didn’t register on the stat sheet.

Tight Ends: A
Last week we talked about Gronkowski looking like he was finally healed up from his hamstring injury that slowed him thru much of the summer. This week, he was dealing with a case of the stomach flu that caused him to miss Friday’s practice.

No worries, Gronkowski turned in a stellar performance catching seven passes for a career-high 162 yards and a touchdown. The big man was unstoppable in the second half as Brady targeted him on the Bengals big and physical linebackers. But they couldn’t match his athleticism. He did get caught up in the foolishness with the antics of Cincinnati, which cost the team 15-yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Martellus Bennett had a quiet first half but picked things up in the second half as well, logging five catches for 48 yards. Once again both tight ends provided very good blocking in the running and at times pass protection games.

Gronk and Bennett’s combined numbers a week ago were 11 catches for 176 yards and three TDs. On Sunday, they had 12 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown. Things are trending up with these two. They will cause some sleepless nights in Pittsburgh this week leading up to the game.

Offensive Line: B-
The team had Marcus Cannon return to action this week. As a result, Shaq Mason returned to RG and Joe Thuney returned to his normal LG position. Facing a very tough and physical Cincinnati front four, the unit had its work cut out for themselves this week.

The Bengals are deep and have sub-package players (Michael Clarke, Pat Sims) who can really help out in run support or rushing the passer and the Patriots were pressured in the first half. The OL had troubles all day consistently opening holes in the running game, and they ran for just 79 yards on the day.

Brady’s pass protection was a tale of two halves. For the majority of the first 30 minutes, Cincinnati’s pass rush of just their four down lineman were dominating the day. They were forcing him to slide in the pocket and forced him off his spot when he wanted to throw. The second half was a much better effort. Brady had much more time to throw and it showed as he used the tight ends in the passing game and had the time to look downfield more as they tightened things up.

Defensive Line: B
The Patriots defensive line was very good in the running game despite Cincinnati having 120 yards rushing on Sunday. Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard combined for 87 yards rushing but did so on 28 carries. The duo averaged just 3.1 yards per carry which the Patriots will take all day long. The remaining yards were on two scrambles from Dalton and two runs by Rex Burkhead in garbage time.

The stepped up when they needed to in the goalline stand with DE Chris Long blowing up the 4th down run and allowing Elandon Roberts to fly up and make the play. The pass rush was non-existent in the first half. Once they mixed in a few A-gap blitzes by Hightower, Mingo and Roberts, it loosened things up and they got better pressure in the second half.

Moving forward, it is an area that will need to be improved as they move toward the second half of the season.

Linebackers: A-
Dont’a Hightower was arguably the player of the game. He was fantastic and with the Patriots very shorthanded Sunday, he stepped his game up as leaders must do. With Jamie Collins (hip), Shea McClellin (concussion) and Jonathan Freeny (placed on IR), out this week, the onus was placed on the large shoulders of #54.

He responded with 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks and the safety that turned the game’s momentum in the third quarter. With the Bengals pushed back because of a holding penalty, Hightower looped from his left to his right untouched up the A-gap and sacked Dalton two yards deep in the end zone. The Patriots rallied and never looked back.

Elandon Roberts had a very strong game again, showing very impressive instincts and the downhill, physical style that belies his size. He chipped in with 7 tackles. He was injured early in this one but was able to return and played very well. Mingo bit on and was victimized on a double move by Bernard on a wheel route for a big 32-yard gain.

Secondary: B
The defensive game plan needed to be changed at halftime. The secondary in their nickel package brought in an extra safety in the first half. That wasn’t working as Dalton was picking them apart. In the second half, the defense switched it up with an extra cornerback and the coverage improved dramatically.

Malcolm Butler had a really strong game. When the Bengals targeted him, they were just 3-7 for 14 yards, with a touchdown and 4 passes broken up. He got beat by Brandon LaFell to the inside on the touchdown pass, but against A.J. Green, Dalton only completed 1-4 for 4 yards with two passes defensed.

Logan Ryan and Eric Rowe were placed on Green with safety help over the top in the second half and did a great job of slowing him down. He only had a single catch for 9 yards with two passes defensed after halftime.

Devin McCourty had another strong game at safety. Pat Chung played in the slot for much of the first half but moved back to a more comfortable position later.

