Scouting Report

Bengals at Patriots

By Jim McBride
September 12, 2010

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Today, 1p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 5 1/2)

When the Patriots run

The five-headed monster is back. But is anyone scared? New England has a quintet of quality running backs, but because of age, injury, and inconsistency, none is considered a true bell cow. Laurence Maroney is the de facto No. 1 — or is he? Maroney needs to revert to the physical style of his college days and rookie season to be effective. The 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pounder has good vision but might be too patient. Instead of dancing around waiting for the perfect opening, he needs to turn tiny creases into big holes with his impressive combination of size and speed. Fred Taylor showed flashes during limited time in 2009. He has great acceleration through openings and changes speeds and direction fluidly. But he rarely stays healthy, and with another year on the tires, that is a big concern. Sammy Morris has decent speed and balance but, like Taylor, seems injury-prone. Kevin Faulk is an extremely instinctive player who shows excellent burst and acceleration. More of a change-of-pace back, Faulk lacks the bulk to carry the rock more than 10-15 times per game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a tough man who runs bigger than his 5-11, 215-pound frame would suggest. He excels at banging between the tackles because he lacks the speed and elusiveness to rip off big chunks of yardage. Linebacker Dhani Jones mans the middle of the Bengals’ 4-3 defense. He diagnoses plays quickly and is an aggressive tackler. He’s flanked by Rey Maualuga (a ferocious hitter with a surly disposition) and Keith Rivers (above-average strength and range).

When the Patriots pass

There was much talk about balancing the offense this preseason, but as long as Tom Brady is making his living in Foxborough, he will be the driving force of this unit. Brady has a plethora of weapons, some old and some new. Brady, among the best ever at distributing the ball evenly, reads defenses quickly and makes smart, split-second decisions. Wes Welker has long been Brady’s favorite because of his reliable hands, ability to get open quickly, and tough-as-nails mentality. Welker appears healthy after knee and shoulder surgeries, and if he is, the chains will move. Welker works the slot to perfection, and if his quickness is still there, nobody in orange can cover him effectively. Randy Moss plays Mr. Outside to Welker’s Mr. Inside. Moss has outstanding acceleration and leaping ability. He has elite body control and will fight for balls. But he will lose concentration if he’s not shown adequate attention early on. The trio of tight ends will get chances. Alge Crumpler has morphed into a bruising blocker but still has soft hands. The rookies are Brady’s newest toys. Rob Gronkowski has tremendous size (6 feet 6 inches, 245 pounds), reliable hands, and toughness. Aaron Hernandez (6-1, 245) is deceptively shifty and speedy. These two will be red zone monsters. The Bengals have exceptional corners in Johnathan Joseph (tremendous closing speed), Leon Hall (good range, big hitter), and Adam (nee Pacman) Jones (elite quickness).

When the Bengals run

Cedric Benson has enjoyed a renaissance in Cincinnati. A big, physical tailback, the 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pounder is at his best when pounding between the tackles and driving his shoulder into linebackers and safeties. Benson runs with an attitude, rarely goes down on first contact, and will deliver as much punishment as he takes (think Corey Dillon). Benson has decent speed and will occasionally bounce outside and pick up yards but he’s hardly a home run hitter. He struggled on and off the field early in his career and didn’t emerge as a workhorse until last season, so there is plenty of mileage left. Because of his bruising style, Benson will wear down late in games. Backup Bernard Scott is small but strong. The 5-10, 197-pounder has excellent vision and quickness. He explodes in and out of his cuts but can be indecisive. There is no real fullback on the roster, but halfback hybrid Brian Leonard (6-1, 225) is a decent blocker who can provide some carries. Center Kyle Cook has emerged as a solid leader. He is strong and takes good blocking angles. He lacks athleticism and is most effective plowing straight ahead. Left guard Nate Livings (6-5, 332) has excellent size and a big heart, but lacks quickness and will get beat often. Right guard Bobbie Williams (6-4, 345) gets by on size and experience. Vince Wilfork is the key for the Patriots. If the athletic monster can occupy Cook and one of the guards, inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes (both have tremendous instincts) will be able to land body shots on Benson.

When the Bengals pass

Carson Palmer is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the league. He has classic size (6 feet 5 inches, 236 pounds), a powerful arm, and decent agility. He can make all the throws and make them well. He launches picture-perfect, high-arcing, accurate deep balls. He has the velocity to fit mid-range balls in tight spaces and can deliver soft play-action tosses. However, he is not as poised in the pocket as you’d expect an eight-year veteran to be and will get happy feet. Palmer has tremendous weapons at his disposal this season. Chad Ochocinco (6-1, 192) has excellent hands and body control. He has deceptive strength and speed and runs precise routes. He is not particularly fond of the physical game and will drop to the turf or run to the sideline rather than fight for yards after the catch. Terrell Owens has raw power. He will overpower corners with impressive strength and deceptive speed. He’s a master at pushing off defenders to create space. But he loses concentration — especially if he’s not getting touches or an opponent is yapping back at him — and will drop catchable balls. Tight end Jermaine Gresham (6-5, 261) is a big target with soft hands. Patriot corners Darius Butler (he’s athletic, not instinctive) and Devin McCourty (he’s a rookie) will struggle one-on-one vs. Ochocinco and Owens. Safeties Brandon Meriweather (he’ll deliver the hits) and Patrick Chung (he’s smart and athletic) need to provide much help.

Bengals' key player

Carson Palmer
Who is this guy—elite NFL quarterback or laidback California surfer dude? One thing is for sure, if the Bengals struggle, this guy will take most of the heat.
How he beats you: With great physical skills. Palmer has excellent size and a powerful arm. He can wing it all over the field, and his problem children—Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens—are demanding it.
How to shut him down: By getting him on the run. He is not an exceptional athlete, and his accuracy suffers outside the pocket. Tully Banta-Cain and friends have to find a way to pressure him.

Bengals' keys to victory

Cedric the entertainer: Give Cedric Benson the ball early and let him get into a rhythm. Once he’s in the Patriots’ heads, go to work on that secondary.
Ship shape: Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens will get all the attention. This gives rookie receiver Jordan Shipley the chance to fly under the radar and make some noise.
Pressure points: Defensive end/sackmeister Antwan Odom must make his presence felt by overpowering Matt Light and overwhelming Tom Brady.

Patriots' keys to victory

Welcome back: Wes Welker’s recovery from knee and shoulder surgeries has been nothing short of amazing. Get him involved early and get him comfortable.
Fresh faces: Time to find out if those young receivers (Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez) can work their way into Tom Brady’s rotation.
Back talk: Get into the heads of Ochocinco and Owens with some well-timed hits and well-timed comments. Once you get them yapping, their production falls off.


Patriots 33, Bengals 27

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