Despite their 4-0 record, I think this is the most beatable a Brady/Belichick team has looked since their dynasty began in 2001. This is also the most talented team the Bengals have fielded since 2001 as well. The question is, can the Bengals find a way to stay out of their own way and keep the Patriots from doing what they do (finding a way to win
What to look for….
When the Patriots Run the Ball:
With the Patriots ranked 11th in rushing ypg and the Bengals 11th in rushing yards allowed pg, this is a matchup of two relative strengths. However, the Patriots numbers are a little misleading. Shane Vareen (Out), contributed 101 yards in his only game on just 14 carries. The two RBs that will visit PBS on Sunday have not been nearly as effective: Stevan Ridley is averaging just 3.7 ypc (47 for 174) and has 1 more fumble (1) than TDs (0), but he won’t play today.
LeGarrette Blount (yes, he is still apparently in the league), is averaging 4.6 ypc (34 for 155), with 1 TD, however, Blount had a 47 yard TD run against the Falcons, meaning his other 33 carries have gone for just 108 yards (3.27 ypc) and 0 TDs. I don’t see this running attack posing much of a threat to the Bengals run defense.
When the Patriots Throw the Ball:
Tom Brady is arguably the best QB of this era, but he doesn’t have his normal plethora of weapons…and it is showing. With no Welker, no Hernandez, no Gronk and no Loyd, Brady is not having a “Brady” season. It is stunning that Brady is completing less than 60% of his passes (58.9%), has a rating of 87.4 and is on pace for just 28 TDs – not bad, but for a guy that once threw 50 in a season and has thrown 34+ his last 3 years, that would be a significant drop off. The issue is not Brady, but his young receivers. With the glass man Amendola injured (surprise, surprise), Edelman has been his safety outlet and filled the Welker role, and while Edelman is good, he is no Welker.
Rookie Aaron Dobson is injured (Questionable) and Kenbrell Thompkins, though talented, is still young and not always on the same page with Brady. But don’t be fooled, this is still Tom Brady, and with the injury issues in the Bengals secondary, Brady could have a great game if given time – and getting to Brady is tough (only 7 sacks in 4 games). As it usually is, the ability of the Bengals DL to pressure the QB will be key. If the Bengals were healthy in the secondary and on the line, I may be tempted to give them the edge due to the young and injured Patriot receivers (and TEs). The Bengals are not healthy. Therefore Brady could have a field day.