Special Teams: B
Stephen Gostkowski missed another kick this week, an extra point and now the concern with him gets real. He’s already missed more kicks in the first six weeks (four) than he normally does in a season. One has to wonder if Belichick starts bringing in kickers for workouts soon.

Ryan Allen was once again a difference maker in the punting game with a net average of 40.3 on Sunday. He did a great job of pinning the Bengals back with punts that either couldn’t be returned or if they were, were of no consequence. His counterpart, Kevin Huber, had a net punting average of 28.7 against the Patriots. A clear win for the Pats special teams.

Coaches: B
Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and Matt Patricia get high marks for making the adjustments that they needed to win the game. Things were going right in the first half with neither the offense or the defense. They made the changes and took over control of the game.

McDaniels changed up the passing game to use the tight ends and target the Bengals linebackers in coverage and it worked to perfection. Patricia changed his nickel packages and after getting burned by Bernard in the passing game in the first half, started to blitz more, forcing Cincinnati to leave him in to block in the second half.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Second Half Surge Catapults Patriots Past Bengals

Steve Balestrieri
October 16, 2016 at 9:41 pm ET

What We Learned on Sunday in the win over the Bengals

The Patriots made some key adjustments in their play-calling in the second half and the offense took off with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and James White leading the charge as New England beat Cincinnati 35-17 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

But it was the play of LB Dont’a Hightower who ultimately turned the game’s momentum in the Patriots favor. With Jamie Collins out with a hip injury and Jonathan Freeny placed on IR this week, the Patriots’ big man from Alabama was going to be leaned on for veteran leadership and production. And he didn’t disappoint. His tackle in the end zone on Andy Dalton for a safety flipped the game in the Patriots favor and they never looked back.

The crowd was loud and boisterous all day and wanting to see Brady in his first home game since his suspension. Brady followed up his big game in Cleveland with another gem. He completed 29 of 35 for 376 yards and three touchdowns with Gronk having a career day.

Gronkowski who missed Friday’s practice with the stomach flu was cleared this morning that he’d be good to go. And he was; Brady hooked up with Gronkowski seven times for 162 yards and a touchdown. It was a career high for Gronkowski. It was the second 100-yard effort in a row and the 22nd in his career tying him for third in NFL history.

He was virtually unstoppable in the second half. In our pregame keys, we said Gronk and Bennett along with White would be successful attacking the Bengals linebackers in space, something they struggle with. Combined, the three had 20 catches, 257 yards, and three touchdowns.

White was another key member of the offense on Sunday, when Cincinnati went all in on stopping Gronkowski and/or Bennett, White made them pay underneath, catching eight passes for 47 yards and two big touchdowns from 15 and 4 yards out. Bennett had five catches for 48 yards.

Hightower was immense on Sunday, making thirteen tackles, one of them for a loss and had 1.5 sacks of Andy Dalton. The first was possibly the turning point in the game. Down 14-10 in the third quarter, the Bengals were backed by a holding penalty. On the ensuing play, Hightower came on an A-gap blitz and sacked Dalton in the end zone. On the following drive, New England went right down the field to score and never looked back.

The game see-sawed back and forth with Cincinnati outplaying the Pats in the first half and bottling up the Patriots offense. They were able to jam the Patriots short passing game down low, forcing Brady to hold the ball and their front four was getting good pressure on Brady.

Meanwhile, Dalton was cutting a swath thru the Patriots defense. Down 3-0, Dalton drove Cincy down the field after RB Giovanni Bernard burnt LB Barkevious Mingo on a wheel route for a big play down to the NE six. But the Pats defense held and on fourth and goal, Chris Long blew up the run to the left side and Bernard was swallowed up by the linebackers and Cincy was stopped on downs.

On their next possession, Dalton again was excellent and this time ran it in from the three on an option keeper and the Bengals led 7-3. That’s when the old Bengals demons began to surface.

On a third and 18 from deep in the Patriots end at the 17, Dre Kirkpatrick got called on a brutal illegal contact penalty that gave NE an automatic first down. From there, Cincinnati’s defense went to a soft zone. Brady eviscerated them quickly marching down the field, hitting Hogan for 39 yards and then three passes to White, the final one being 15 yards for a touchdown and inexplicably the Patriots led 10-7 at the half.

