The New England Patriots’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread following a disappointing loss in Las Vegas last week. As a result, the Patriots likely will have to win out to have a shot at making the postseason — successfully maneuvering through a three-game stretch that starts on Christmas eve against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In order to get a better understanding of who the Patriots will be up against in Week 16, we exchanged questions with Anthony Cosenza of Pats Pulpit’s sister site Cincy Jungle — the SB Nation community for all things Bengals.
Here is what Anthony told us about the upcoming game.
1. The Bengals have really turned things around after struggling early this season. What was behind that rough patch and how have they adapted?
It was a myriad of factors. Four new starters on the offensive line, starters (and the aforementioned new linemen) not playing hardly in the preseason and Joe Burrow suffering an appendectomy in the summer didn’t help things before a Week 1 snap even took place.
Then, teams started playing two-safety shells/Tampa 2 formations against them in an attempt to take away the big play. The preseason rust and impatience in wanting to pop the big gainers got the better of them early, as they tried to adjust.
Since, they’ve done a better job taking what defenses give them and altering their running scheme. RPOs have been a bigger feature and have brought more success on the ground, while Burrow has been absolutely dialed in—even when important receiving weapons have been out of the lineup (that’s been frequent). The offensive line has also settled in, creating a melting pot of positive changes.
2. Joe Burrow’s pressure numbers seem to have gone down the past few weeks. Does this hold up when watching them? If so, how have they improved? Either way, what might the Patriots look to exploit?
It does hold up, yes. If we’re talking improvement from 2021’s group to this year, the biggest area of improvement is along the interior (three new starters there). They have been much more adept at picking up stunts and twists on the inside, with communication seeming to have greatly improved.
From earlier this year to now, it’s more just about them building cohesion. I think with so many new players on the line and them not having played together before, things took time. Joe Burrow has had more clean pockets with higher frequency and it has shown in the numbers.
In terms of vulnerabilities, the tackles have swings of inconsistency, wherein they showcase pure dominance, but also struggles against more agile rushers. Delayed blitzes also have their effects, and in the cases when the opposition doesn’t get pressure, batted balls at or near the line of scrimmage have caused a good chunk of Burrow’s interceptions.
3. The Bengals’ “pretty tough defense” held Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to six points in the second half of last week’s game. What can you tell us about this squad outside of their edge defenders and who are some under-the-radar names fans should be watching out for?
They’re well-coached and just do every aspect of playing defense pretty well. There aren’t a ton of superstars in the group outside of Trey Hendrickson and Logan Wilson, but D.J. Reader is one of the best nose tackles in the league, while the secondary just frustrates even the best of quarterbacks.
Cam Taylor-Britt is a rookie corner who has had both good moments and growing pains, coming in relief of injured starter Chidobe Awuzie. Dax Hill is their first-round pick and has just started getting more playing time.
As for names to watch, linebacker Germaine Pratt is really ascending into a nice player, while second-year edge Joseph Ossai is making some progress. Ossai is getting more snaps recently because of injuries to Hendrickson (may or may not play this week) and Sam Hubbard (out this week), so he’s a guy to keep eyes on.
4. Cincy will be without Sam Hubbard against New England and Trey Hendrickson will be playing through a broken wrist. Rookie corner Cam Taylor-Britt was also injured in Tampa while nickel Mike Hilton missed the game with an ailment of his own. How do you foresee the Bengals adapting?
As cliche and lame of a response as it will sound, they’ll just kind of go “next man up”. As I mentioned, this team is well-coached and adjusts extremely well at halftime, so it’s just going to be more of the same line of thinking.
Like I said earlier, the rookie Hill might be out there a bit more, as could versatile defensive back, Tre Flowers. All in all, most of what will be seen is probably a lot of players in coverage with the attempts of getting pressure without many blitzes (Hilton would be doing some of that, when called). It’s going to be up to young players with many initially pegged as rotational players to come up big as they are likely to see an uptick in snaps than what was originally envisioned.
5. Our pals over at DraftKings Sportsbook have the Patriots as 4-point underdogs at home against the Bengals. What does New England have to do to pull off an upset?
Every week the Bengals are favored, I get gun shy about outwardly picking them and/or coming off as the uber-confident homer. Especially with all of the things I’ve seen with this team over the years.
Yet, they just seem different once again this year and I believe they are 11-3 this year on spreads (two of those “losses” were Weeks 1-2). I don’t like picking against Bill Belichick on his home turf after an egregious loss, but I think I may be inclined to do so this week with how hot the Bengals have been. Kind of riding the hot hand until it proves to fizzle out, you know?
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