Pre-Game Meal: Cincinnati Bengals

Tom Brady just jumped up in the tax brackets.

NEPD Staff Writer: B. Delabarrera

FINALLY! We’ve arrived at the 2010-2011 opening weekend, and only a short three weeks after Roger Goodell saw his own shadow! The 2009 AFC East Champion New England Patriots will host the Cincinnati Bengals, the reigning crown of the AFC North.

Like most of their northern counterparts, Cincinnati comes out of the gate running down teams’ throats. Normally this really wouldn’t worry me, however, now with the WR-tandem of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, the Bengals prove to be quite the challenge for a young, hopeful defense that is looking to find their identity.

We don’t have to get too caught up in the defensive woes just yet; there is just way too much to be excited about when the NFL season first comes back around. There are few things that can be as suspenseful and exhilarating as the first snap that the currently-highest-paid-player-in-NFL-history takes under center. ($72 million/4-years!  … it was time to pay that man, indeed. I say Kraft keeps that checkbook open because another man that plays on this team deserves his too.)

This orange-striped, Cincinnati team is no longer the pathetic 4-11-1 team from a couple of years ago. Coming off a strong turnaround 10-6 season and a division title, the Bengals have reinvested in the egomaniac-wide-receiver market and appear to be aiming at more than just a first round playoff loss this season. Their defense isn’t something to joke about either, espescially as long as they can keep pushing back Antwan Odom’s appeal.

The Ultimate Catch & Ocho-Uno vs. Butler & McCourty – It’s quite a task for two young cornerbacks with one year of NFL experience combined (roooookie!) to have to cover insanely-atheletic receivers like Ochocinco and Owens. But hey, there really is no better way to find out how much the Pats defense is going to miss Leigh Bodden than by lining up against two of the most explosive wide-outs to ever run routes and try to stop a Carson Palmer air assualt.

Second year Darius Butler and rookie Devin McCourty will need all the help they can get from a defensive line that was mentioned with the league’s worst in creating a consistent pass rush during the 2009-10 season. I do have a lot of faith in what this defense can be, it just remains to be seen whether or not they will be able to handle two prolific players right out of the gate… but is their bark really as bad as their bite will be?

Who gave the "O.K." for this photo?!

Moss & Wes vs. The Dynamic Duo – It’s beyond great to be able to think that Wes Welker will be out there, ready to go Sunday afternoon opposite the great Randy Moss. As much as I’m hoping for Air Brady this weekend, Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph make up one of the best cornerback duos in the entire NFL.

Last year alone those two accumulated a TD, 140 tackles, 12 INTs, 44 defended passes, and 3 forced fumbles. That’s one heckuva stat-line if you ask me; it’s evident that these two come to play every week. So if Moss plans on feeling wanted by the Patriots organization, and the fans for that matter, he really needs to get on the field and burn some serious turf during these first couple of weeks. Wes Welker’s knee? What?

The $72-Million-Dollar-Man (+11) vs. Linebackers, Tigers, and Ends – Ha, how crappy was that? Regardless of however overrated this 2010 Patriots team may be, or whatever success they may actually achieve this year, Tom Brady better be throwing bombs in Foxboro on September 12th. Tom Brady has always seemed like the type of guy that sticks to his word and I just can’t shake off my gut feeling that he’s going to be smiling all the way to the end zone. (Come on, what would you do if you were just awarded $50 million guaranteed?)

The offensive line will need to establish a good running attack behind Laurence Maroney or Fred Taylor and beef up security for DE Antwan Odom so Brady will be able to stay out of the fire. Cincinnati’s defense had a tendency to bring the heat often in 2009 and with 6’5″, 725lb Odom back in the mix after injuring his Achilles in ’09 that only looks to increase.

Leading the Bengals in tackles (2009: 113) for two years consecutively, veteran linebacker Dhani Jones is a core part of the defense and he can do it all. (3.5 sacks, 4 PD, 1FF, and 76 solo tackles) It’s probably going to fare Tom well to keep his eye on that guy at all times. Whoops! I can’t forget about Ray Maualuga or Keith Rivers either…  this is one serious defense.

Oh by the way, the Bengals defense snagged 19 picks in 2009 while only allowing opposing quarterbacks to connect in the end zone 18 times. Pretty good, eh?

Who’s Ball Is It Anyway? – CBS’s Mike Freeman recently compares RB Laurence Maroney to a rusty garden rake, stating that his best plays involved picking up blitzes. Nobody wants to hear that, fans and players alike. Maroney has the option to look at his glass as half full or half empty right now, he’s playing to remain a Patriot after a few seasons iced with injuries and sprinkled with disappointment.

Fred Taylor is very capable of handling first-team duties save an unforeseen injury which could be discouraging to a player who thought he was the main guy. Hopefully that’s not the case and Maroney has been embracing his new mentor and working on his skills. He’ll have to run harder than ever before if he wants to stay in New England.

Mayo on D With a Side of Spikes – This young linebacking unit has the potential to be ferocious. Jerod Mayo has earned his position as defensive anchor and rookie Brandon Spikes only fell to the Patriots in the 2010 Draft due to off-field issues; he is a monster. These two will be leading the charge that opposes Carson Palmer and RB Cedric Benson who’s fresh off of his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Mayo and Spikes will have to go after the QB more than usual to help out the secondary.

Vince Wilfork also got paid this offseason; as the “biggest” asset to our run defense, it’s imperative that he demand a double team and cause trouble in the trenches to open up holes for blitzers. A Mike Wright sack wouldn’t hurt anyone either, well not anyone. Not to mention Bengals’ rookie TE Jermaine Gresham, who could cause some match-up problems, may require some linebacker help in coverage. There are a good amount of questions pertaining to the Patriots defense and the ability to generate good pressure on QBs and hopefully the guys can go out there on Sunday to silence all of the doubters. Flying under the radar wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world anyway.

Red-Zone Insurance – There can’t be enough said about all the good that rookie tight-ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez bring to the Patriots’ offense. A team that faced a ton of adversity within the 20-yard lines, underwent a full makeover at the tight-end position.

Ditching Benjamin Watson’s body in Ohio and acquiring veteran TE Alge Crumpler was just the beginning, Belichick and the front office elected to draft these two standout tight ends from Arizona and Miami. If the preseason was any indicator of what is to come from these two youngbloods, I can’t see any way that they play for any other team any time soon.

Red-Zone Insurance

~A quick hit from the Globe’s Shalise Young (@shalisemyoung):

“spoke with Robert Kraft on TB12’s contract – said since owning #patriots he’s had 1 wife + 2 QBs start the season. happy to get TB locked up”

Getchya popcorn ready for Sunday!




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