Dalton led another TD drive to give Cincy back the lead 14-10 and stopped New England and had a chance to seize control of the game. But RT Cedric Ogbuehi, who we also identified in our keys as the weak link, was called for holding. That set up the Hightower sack/safety and with the score 14-12, the Pats flipped the script.

Josh McDaniels made adjustments and the routes were deeper in the second half, targeting the linebackers and safeties. Brady’s protection was much better in the second half and the offense couldn’t be stopped.

Brady led the Patriots on a 68-yard drive on five plays that the tight ends shined in. Bennett caught a big 24-yard reception, followed by a Gronk 38-yarder on a 3rd and 8. Brady hit Gronkowski for a 5-yard touchdown to put the Pats up for good 19-14.

On the ensuing drive, Brady once again led the Patriots on a quick 53-yard, 4-play drive, featuring a 38-yard pass reception by Gronkowski and an 11-yarder to Bennett. It culminated with a White four-yard touchdown reception to make the score 25-14, the extra point was no good.

The defense stepped up their play in the second half and tightened up their coverage and began to force more pressure on Dalton. Eric Rowe got in his first action and played well. Hightower and rookie LB Elandon Roberts were very impressive all day.

After the team’s traded field goals to make it 28-17, Hightower and Jabaal Sheard combined for a big third down sack on Dalton that forced a punt. Julian Edelman made a really nice punt return of 23 yards to past midfield, there Brady drove the Patriots for the final nail in Cincinnati’s coffin with a nine play, 42-yard drive with Blount taking it in for a one-yard touchdown run.

Cincinnati then did what they always seem to do in at crunch time, they melted down and started with the cheap hits and the chirping. Gronkowski had words with Adam Jones after he dove at his knees and with Vontaze Burfict as well.

Burfict, having just returned from a suspension for dirty play, dove at the back of Bennett’s knees away from the play, and will probably see a Fed Ex envelope from the league next week. Gronkowski fell into that trap and was flagged for the follow-on stupidity. Bottom line, the Bengals are an ill-disciplined lot and nothing will change anytime soon.

The Patriots were locked in a tough struggle today, but they made adjustments on both sides of the ball and Brady, in particular, was on fire in the second half. Gronkowski and Bennett were the big recipients of his passes and the Bengals couldn’t stop them. As a result, with Pittsburgh and Denver losing this week, New England now owns the AFC’s best record at 5-1 and that sets up a big game on the road against the Steelers next week.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

TB Times: Pats Bite Bengals

John Morgan
at 6:00 pm ET

Welcome back to Gillette Stadium TB12

Patriots 35, Bengals 17

Playing in his first game in Foxboro since Roger Goodell abused his Article 46 powers, Tom Brady completed 29 out of 35 passes for 376 yards as the New England Patriots defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 35-17. Brady threw three touchdown passes and went over 5,000 pass completions in his illustrious career. TB12 led the Patriots to scoring drives on each of their final four possessions. He finished the day with a 140.0 passer rating, completing 83% of his passes with no turnovers.

The Bengals came out of the second half with an 80-yard touchdown drive to take the lead 14-10. Cincy forced a punt after just four plays and things were looking good for the visitors. The tide quickly turned as Trey Flowers stuffed Jeremy Hill for no gain and then Cedric Ogbuehi was called for holding after being beat by Rob Ninkovich. That penalty negated what would have been a 15-yard completion to AJ Green for a first down, and backed Cincinnati up to the 8-yard line.

On the next play Dont’a Hightower sacked Andy Dalton in the end zone for a safety and close the score to 14-12. That was the turning point of the game, as New England dominated the rest of the way. The Patriots scored on each of their next four possessions while the defense held Cincinnati to two punts and a field goal. Hightower was a beast all game. At one point he looked as if he would be unable to continue after being hit by a teammate on a tackle. On the very next play the defensive captain was in on a crucial sack.

Marvin Lewis was unable to come up with a game plan to slow down Rob Gronkowski. In spite of dealing with a flu this week Gronk had his way with the Cincinnati defenders, catching seven of the nine passes thrown his way for 162 yards – an incredible 23.1 yards per catch – and a touchdown. Gronk simply ran past Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and over corner Adam Jones.

The officiating was inconsistent with questionable decisions (perhaps make-up calls) on both teams. We’ll save that for another day and savor this victory for now. Tomorrow it is on to Pittsburgh.

