It is often said by Patriots players current and past that Bill Belichick likes to give the team just a few things to focus on that they'll need to do in each game to be successful. Each week this season we'll bring you our own version of what we think the Pats need to do to win the game.
I'm not an NFL head coach, though I have won multiple Super Bowls and had multiple undefeated seasons in Madden, so this is meant to start discussion. What do you think they'll do? How will Cincinnati attack the Pats? Let's hear your thoughts too.
Our Patriots game plan for the Cincinnati Bengals after the jump...
The Bengals are a well balanced team who, on paper, appear to be one of the best opening day challenges the Patriots have had perhaps since 2004 when they faced the Colts week one. Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens speak for themselves, but rookie Tight End Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley should see plenty of time as well. Cedric Benson was reborn in 2009 and is a big bruising back.
On defense the Bengals should benefit from the return of Antwan Odom who was a force to be reckoned with in 2009 (cough - performance enhancing drugs) before going down with an achilles injury. Cornerbacks Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall are both solid, and the linebacker corps should be see improvement from Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers.
Overall the Bengals are a solid team top to bottom, built very similarly to the Miami Dolphins. As such I expect to see the Patriots attack them in a similar way.
The Bengals faded down the stretch in 2009. Part of it was due to injuries, the rest was due to the lack of receiving threats and an inability to threaten the deep part of the field after the tragic loss of Chris Henry. Another weakness was their offensive line's pass protection which did not give Carson Palmer enough time to deliver the deep ball.
The Bengals will have to choose which part of the Patriots defense to attack. Surely both the Pats young corners and their unproven defensive line has to be tempting. I think what we're most likely to see is the ground and pound in a similar style to how Baltimore attacked New England in the playoffs.
The Bengals are a team that thrives with the lead. They have no problem relying on their defense to hold on for them, and their running game was designed to eat up clock. So here's what I believe the Patriots must do to win the game.
1. Get an early lead
Usually I am a fan of deferring to the second half after winning the coin toss, but in games like this one it will be important to get our offense on the field first and put points on the board. The bigger the lead the Pats can get the more it will take the Bengals out of their game. Force them to pass the ball.
2. Stop Benson Early
The Bengals can absolutely not be allowed to establish their running game. I'd expect the Patriots to see the ground and pound coming and have Pat Chung in the box early and often. If the Bengals are able to move the ball on the ground it will eat up clock and prevent the Patriots offense from putting up the points their capable of. It will also open up the downfield passing attack. I would not be surprised to see the Patriots in their Big Nickel package a good deal, especially later in the game if they're able to get a lead. If the Bengals are throwing a lot it will be to the Patriots advantage. Shootouts will favor the team with better quarterback and receivers. The Patriots have both.
3. Play Smart Football
The Bengals will beat themselves if you let them. They had 78 offensive penalties in 2009. If the Patriots can play disciplined they should be able to gain an advantage. When you throw in all the personalities and TV shows, if you give the Bengals a reason to throw the towel in they likely will. The Patriots must be more physical and make every down a war, but do it cleanly and with controlled aggression.
4. Spread Em Out
The Bengals do have a solid defensive backfield, but not solid enough to cover the multiple threats the Patriots passing game has. I expect the Patriots to throw early and often, especially in the middle of the field to Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Alge Crumpler. The Pats lacked threats outside of Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2009, but this year I expect them to unveil a new diversified aerial attack from the opening drive. Moss and Tate can take Joseph and Hall out of the game, forcing players like Roy Williams out of their comfort zone.
In 2006 and 2007 the Patriots had big games against the Bengals, and both times they blew them out. Yes, both teams are entirely different now, but you can't argue that Belichick holds a distinct coaching advantage over Marvin Lewis. The Patriots are young on defense, no longer is a solid veteran defensive performance a given. But the Patriots will be a young, fast, and well coached team. You cannot discount that. If they can hold the Bengals to under 20 points the Patriots should have a very good chance at winning the game. It doesn't have to be pretty. They just have to get the job done.