The Cincinnati Bengals return home to face the undefeated New England Patriots this Sunday in a game that has great implications.
If the Bengals pull out the win, last week’s loss to the Cleveland Browns will be viewed as an anomaly. But with a loss and perhaps another weak outing by quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals may find themselves searching for ways to salvage their season.
At home, the Bengals (2-2) are undefeated and performed much better against the pass than they have on the road. They have held Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in check, forcing Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers into a two interception performance and limiting Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to 278 yards of total offense.
Meanwhile on the road, Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears and Brian Hoyer of the Browns were able to find the holes in Cincinnati’s secondary to help their respective teams win. Bengals fans can only hope that this pattern continues in week five when they face three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady.
However, the Patriots, though undefeated, have question marks of their own. Brady began the season with a significantly inexperienced group of receivers who have struggled to stay on the same page as their quarterback. But the wide receivers have shown recent signs of improvement as both Kenbrell Thompkins (127 yards receiving) and Julian Edelman (118 yards receiving) had strong games last week against the Atlanta Falcons.
On defense, New England must deal with the loss of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork who sustained a season-ending injury (achilles) against Atlanta. Wilfork is key to the Patriots’ ability to stop the run. Over the last five seasons, New England is ranked ninth against the rush with Wilfork on the field and dead last without him.
But the Bengals cannot concern themselves with their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses at this point. They have the talent to beat almost any team in the league, as evidenced by their comeback victory over the Packers. But when they fail to execute on offense, they are capable of losing to any opponent, including a team depleted of its starting quarterback, just like the Browns.
While Hoyer gave an inspired performance, Cincinnati’s lack of offense was the biggest factor in the loss. The Bengals converted only four of 14 third down attempts against Cleveland and gained only 16 first downs. Meanwhile, the Falcons lost to the Patriots in week four despite picking up 26 first downs. If offensive coordinator Jay Gruden cannot make the proper adjustments and Dalton continues to miss open receivers, the promise that surrounded the Bengals before the season will quickly vanish.