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the Bengals

Steve Balestrieri
October 14, 2016 at 11:30 am ET

Gillette Will Be Loud, Pats Need to Keep It That Way

The Patriots return home to the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium this Sunday to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. This will be the first home game for Tom Brady since his suspension ended a week ago. Gillette will be loud and rocking, the Patriots should aim to keep it that way.

The opponent this week, the Bengals are coming in wounded at 2-3. Always one of the more talented teams in the league, Cincinnati has struggled to score, especially in the red zone this year, a combination of the injury to Tyler Eifert and the free agency departures of Marvin Jones and Muhammad Sanu have hurt their production. Andy Dalton’s protection has suffered and he’s been sacked 17 times. But their defense hasn’t been as stout as years past as well.

The Patriots know that the Bengals will come into Gillette fired up. They need this game and can’t afford to drop to 2-4 in the AFC North. They’ll also remember the last time that they came in here, just two years ago and were wiped out 43-17 on national television.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

QB Tom Brady: The Patriots QB returned with a vengeance on Sunday in Cleveland and looked to be in mid-season form and not someone who missed the first quarter of the season. Passing for over 400 yards and three touchdowns Brady made quick work of an overmatched Browns defense.

This week, he’ll face a much tougher test, as Cincinnati’s defense is much stouter than the Browns and can get after the quarterback. The Bengals front seven is big, physical and aggressive and Brady’s pre-snap reads and reaction time will have to be spot on.

The crowd may have an effect on Brady as well. He did a great job of keeping his emotions in check on Sunday and playing a very cool and collected game. With the crowd into it at the start of the game this week, will he be able to check his emotion again or will it get the better of him a bit, at least initially?

DE Chris Long: Facing the Bengals passing attack with Andy Dalton this week, the Patriots know what they need to do. Dalton has passed for over 1500 yards in five games and has one of the best WR targets in A.J. Green. So to neutralize the deep play threat of him, they’ll need to bring some pressure on Dalton this week. That’s where Long, as well as fellow DE Jabaal Sheard come in.

Dalton has been sacked 17 times this year already and his normally stout offensive line has struggled including both tackles, veteran Andrew Whitworth and Cedric Ogbuehi. Long will be going against Ogbuehi and will need to get the better of the 2nd year RT to force Dalton into getting rid of the ball early and possibly forcing him into a mistake or two.

The veteran Long has been a good signing thus far, giving the Patriots the veteran presence, outstanding edge setting in the running game and good QB pressure. This week facing another playoff team from a year ago, he’ll have to step up his game and take it to the next level.

TEs Rob Gronkowski/ Martellus Bennett: The big men had a fantastic day against the Browns a week ago providing great run blocking and tremendous production in the passing game. Gronkowski, rapidly approaching full health, had five catches for 109 yards including a highlight reel 34-yard completion where he made five defenders miss. Bennett had six catches for 67 yards and three touchdowns. They were a big mismatch for the Cleveland defense, which had no answer for the dynamic duo.

This week, they too will be facing a tougher matchup, especially in the running game where the Bengals front seven is vastly superior to that of the Browns. The Bengals linebackers, Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga are big, physical downhill types who can crash the point of attack and disrupt the flow and timing of the offense.

But it is in the passing game that the Patriots will try to pressure those two backers. Gronkowski and Bennett have the advantage here as well as with the safeties. Look for them to attack the seams of the Cincinnati defense this week. They will look to isolate the LBs in coverage and may split them out on occasion to create matchups in space.

CB Malcolm Butler: The Patriots top corner is getting kind of a raw deal this season. Judging from most of the “evaluation” you see from social media, you’d get the impression he’s having a bad or at least a disappointing season.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald tweeted out on Thursday that in the last three weeks, Butler has allowed just 4 catches on 14 targets. Those are impressive numbers by anyone’s standards. But if you’re into those fantasy football stats, I guess he hasn’t logged any interceptions.

It isn’t known if Butler or Logan Ryan will draw the dangerous A.J. Green this week, but whoever it is, they are sure to have safety help over the top as Bill Belichick always looks to take away the opponent’s biggest weapon. History says that will fall to Ryan. So Butler will draw the task of taking on his former teammate, the big, physical Brandon LaFell. Those two know each other well from practicing against one another for two years.

The chess match within a chess match takes on added importance when, if successful in neutralizing Green, Butler will be on his own against LaFell, who has a good size advantage.

