NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
The New England Patriots are no longer undefeated, falling to 4-1 on the season following a 13-6 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals in which Tom Brady’s streak of consecutive games with a touchdown also ended. New England’s passing game was off all day, with consistent pressure and effective coverage from the Bengals disrupting Brady’s mechanics and accuracy. Cincinnati also recorded a monster day on the ground despite some second-quarter sputtering. Read on for five observations from this week’s loss, an ugly effort from a Patriots team whose offense is currently keeping it out of serious contention.
1. Inaccurate throws, unreliable options cripple passing game
In what was his worst game of the season, quarterback Tom Brady’s streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass ended just shy of Drew Brees’ record in an 18/38 performance which saw Brady pass for just 197 yards and underthrow an interception which sealed the game. New England converted just one of twelve third-down attempts and neglected to attempt a single fourth-down conversion, even when given favorable field position.
The Patriots’ receivers didn’t necessarily help much, as passes were dropped by Brandon Bolden (on two occasions), Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Julian Edelman (once or twice), but most of New England’s big passing plays were also excellent individual efforts from the Patriots’ receivers, including Aaron Dobson, who broke into the open field for a 53-yard gain late in the fourth quarter, and Danny Amendola, who made a leaping 21-yard grab over Chris Crocker early in the game and another diving sixteen-yard pass in the fourth quarter to set up the Patriots on the one-yard line.
While it’s become commonplace to blame New England’s inexperienced receiving corps for all of the team’s passing woes, this game may have been on Brady more than anyone else, as he badly missed on a number of throws, visibly affected by Cincinnati’s pass rush. Any time your quarterback completes less than half of his passes, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt, it’s a poor performance.
2. Pressure gets to Tom Brady, Bengals record four sacks
Cincinnati was without right end Michael Johnson, who sat out the game with a concussion, but that didn’t prevent their pass rush from impacting the game early on. On New England’s first drive of the game, Tom Brady was sacked by star defensive tackle Geno Atkins for an eight yard loss on second-and-six, creating a third-and-fourteen situation and eventually forcing the Patriots to punt the ball away from inside their own red zone.
After receiving the ball back less than three minutes later, Brady was sacked once more, this time on a third-and-two play in which New England attempted to confuse Cincinnati’s defense with play-action. Wallace Gilberry, who replaced Johnson in Cincinnati’s lineup, went unblocked as Nate Solder helped Logan Mankins, bringing down Tom Brady to set up another punting situation. Those two sacks were the only two of the first half for Cincinnati, but Brady was hit an additional three times.
In the second half, another Patriots drive stalled out when linebacker Vontaze Burfict blitzed successfully, bringing down Brady from the ground. Another blitz late in the fourth quarter was successful, as safety Chris Crocker stripped Tom Brady and created a fourth-and-long situation which forced the Patriots to punt the ball away with 2:32 remaining. By the end of the game, Brady was regularly passing off of his back foot and dramatically underthrowing passes, including the game-losing interception.
3. Patriots sack Andy Dalton four times, create consistent pressure
Although the Patriots had trouble protecting Tom Brady from a fierce Bengals pass rush, New England also benefited from the pressure they created against quarterback Andy Dalton, who was first sacked by a combination of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich before reserve defensive tackle Chris Jones brought him down in the second quarter.
The tackle was at it again in the second half, combining with Jerod Mayo for New England’s third sack of the game, which came on a successful delay blitz; linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes blitzed first, with Jerod Mayo waiting for the middle to clear before rushing. The latter two sacks helped hold the Bengals to a pair of field goals on drives which had otherwise been successful. Pressure created in the red zone was also responsible for Dalton’s erratic interception in the first quarter, keeping the game tied.
Dalton was brought down once more after Tommy Kelly abused Bengals right guard Kevin Zeitler with a club move, although Cincinnati converted the subsequent third-and-fifteen down the left sideline. In a game which saw the Patriots gashed by the Bengals’ stable of running backs and New England’s offense unable to score, the effectiveness of the Patriots’ pass rush was one of the
team’s few bright spots.
4. Bengals pile up 162 yards on the ground to carry offense
One of the most relevant storylines of the week was how the Patriots would fare in run defense without Vince Wilfork, who was lost for the season last Sunday. New England started Joe Vellano and Tommy Kelly on the defensive line, but rotated in Chris Jones as well; they also played out of their base defense more often than they had in any earlier game, with middle linebacker Brandon Spikes seeing a substantial first-half workload.
Initially, the team struggled to stop the run, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis gaining big chunks of yardage (for a total of 37 yards in the first quarter alone), but by the end of the first half, Cincinnati had gained only 61 yards from their seventeen rushing attempts, representing an average of under 3.6 yards per attempt; it’s also worth noting that seventeen of those yards came via a scramble by quarterback Andy Dalton and a reverse by third receiver Marvin Jones. Giovani Bernard, who had been highlighted as a potential problem in this week’s Ten Keys article, rushed for three first-half yards despite carrying the ball on four occasions. New England’s run defense was primarily effective early thanks to stellar plays from both Spikes and weakside linebacker Jerod Mayo.
However, Giovani Bernard broke a 28-yard run in the fourth quarter as part of a drive which culminated in a BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown that extended Cincinnati’s lead to ten points. Bernard did fumble with just over 3:00 remaining, allowing New England to regain possession, but all in all, the duo of Bernard and Green-Ellis was effective, racking up 162 yards on the day over 38 carries, with Green-Ellis’ touchdown providing the winning margin.
5. Aqib Talib effectively covers A.J. Green, but Bengals assemble effective passing game
As anticipated, the Patriots’ defensive gameplan emphasized stopping A.J. Green, successfully limiting him to two first-half catches for 29 yards and causing him to lose interest in the blocking game. However, the Bengals were able to take advantage of New England’s eagerness to do so by exploiting other areas of the defense, notably by targeting their two tight ends, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, for all four of Andy Dalton’s first-quarter completions, totaling 51 yards.
However, on a throw intended for Eifert, Dalton was intercepted, with Brandon Spikes undercutting the route and prematurely ending a drive which appeared likely to result in points; Spikes had dropped into a shallow zone and stepped in front of a delayed throw which represented a highly questionable decision on Dalton’s part. After the play broke down, Dalton refused to throw the ball away, a weakness of his noted in this week’s Ten Keys article, probably costing his team points in the process.
Early in the third quarter, Talib pressed Green effectively on an out route and extended to deflect the pass, causing a Bengals punt. In total, Talib allowed Green to catch five passes for 61 yards on eight targets. Eifert contributed another five catches for 53 yards on seven targets, while Gresham caught all four passes thrown his way. Cincinnati’s passing game didn’t accrue gaudy numbers, but Dalton did do a good job of protecting the ball and making high-percentage completions.