Cincinnati at New England: Three Things We Learned
This season has got me confused. I forgot what day it is today, partly because I could've sworn I was watching Thursday Night Football yesterday. 26 point win to the home team? Sounds like a typical Thursday. We had a team with a tiger mascot that played more like itty bitty puddycats instead. We had a team that was done, a dynasty ended, a team that couldn't put up points put up 43 against (until now) the most distruptive defence in the league. What the hell happened?
On face value, it's kinda simple. In a way, I can't believe I tipped the Bengals. This was a spot perfect for the Patriots.
Since the beginning of the 2003 season, the Patriots are 36-4 in regular-season games following a loss. The win over Cincy is the Patriots ninth straight victory after a loss. The Patriots have won their previous three games following a loss by an average of 20 points. They beat Cincy by 26.
In recent history, the Patriots have been almost perfect throughout this stretch of the season. They have only dropped one home game in October in the last 11 years. On top of that, the Patriots had beaten the last 31 AFC teams that have come to New England. That streak now continues at 32.
So that begs the question....why the hell did I tip the Bengals? Like many, I got caught up in way the Bengals have dominated opponents in the opening few games, and I underestimated the coaching advantage the Patriots came into the game with. Whilst I stew over yet another bad tip, let's have a look at three things we learned from Cincinnati at New England :
Cincinnati just cannot play in Prime Time
Since Andy Dalton became the starting quarterback for this franchise, the Cincinnati Bengals have played 10 prime time games. They've won just two of those, with their losses coming by an average of 16.3 points. That means the Bengals don't just lose in prime time - they get dominated.
It's hard to say exactly why this is the case, but surely there is something to it. How can a team continuously underperform when the spotlight is fixated on them? Do we blame the quarterback? Dalton actually played decently against the Patriots, so it would be hard to blame him for ALL the prime time woes. It just seems there may be a fault in the fabric of this team.
Whatever the reason, I think it's safe to say our feelings towards the Bengals have been confirmed : This is not a big game team.
The Patriots are a ridiculously well coached team
This may have been a game featuring the two teams with the longest tenured head coaches at their current post in the league, but this game was about only one of those coaches. Love him or hate him, Bill Bellichek is the best coach in the game. Perhaps the greatest of all time.
Whilst we talk about the genius of less experienced coaches such as Chip Kelly, Bruce Arians, and Sean Payton, there is simply no head coach that is consistently more creative then Bill Bellichek. He continues to find new ways to be successful even though his team goes into just about every season with a target on it's back. Everybody goes into the year knowing the Patriots are one of the teams to beat, yet they still find ways to succeed.
This game has once again shown why he is such a brilliant coaching mind. He was able to find creative ways to run the football, against a defence which has been very stout up till this point of the season. The Patriots finished with 220 yards rushing, at an average of 4.8 yards per carry. He was able to get Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen into open space with clever play calling, and made the Bengals pay, especially on third down, where they were succesful 37% of the time. In contrast, the Bengals didn't convert a single third down. The single part of the game the Patriots dominated more then any other was on the sideline.
Although the Patriots dominated this game, and the headlines may be all about how overblown the regression of Tom Brady has been, Brady still showed signs that he isn't the quarterback he used to be. He seemed to be intent on proving he still has the ability to throw it deep, yet on a bunch of those throws he just didn't have the zip needed. He hasn't lost much on timing routes with receivers cutting across the middle of the field, and obviously has the vision that can allow him to complete key short to intermediate passes. That said, this game was more about the creative play calling then it was about Brady.
For me, I think this game WAS a statement. The statement I heard? This isn't Brady's team. It's Bill's team.
Both these defences can be had
Whilst a dominating performance by the New Engladn Patriots, there were still signs that this defence can be exposed. Whilst it might have been obvious on the Cincinnati side, there were still times when the New England defence was slashed. The Bengals ran 48 plays, for an average of 6.7 yards per play. They were quite conservative with the run game, yet made a few big plays in the passing game down the field.
The secondary for New England is still a bit hit or miss, with the potential for multiple pick games, yet also can give up some big plays. Teams that mix up the run game, throwing in some sweeps, counters, to keep this defence honest, can certainly have success down the field. The Patriots came to rely on Aquib Talib being on the field last season, and that may be the case with Darrelle Revis this season. When he came off the field for a few plays Cincinnati were able to score, and just looked more dangerous when he wasn't in the mix. Look for his availability throughout the season to be a big factor for this team going forward.
The Bengals should bounce back after this game, and again be a stout defence, especially through the air. Possibly the most glaring fact coming out of this game was how much of a loss losing Vontaze Burfict is for this team.
I'll go on record and say he may very well be the most important player for this Cincinnati team.
He's missed the past two weeks, and whilst he wasn't missed too much against Tenessee, he was certainly missed against the Patriots. His importance was highlighted in week 1. When he was on the field the Baltimore Ravens could not move the ball on the Bengals defence, yet when he went out of the game the Ravens were able to make plays and move the chains. Burfict's ability in the middle of the field is vital to this side and he is a huge part of this defence.
All in all, a very professional, efficient performance from a Patriots team that has shown us once again they are not to be underestimated. Coupled with a poor performance by a team many had pegged as the best in the AFC, and once again we have to re-evaluate who is who in this conference. A lot of football to be played, and if last night showed us anything, it's that this Patriots team are not to be written off.