OT Cameron Fleming: With Brady returning a week ago, all eyes were on him as he performed the usual Brady magic without missing a beat. But one of the things lost in the shuffle was the play of right tackle Cameron Fleming who was filling in for starter Marcus Cannon. Cannon missed Sunday with a calf injury.

The fact we didn’t call Fleming’s name very much spoke volumes about how well he played in protecting Brady in the passing game. He allowed just one pressure all day, facing the Browns’ talented rookie Carl Nassib for the most part.  Fleming played very well and had good communication with RG Joe Thuney who slid over from the left for this contest.

This week, he’ll be facing the very dangerous Carlos Dunlap if Cannon isn’t ready to go. Cannon was listed on Thursday’s injury report as having just limited participation at practice. Dunlap leads the Bengals with four sacks, all of them coming in the past three weeks after having 13.5 a year ago.

Belichick was effusive in his praise of Dunlap on Wednesday’s presser stating that the veteran has “great ball awareness, causes a lot of fumbles, strip sacks, good pass rusher, hard to block because he’s so long, very athletic, occasionally gets into coverage, a hard guy to throw over, takes up a lot of space.”

This will be a key matchup for the Patriots in their passing game. If Fleming can’t handle the assignment on his own and Dunlap brings pressure on Brady, it means the Patriots will be forced to keep one of the tight ends in to help block him which takes away from the passing game.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Bengals Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots will play the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. The game will mark the first home game for Tom Brady, fresh off of his suspension and the crowd should be fired up for the start of this one.

The game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (4-1) routed the Cleveland Browns 33-13 on Tom Brady’s return to the field on the road Sunday. Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns, all of them to tight end Martellus Bennett as he and Rob Gronkowski were more than the overmatched Browns defense could handle.

The Bengals (2-3) were embarrassed by the Dallas Cowboys 28-14 on Sunday in Dallas. The score wasn’t indicative of the game as the Bengals were essentially blown out and down 28-0 in the second half. The Cowboys ground game churned out 180 yards rushing and rookie QB Dak Prescott was impressive both running and throwing against the Cincy defense. Brandon LaFell scored two late touchdowns for the Bengals making the score respectable.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Bengals will meet for the 25th time on Sunday. The Patriots hold an all-time 15-9 edge including a big 9-2 advantage at home.

The Patriots beat Cincinnati 43-17 in the famous, “We’re on to Cincinnati” game from two years ago. After being embarrassed in KC and questioned openly by the national press, the Patriots blew out a previously undefeated Bengals team and rode that momentum all the way to a Super Bowl victory. They had tremendous balance in that one with Brady having 285 yards net yards passing and the backs rushing for 220 more.

Now Cincinnati is the one struggling at 2-3 and after a bad loss on the road to Dallas, they may be the ones at a crossroad. Since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots are 6-2 against Cincinnati with both losses coming on the road.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2016 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Bengals

Steve Balestrieri
October 11, 2016 at 8:12 am ET

Cincinnati Offense Struggling Early in 2016

The Patriots return home to the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. This is the second of three straight games that New England will take on opponents from the AFC North.

The Patriots (4-1), welcomed back QB Tom Brady as well as DE Rob Ninkovich on Sunday in Cleveland. The offense with their starting QB back behind center clicked very impressively as Brady led them to touchdowns on their first three drives as the team burst out to a 23-7 lead and cruised to a 33-13 win.

The Bengals (2-3) are struggling. Last season’s division champion is now facing in what is almost a must-win type situation if they want to repeat. They’re two games behind a Steelers team that is rolling and things don’t seem to be improving. They were blown out 28-14 in Dallas on Sunday, with two late scores making the score appear much closer than the game truly was.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Bengals:

Offense Struggling Especially in the Red Zone: The Bengals offense is really struggling early in the 2016 season. The offensive line isn’t playing well allowing 17 sacks and is averaging only 3.4 yards per carry.  For a team with Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard, that’s far too low.

The Bengals rank 10th in total offense but 25th in rushing offense. Additionally, the Bengals rank 20th in scoring, averaging 18.4 points per game. With Tyler Eifert on the shelf with offseason surgery as well as a back injury, they’ve really struggled to score, most importantly in the red zone.

