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Pats Vs. the Cats. 



August 22nd, 2010

The Pats have a very interesting opening game this season. Everybody in New England who has ever been to Foxboro knows, the worries about this years Patriots start and end on defense. The Cincinnati Bengals are coming to town, and it looks like they will be an offensive powerhouse this season. They also have an underrated defense that ranked 4th overall on total defense. This game has all the markings of a shoot out. 

The Patriots defense has been condemned by all critics. However, in their first two preseason games the starting defense allowed only 6 points in a little over three quarters of starters playing (New Orleans offense looked so bad the the first quarter that they sent the starters back out to start the Second Quarter). Traditionally the Fist teams play one quarter in the first preseason game and two quarters in the second. Then came the Rams game, and terror reigned in Patriot Nation. The starting defense can up 27 points in the first three quarter against two rookie Quarterbacks. However, the starting offense scored 28 points. Granted they had to cheat a little, because traditional the starters play three quarter in the third preseason game, and Brady came out in the forth quarter to throw for the forth touchdown against the Rams' backups. The problem was that the defense could not seem to cover anybody, and the passrush was had as much rush as a stream going up hill. On the few plays the actually pressure the Quarterbacks the defense looked good, the other 90% of the time the defense looked helpless. So it looks like the Patriots chances of getting to the Super Bowl rest in the so far not so productive passrush. Then came the Giants, which can only be called completely irrelevant. Coach Belichick obviously had no interest in playing that game. The Giants came out in three wide sets, and the Patriots stayed in there base defense, never sending out an extra cornerback to cover the extra wide receiver. The only real troubling aspect of the game, was the Patriots complete lack of a run defense. However, if you look at the tape, the Giants just ran at Derrick Burgess, who played the worst 3-4 Outside Linebacker I ever saw in a single game. He simply refused to set the edge in that game. Twice he literally was holding the edge, and then jumped inside the blocker, and abandoned his only responsibility on the play, and of course the running back bounced it outside for a big gain.         

The Patriots defense appears solid on the inside. All the key match-ups appear to be outside, which is were the Bengals excel. The match ups start with Ochocinco and the Patriots wonderful rookie Devin McCourty. I have been very impressed with his intelligence, size, speed, and awareness. He looks like the real deal. However, he is a rookie, and has a lot to learn. I can guarantee you that Ochocinco will have a few things to teach him. The problems will again come down to the passrush. If they Patriot's defense can't pressure Carson Palmer, Ochocinco will eat the rookie alive. Which brings us to the main key to the game, the Bengal's old experienced passing game, verse the Patriot's young inexperienced secondary. How quickly can this secondary mature? I really liked Darius Butler coming out of UConn, but he still needs to mature a little more.    

Which brings us to the outside linebackers. The biggest key to this season, and this game will be how much passrush pressure the defense can bring, and that starts with the outside linebackers. With Tully Banta-Cain on one side, and Marques Murrell and rookie Jermaine Cunningham on the other, there is potential but no proven consistency. Watching the outside linebackers, and how the Patriot's D-Coordinator, whomever he may be, brings pressure in this game will reveal a lot on how this season will go. Cincinnati's starting Left Tackle is Andrew Whitworth. He does not have the quickest feet of any Left Tackle in football, but he is big, wide, and strong, and fight you all game. However, he can get beat to outside by speed. Dennis Roland is a giant of man who out played top five pick André Smith. He is a relatively unknown player who not be easy to get around. Getting some interior pressure will be a must. Something the coaches seemed to have recognized from the start, as they have been sending inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes on inside blitzes consistently through the preseason.    

So the key to winning this game for the Patriots is out on the edges. Can there outside passrushers hit Carson Palmer? Can the Patriot's young cornerbacks cover two big smart veteran wide receivers. They added TO, and two college superstar's in Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham. So far the new guys have been working well with the old guys, "As football players, Terrell has [been] a real pro," Marvin Lewis said in his press conference. "He's helped uplift that room with his level of professionalism as far as his running and his ability to adjust and be able to learn a new offense and new responsibilities and so forth. And I'm excited for what he's done thus far. He's helped Chad be a more disciplined player. So it's been a good thing thus far." You add those players to Ochocinco, Jerome Simpson, and Carson Palmer's arm, and you might have the biggest test for the Patriot's still too young secondary. 

It took a few years, but it finally looks like Palmer is over his devastating knee injury he suffered in the 2006 play offs, and finally gained back all his confidence last season. " Carson is a player who wants to be successful," Lewis said  "He did a great job of leading this football team a year ago. He's had a lot of opportunities to win a lot of games again last year, and he came through in those opportunities. And so we've hopefully added some pieces that I hope will do some of the things that I thought we were a little short at last year. And hopefully as we enter into the 2010 season, we just have to keep working on it." That is not good news for the Patriot's defense. 

On offense the Patriots look like a top five squad. Tom Brady looks like he is poised to have his best season since his record setting season in 2007. His knee is sound, and his competitive spirit has been on overdrive all training camp. He has the best combination of receivers and tight ends on the roster that he has ever had. His offensive line has played better than expected without Logan Mankins in the preseason. Though depth at guard could be the Achilles heel of this offense. Plus for the main problem at runningback is age. In the first game of the season all the runningbacks will be as healthy as they are all season.   

The Cincinnati defense is a young underrated squad. They ranked 4th overall in defense last season, and return two starting veterans who were injured last season: Leon Hall and Rey Maualuga. They have two excellent young Corners in Leon Hall and Jonathon Joseph, with the bizarrely distracting Pacman Jones finding his way back into the NFL as the Bengal's nickel corner. In fact, I may draft this defense in my next fantasy draft;-)

Their defensive line is a solid if unspectacular group. I think the Patriots should be able to run inside on this team. The patriots run a more finesse trapping and pulling running game, and I think that will play well against the front seven. However, what really makes me confident is the passing game. This unit is currently the most underrated offensive unit in the league. Brady is looking like he is set for a monster season. The Bengal's running game is more of an interior running game, which hits against the Patriot's main strength on defense. This game will be decided on the edges. The Bengals have the better defense and more veterans on the edges of their defense, and the Pats have the home field. So let the shenanigans begin.  

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