Monday, October 6, 2014

Patriots Beat Up on Bengals, 43-17

The Patriots flipped the script last night, beating up on the Bengals they way the Chiefs had beaten up the Patriots six days earlier. The Patriots 43-17 victory brings them to 3-2, tied with the Buffalo Bills for first place in the AFC East. And it just so happens the Pats travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills next Sunday, a showdown for the division lead!

After a week of media frenzy -- including some obviously made-up stuff -- the Patriots decided to keep Tom Brady on the roster. And that controversial decision paid off. The Pats scored on their first two possessions, and the defense combined with some bonehead plays by Cincy to hold the Bengals to just 3 points at the half.

I could go into a lot of detail, but the simple fact is the Patriots played much better in all phases (except that one punt return). A lot of that was having no crowd noise to interrupt their O-line communication. But some of it was very creative play-calling by Josh McDaniels, running misdirections off classic plays that got chunk yardage as the Bengals went for the fake.

In honor of Week Five in the NFL, here are five "Fives" for you...

The summary in five letters: "R-E-L-A-X" (Aaron Rodgers, 2014).

The summary in five words: I told you they'd win.

The summary in five stats:

  • Turnovers: Patriots 0, Bengals 3
  • Bengals offense on third- and fourth-downs: 0-8 (0.00%)
  • Time of Possession: Patriots 38:56, Bengals 21:04
  • Tackles by the defenses: Patriots 46, Bengals 83
  • Patriots receivers with at least one catch: 8

The summary in five paragraphs:

The offense played great, with crisp pacing and some very creative plays to take advantage of the Bengals' swarming style of defense. The entire offensive line deserves kudos, for holding up early to give quarterback Tom Brady time to throw, and for dominating late once time-of-possession had worn down the usually stout Cincy defensive line.

Brady finished with Brady-like numbers: 23-35, 292 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 110.7 rating. But most important of all, eight receivers caught passes, and QB12 only forced the ball three or four times. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski (6 for 100 yards, 1 TD) and Tim Wright (5 for 85, 1 TD) dominated the medium zones, and an unusually quiet night for Julian Edelman was more than made up for with the ball being spread around so much.

The defense wasn't as dominant as the offense, but they benefitted from key dropped passes and missed throws by the Bengals. Cornerback Darrelle Revis owned all-world receiver A.J. Green, covering him like a blanket, and forcing a fumble near the half to help seal things before the break. Corner Alfonzo Dennard had multiple holding calls, and corner Logan Ryan gave up the first Bengals touchdown. But by the end of the game, health was the biggest worry in the secondary, given that both safety Devin McCourty and Revis missed time (though Revis returned, McCourty did not).

The front-seven mostly held up well. There were some of the mismatch problems we saw last week against the Chiefs, but the Bengals didn't have the diversity of talent KC has, so those plays were few and far between. Chandler Jones still looks overmatched when he goes directly against offensive linemen, but the interior of the line clogged things well enough to hold the Bengals to 79 yards on the ground.

Special teams returned a fumble for a touchdown, and they also pinned the Bengals back a few times. They did give up one big punt return (and Cincy scored a touchdown on the next play), but that was more than made up for with the fumble return and kicker Stephen Gostkowski's 5-for-5 day (48 yards was his longest). The coaching staff should take a bow, too; fixing not only the offensive line issues, but being more creative in their offensive play-calling and staying aggressive the entire game to make sure there was no repeat of the Week One meltdown against Miami.

Five quick facts:

1. The Patriots did not fix all their offensive line problems this week. With all the new players and youth on the line, the Pats will do well at home and struggle on the road. Their communication problems will continue to be an issue on the road, with hostile crowds. But by Thanksgiving, they should have things together enough to play as a unit, even on the road.

2. The game in Buffalo will actually be a much tougher test for the O-line. The Bills have a very active front-seven, and the crowds in Buffalo can be very loud.

3. The rise of the tight ends will likely tell the tale of the season. If Gronkowski continues to improve, and if Tim Wright can just duplicate what he did in Tampa Bay last year, the Patriots offense will be vastly more difficult to defend by the end of the year.

4. Not mentioned yet are runnings back Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. Vereen had a fantastic game: 9 rushes for 90 yards, and 3 catches for another 18 yards. And Ridley had 27 carries for 113 yards (4.2 ypc), and has zero fumbles on 60 touches this season.

5. On defense, the Pats continue to search for that second cornerback. Dennard isn't quite back from his injury, and Logan Ryan isn't quite up to the task. But all of that will be meaningless if McCourty misses much time. He is their best safety, by a mile, and if he's out, it puts the entirety of the secondary at risk. McCourty is that important to the defense.

So where does that leave us? 3-2 and tied atop the AFC East -- why, that's exactly where I *thought* they'd be at this point ::pats self on back:: Next week is a tough test in Buffalo, but the Patriots usually beat the Bills, especially on the road, so expect a tough game but a win.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots 505 total yards are the most given up by the Bengals in seven years (554 on 9/16/2007 to the Browns).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "In 2003, only Tom Jackson made stuff up about the Patriots, now it seems like there's a Tom Jackson on every station. Maybe this will will shut them up for a week."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 3-2!

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