The play calling of Ken Zampese has been criticized as being too conservative and when teams have been able to neutralize A.J. Green the team has struggled.  In the red zone where Cincinnati scored touchdowns on 66 percent of their trips a year ago, their scuffling along at 31 percent in 2016. Without Eifert in the lineup, teams are taking away Green and the rest of the cast hasn’t picked up the slack yet.

Things showed some improvement this week, albeit late in the game with Brandon LaFell getting his first two touchdowns in a Bengal uniform against Dallas. But this will bear watching this week.

Lewis, “This Isn’t Who We Are”: Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis didn’t shy away from the questions that came after his team looked flat in Dallas and fell below .500 in 2016.

“Obviously, it was not a very good football game for us,” Lewis said. “First half to be down 21-0, threw up a touchdown [in the] second series of the second half right after we get stopped on offense. We didn’t well play enough and they outplayed us.”

While the Bengals defense was gashed for 180 yards by the Cowboys on Sunday, that was more indicative of the level of play of the Dallas OL than it was of the Bengals defense. Still, there are issues that need to be looked at defensively before they come to New England this week.

“Defensively, we gave up some plays where they got 7, 8, 13 yards,” Lewis said. “Crossing routes and things like that hurt us today. On third downs in the first half, we weren’t very good. They converted the three-or-four they had. They kept the drives alive when they had opportunities.”

Green is the ‘Must Stop’ Guy This Week: Bengals WR A.J. Green is one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. And with the rest of the offense still in search of its game, the Bengals are becoming increasingly reliant on him. It is becoming a case of if he has a monster game the Bengals win if he doesn’t they lose. That isn’t fair, even for one of the most talented WRs in the league.

The 6’4, 210-pound 6th year player from Georgia is always a matchup nightmare and will present a very tough defensive key for the Patriots smaller cornerbacks this week. Green dominated against the Dolphins two weeks ago using his size, speed, and physicality where he was targeted 12 times and made 10 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown.

Therein lies the challenge; it is never easy but if the Patriots can limit Green’s effectiveness, the Cincinnati offense has struggled. In their two wins, he was targeted 25 times and made 22 catches for 353 yards (16.0 average) and two touchdowns. In Cincy’s three losses Green was targeted 27 times and made just 14 catches for 165 yards and 0 touchdowns.

With the Cincinnati offense needing a spark this week, they’ll look to their most talented offensive weapon first, to get him into the game quickly. He had just a single catch in the first half against Dallas as the team fell behind 21-0.

Dalton Playing Well Despite Struggles: There never seems to be a shortage of criticism leveled at Andy Dalton who, despite having solid seasons playing in the tough AFC North, is still looking for his first playoff win.

Dalton had the best year of his career in 2015 before going down with a thumb injury that cut short his year. And he’s playing better in 2016 despite not having his biggest and best red zone target in Tyler Eifert.

He’s attempting and completing more passes in 2016 than he did a year ago. Part of the issue is that with the struggles of the running game to get untracked, he’s been forced to throw more. But his accuracy is up and his interception rate is down.

“He keeps getting better every year,” Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said. We’re just the production over a long time of digesting plays and knowing how to fix them. And knowing how to salvage them.”

Thru the first five games Dalton is completing 67.4 percent of his passes (126 of 187), for 1503 yards, 8.0 yards per attempt, with five touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 96.4.

After losing productive wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohammad Sanu this offseason, the WR unit has struggled to find their rhythm beyond A.J. Green. But at the end of last week’s game, Dalton found LaFell for a pair of scores that could foretell of a turning point for the offense.

Cincinnati Front Four Poses Tough Challenge: While the unit was gashed by the Cowboys on Sunday, don’t let that influence the fact that this is a very tough physical front four. Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, and Domata Peko spearhead an excellent group that not only can stop the run but get after the passer as well. They also have Margus Hunt and the talented reserve sub-package rusher Will Clarke who has three sacks already this season.

They’ll be looking to redeem themselves this week and we all remember how disruptive they can be. When the Patriots visited there in 2013, they held New England to just six points in a big victory.

While the Patriots will look to remain balanced, or close to it with LeGarrette Blount running the ball this week to keep the defense honest, this will be a tough unit to run on. One caveat from a week ago, not many teams have an offensive line like the Cowboys.

They’re also backed by the very physical MLB in Vontaze Burfict who returned two weeks ago from a suspension and is a downhill, spark plug for the front seven.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

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