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Saturday, October 5, 2013
W2W4: Patriots at Bengals

By Coley Harvey

CINCINNATI -- In the 11 seasons that Marvin Lewis has served as the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach, he has yet to see his team pull out a win over the New England Patriots.

His squad has come out on the losing end of each of the four games it has played against the Patriots. Most of those outcomes have been lopsided, too. Only one was decided by a single possession.

When the Bengals and Patriots meet Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium, a similarly competitive ballgame is expected. Cincinnati is coming off a loss to division and in-state foe Cleveland, but it has the overall talent that has led most football experts to believe it still could have a postseason run in its future. New England has gotten off to a 4-0 start and is beginning to look like a typical Bill Belichick- and Tom Brady-led team.

If the Bengals are to claim only their second win in their last nine meetings against the Patriots, here are four things they will need to do.

1. Run game revival? Cincinnati shied from its running game late last week against the Browns, handing the ball off just seven times in the second half. (They ran the ball 20 times total.) Although the Bengals trailed for much of the contest, they were still very much in it in the fourth quarter, down only 10-6 at one point. Even though they were trying to rally throughout the second half, they had chances to build a comeback with the ground game but decided against it. Both Lewis and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden this week stressed the importance of getting back to the run game and building one that will more adequately balance the passing game that failed them more often than they had hoped last week. With Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork out for the season, expect the Bengals to pound the ball inside until the Patriots prove they can stop the run.

2. Same page. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green were often on two different chapters, not just pages, against the Browns. There were times when Dalton well overthrew his top target, or completely misfired on a throw because he and the wideout got their signals crossed. The pair chalked up their difficulties -- Dalton threw 15 times to Green, but completed only seven passes -- to poor communication and execution. In their own different ways, both said earlier this week that they each had to play better. The entire offense fell flat last week, but they acknowledge they were big reasons why. With the past now behind them, though, the two are eager to prove they have moved on from the big loss, and that they can pose problems for opposing offenses.

3. Pressure Brady (but not too much). OK, this sounds like a no-brainer. The object for any defense is to pressure each and every quarterback it faces. Yes, that's true, but it's also true that too much pressure can, at times, be a bad idea. Against Brady, the best way to attack him and is to send a standard four-man rush. Anything more might see him seamlessly maneuvering his way around the pocket, avoiding intense rushes and extending plays with his eyes and well-timed throws to unexpectedly open receivers. Over the years, Brady has shown a susceptibility to the four-man rush. The Bengals have had success with that type of pressure in the recent past, as their four-man front last season led the NFL in sacks per dropback at 7.9 percent. This year, the unit ranks 15th at 5.9 percent. What explains the drop in production? No one really knows, but if the Bengals can put enough pressure on Brady to bring him down more often than they have other quarterbacks this season, their odds of a win would increase that much more.

4. Injury watch. Both teams will be eyeing their injury reports all Sunday morning as they determine whether they will officially place several key players on the inactive list before the game. The Patriots have been monitoring the health of tight end Rob Gronkowski. He is listed as questionable on the Patriots' injury report, and they aren't sure yet if he's going to make his season debut. Cincinnati will catch a bit of a break if Gronkowski can't go. On the Bengals' side of things, there is a chance defensive end Michael Johnson stays shelved, too. Johnson suffered a concussion in last weekend's loss at Cleveland, and hasn't practiced all week. He went through some light conditioning work Friday, but continues to go through the concussion protocol before he can be cleared. There is a chance he could go, but if he doesn't, Wallace Gilberry likely would be his replacement.