The New England Patriots return home for the second time in 2014 to take on the Cincinnati Bengals for a primetime Sunday Night Football matchup on NBC. The game will kick-off at 8:30 p.m. and as always Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will be on the call for play-by-play and color analyst duties.
The Patriots (2-2) were taken to the woodshed by the Kansas City Chiefs 41-14 on Monday Night Football and now must regroup in a short week. Amazingly enough, with the loss the Pats still reside in a tie atop the AFC East.
The Bengals (3-0) have had extra time to prepare for this one having an early bye week and should get some injured players (Vontaze Burfict, Marvin Jones, Rex Burkhead) back for this one. The Bengals are 3-0 for the first time since 2006 and are have been playing as well as any team in the NFL to start the season.
The two teams have met only 23 times in their history with the Patriots holding a 14-9 edge including an 8-2 record at home. The last meeting was in 2013 in Cincinnati as the Bengals defense was the story of the day as they dominated the Pats enroute to a 13-6, also during Week 5 of the season.
As part of the lead-up to the game on Sunday night, weâll have a detailed breakdown of the matchups later in the week, but here are Five First Impressions of the Bengals:
Bengals Solid Play on Offense/Defense Sparks Good Start:Â Despite losing both their offensive and defensive coordinators this season to new gigs as head coaches, the Bengals havenât missed a beat getting outstanding play on both sides of the ball to vault themselves as one of the top two teams in the AFC.
Much maligned QB Andy Dalton has been sharp in the early going completing 65 percent of his passes for 722 yards two TDs and only 1 interception despite having his best WR, A.J. Green hampered by injury. Second year RB Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill have sparked the running game giving the team a very well balanced attack.
On defense, no one in the NFL has given up fewer points than Cincinnati. The Bengals defense, always tough has allowed only 11 points per game. While their unit has given up some garbage time yards at the end of games, the most telling statistic (Bill Belichick quote) is points and theyâre right on top of their game.
Geno Atkins Is Getting Healthy: Still recovering from last seasonâs ACL surgery, Atkins, like the Pats Rob Gronkowski is not quite 100 percent physically back to where he normally is. But heâs getting better every week and given the issues the Patriots are having with their offensive line, this is a game where Atkins will be looking to get on track.
Tom Bradyâs protection has been shoddy all season and this weekâs matchup with Atkins and the struggling unit in New England will be one to watch. While the entire front seven of Cincy is very solid, it is Atkins who is arguably their best player and heâll be looking to set the tone early on Sunday night.
Offensive Game Plan Similar This Week: On Monday night the Chiefs attacked the weak side of the Patriots defense using multiple formations, misdirection and using a two back set. KC ran for over 200 yards thus freezing the linebackers in run support freeing TE Travis Kelcy to get wide open. Cincinnati runs a similar West Coast offense and Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson will probably run a similar attack.
With Bernard and Hill getting a lot of looks it may free up TE Jermaine Gresham to have a bigger piece of the passes from Dalton this week. The Bengals have been looking to get Gresham more involved in the passing game and this may prove to be the perfect time to get it done.
Something else to monitor on Sunday night will be the protection afforded Dalton. Thru the first three games it has been outstanding with the Bengals having not allowing a sack thus far. The Patriots have been struggling to get consistent pressure on opposing QBs and if Dalton has time, theyâll be looking to take some shots down the field.
Second Half Scoring Key: Cincinnati has been playing outstanding second half football thus far this season as their coaches have been making some superb half time adjustments. The Bengals are outscoring their opponents 44-3 in the second halves of games thus far and have trailed in a game for only 48 seconds.
Contrast that to the struggles the Patriots are having in the second half this season being outscored 53-26 with their only two touchdowns coming in Monday nightâs game when the result was already not in doubt. This will be something to monitor on Sunday evening if the score is close after halftime.
Struggles on Sunday Night: For some reason, the Bengals have struggled on Sunday night games going only 3-12. In road games during these prime time contests Cincy is only 1-8. With Andy Dalton at the helm theyâve only played twice, losing both games against the Steelers. Obviously they are in good position to change their fortunes this week.