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BOSTON (CBS) – The Patriots look to stay unbeaten as they take on the Bengals in Cincinnati Sunday afternoon.
The Pats are coming off their best win of the season, a 30-23 victory over the Falcons in Atlanta, while the Bengals are looking for a W after losing to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4.
Here is what to watch for as the Pats look to improve to 5-0 in Cincinnati.
Aqib vs. A.J.
The Patriots haven’t allowed a wide receiver score since Stevie Johnson found the end zone in the third quarter of Week 1, but that could change against the Bengals.
A.J. Green comes into Week 5 with 26 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns, though most of that damage was done with a nine catch, 162-yard, two-touchdown day in Week 1. But the decline in production hasn’t stopped Andy Dalton throwing Green’s way, as he leads the NFL with 51 targets.
Dalton can throw to Green all he wants, but Aqib Talib is going to do his best to make it a long day for that duo. Talib is shutting down receivers so well this year, he’ll probably become a US Senator in the off-season. His biggest test came last week against Julio Jones in Atlanta, and Talib held him to just (just?) six catches for 108 yards on 13 targets.
It will be just as tough for Talib to blanket Green this weekend, and to make matters worse the two-time Pro Bowler is coming off a frustrating game against Joe Haden and the Browns. So we know Green will be amped up to make up for it against the Patriots, but Talib is more than up for the challenge.
Talib has been lights out over the last three contests, so we’ll see if he can keep it going against his next “big test.”
Life Without Wilfork
There is a big void on the Patriots’ defense, and the Bengals will likely look to exploit it.
With Vince Wilfork sitting on the IR instead of clogging holes on the defensive line, it will be up to a duo of youngsters to fill in. Rookies Joe Vellano (undrafted) and Chris Jones (drafted by Tampa in the sixth round) will attempt to fill those (rather large) shoes of Wilfork, but doing so is nearly impossible. Wilfork has been the anchor and leader on the defense, and it’s hard to ask a rookie to step in and expect the same results. That is why there will be added pressure on the likes of Tommy Kelly and Chandler Jones, with another rookie, Michael Buchanan, also getting an opportunity on the line.
Luckily, for this week, the Patriots go up against a Bengals team that doesn’t run the ball all that well. That’s not to take anything away from former New England Patriot and law office BenJarvis Green-Ellis or rookie Giovani Bernard, but Cincinnati ranks 22nd in the NFL in with 83.5 rush yards per game and 26th with just 3.4 yards per carry.
The Bengals tried to establish the run early last week against the Browns, but had to shy away from it after facing an early deficit. Chance are they’ll try to exploit the Patriots’ loss of Wilfork, so the defensive line could have their hands full.
Steady Diet Of Atkins
Tom Brady hasn’t had to spend too much on dry-cleaning this season, with the Patriots offensive line surrendering just seven sacks over the first four games, but he’ll need his line to be at their best this weekend.
Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins has been making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks the last two-plus seasons, and will be looking to do the same to Brady. After racking up 12.5 sacks last season, Atkins has 2.5 sacks through four weeks, with a sack and a half coming last week at Cleveland.
Bill Belichick said this week that Atkins can disrupt an entire game plan, but he isn’t alone. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has three sacks on the season, and even Cincinnati’s backups on the line are a talented group when it comes to getting to the quarterback, as Brady noted earlier this week.
The Bengals have just nine sacks on the season (same as the Patriots) but they do a great job disrupting opposing passers, and the Patriots offensive line will have a tough task on Sunday.
We know Rob Gronkowski stayed home and will miss his fifth straight game to open the season. But receiver Danny Amendola made the trip, and will be a game-time decision.
The Patriots offense is taking shape despite the absences of such big names as Gronkowski, Amendola and Shane Vereen. Running back Stevan Ridley is also out this week, and both Aaron Dobson (neck) and Kenbrell Thompkins (shoulder) landed on Friday’s injury report. So despite their good play as of late, the Patriots could use any kind of boost on the offensive end.
Julian Edelman has been great filling in for Amendola, tied for the league-lead with 34 receptions, but getting Amendola back would be another step towards getting the offense whole again (if that’s even possible).
BONUS: If Amendola can’t go, there is a chance we see Austin Collie make his Patriots debut. It will be interesting to see how the receiver is physically, as this would be his first real game action since September 23, 2012.
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