By: Steve Balestrieri
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (pictured) and the Benagals will give the Patriots their next challenge when they host the New England on Sunday. (USA Today photo)
The Patriots put together a really impressive team effort for 54 minutes on Sunday night then had to hold on for a wild finish over the Falcons 30-23. But the good news is that the team is 4-0 and all alone in first place in the division. But the team will be without DT Vince Wilfork for the rest of the season as he tore his Achilles tendon early in the game.
The Bengals enter the week at 2-2 and consistency is the catch word for them. After conducting a huge comeback win over the Packers in Week 2, the offense was stifled in the loss against the Cleveland Browns as they fell 17-6. For a team that many experts were putting down as division winners and as an AFC contender for the Super Bowl, this is a disappointing start.
Let’s take a look at 5 First Impressions of the Bengals:
Changing of the Guard at RB: Former Patriots feature back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been steadily losing snaps to running back Giovani Bernard and has been replaced as the starter.
Green-Ellis has had troubles getting untrack this season, logging in 52 carries for 142 yards for only a 2.7 yards per carry average. Bernard, has carried 32 times for 147 yards and 2 TDs for a 4.6 yard average. He’s also becoming a big target out of the backfield, catching 10 passes the past two games.
But still, the Bengals running game has struggled to find consistency thus far this season. With the Patriots losing Vince Wilfork on Sunday, they may look to have a much better day running the ball and target the interior of the NE line.
Dalton, Green Connection Struggling:The Bengals QB Andy Dalton and star WR A.J. Green have been struggling the past three games to find a consistent amount of production even though Green has been targeted 38 times in those contests.
Green has caught only 17 of those 38 attempts (45 percent) and his numbers are down catching only 7 of 15 passes thrown his way for 51 yards against the Browns.
Green was a bit frustrated after the Cleveland game stating, “Yeah, it’s very shocking because I feel like we have all the pieces to be a great team,” Green said. “We are not playing at a consistent basis. Even the games we won we are not playing on a consistent basis.”
Green added, “To be a great team you got to be able to come in week in and week out and play great. We are not doing that right now. Even the game last week we had all those turnovers. All that is going to catch up with you in the long run.”
Since a big opening day performance, Green and Dalton have been trying to re-establish that connection. They’re hoping that home cooking will help Sunday against the Patriots.
Dalton Hearing the Critics: With the Bengals offense struggling right now, the critics are already gathering for QB Andy Dalton. While pointing at the early playoff exits the past two years as his fault only is not fair, his performance in those games hasn’t been great. And now, criticism leveled at him stating that he’s too dependent on Green may have some basis for argument.
When Green is producing, Dalton has been able to utilize all the weapons at his disposal. But when he’s not, Dalton has struggled to get the offense moving, and last week was a prime example.
This game against New England is a big, big game for not only the divisional standings for Dalton and the Bengals, but as a benchmark against a perennial AFC frontrunner. This team should not fall to 2-3 given the talent it has on both sides of the ball. If they do, the majority of the criticism, right or wrong will fall to Dalton.
Two Tight End, Sound Familiar?: After watching the tape of the Patriots – Atlanta game, tight ends Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert must be looking forward to this matchup. Using a two-headed TE system that the Patriots had perfected for the past three years, Cincinnati has two very good targets for the offense to utilize.
Tony Gonzalez had a monster night against the Patriots secondary and given the Patriots struggles in recent years defending the tight end position, this looks to be an area where the Bengals may want to target more.
Gresham has caught 18 passes for 181 yards thus far this season, while the rookie Eifert has caught 12 for 159 more. Surprisingly neither one has caught a touchdown pass yet in 2013. Given the struggles of the offense lately, what better way for Dalton to ease into a comfort zone on Sunday than to target a two-headed tight end monster duo?
Bengals Secondary Banged up: While much was made and deservedly so over former Patriots back-up QB Brian Hoyer’s performance last week against the Bengals, Cincy’s secondary was hurt and missing three key performers.
Cornerbacks Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Reggie Nelson all missed the Cleveland game with various hamstring ailments. Adam Jones returned to action and played although still not 100 percent from his own injuries and Brandon Ghee who missed six weeks with concussion issues is back now in the fold.
It’s thought that at least two of these three will be ready to go on Sunday against the Patriots, but will bear watching.