The Patriots will play the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday for the first time since the 43-17 drubbing that followed one of Bill Belichick’s most memorable press conferences. The Bengals are very similar as they were in 2014 on how they try to attack opponents on offense and defense. The overall game plan should be very similar as it was in 2014, although the Bengals auxiliary pieces aren't as good as they were back then. Here's the game plan for how to beat the Bengals.
- Neutralize AJ Green, force Dalton to go elsewhere: Since being drafted 4th overall in the 2011 draft, the top threat for the Cincinnati Bengals is WR AJ Green. In these match-ups the Patriots left Green alone with their top CB since they had Aqib Talib and Darrelle Revis in those games. In this match-up I expect more scheming to neutralize him, perhaps even a Hopkins-like approach. I expect a lot of Logan Ryan underneath and Devin McCourty over the top. The Bengals are hoping to have Tyler Eifert available for the game, but if he can’t go that makes it more difficult for the Bengals to attack downfield. The plan will be to force Dalton to throw underneath to Brandon LaFell or to Giovani Bernard out of the backfield. I expect those two to be the leading receivers for the Bengals.
- Neutralize the pass rushing capabilities of Bengals front four: The Bengals made two home run picks in the 2010 draft with the selections of DT Geno Atkins and DE Carlos Dunlap. Both players terrorize the QB, although they primarily rush from the offense’s right side. In terms of offensive game-planning, we should see a lot of runs to the left and quick passes to the perimeter when the Patriots go from the shotgun. The key to keeping both players in check will be the play-action passing game and selling it hard. The play-action game should free up opportunities to the Patriots two All-Pro tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett against a very average linebacker group.
- More 2 TE offense: This will be the second game of the season the Patriots will have both of their TEs healthy enough to take over a game. The Browns last week learned a hard lesson in how doubling Rob Gronkowski isn’t enough to stop those two. The Bengals are a very well-coached defense and execution of the Patriots most versatile personnel group (1 RB, 2 TE or 12) will have to be as good as last week. The two TEs should be able to free up Julian Edelman underneath or force single coverage on Chris Hogan, who took the top off the Browns defense twice last week for a combined 106 yards on those two plays.
This would be a concerning game for me if this were in Cincinnati instead of New England. This will be Brady’s first game back at Gillette since the suspension and the crowd is going to be rocking like it was that day in 2014. I predict the Patriots win comfortably 31-20.