Matchups Revisited: Patriots Limit Big Plays, Abuse Bengals Linebackers

By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — In Week 4 against the Bills, my predictions for how the matchups would go turned out to be miserably wrong. In Tom Brady’s return in Week 5, they turned out to be more accurate. Against the Bengals on Sunday? Pretty much aces.

Here’s last week’s matchup preview for Patriots-Bengals. If by “spot-on” you’re thinking 100 percent perfect, well, nobody’s perfect. But despite a slow first half, the game ultimately went just as I expected for the Patriots against Cincinnati.

Let’s have a quick look at how the matchup predictions turned out …

Malcolm Butler blocks a pass to A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Malcolm Butler blocks a pass to A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

ELIMINATE: A.J. Green. No, Green wasn’t held without a catch or limited to a couple of nothing plays. But for the Bengals’ No. 1 big-play threat and one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL, six catches on 10 targets for 88 yards and no touchdowns, in an 18-point loss, is a pedestrian effort.

Green made some plays in the first half for the Bengals, but the most important thing is that the Patriots kept him out of the end zone. Malcolm Butler (whom Pro Football Focus awarded an elite 95.9 grade for the game) and Eric Rowe both made good plays to break up potential touchdowns for him.

Green may not have been totally wiped out, but for the game he ended up giving for the Bengals, the check mark goes to the Patriots.

Alan Branch reacts after stopping Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Alan Branch reacts after stopping Giovani Bernard of the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

ELIMINATE: Giovani Bernard. The running back may have put up a serviceable fantasy game with 94 total yards and four catches, but 32 of those yards came on one catch and Bernard did not have a run over 11 yards.

More importantly, like Green the Patriots also kept Bernard out of the end zone and held power back Jeremy Hill to a paltry 38 yards on 13 carries. It was the second straight game that the Patriots were strong-to-quite-strong against talented backfields, as their run defense is rounding into a legit asset.

This is a no-doubt check mark for the Patriots defense.

Rob Gronkowski makes a catch against the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski makes a catch against the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

EXPLOIT: Bengals linebackers, in coverage. It took a few series for the Patriots to start rolling on offense and they really got going in the second half. Once Tom Brady got better protection, he was able to manipulate the Bengals safeties and take advantage of Rob Gronkowski’s matchups with Karlos Dansby, Vontaze Burfict, or whoever else got torched by Gronk in coverage.

Rey Maualuga was Cincy’s best-graded linebacker of the game with a meh 67.4 as Gronk torched the Bengals for a career-high 162 yards on seven catches (nine targets). So this is an easy check-mark for the Patriots.

James White runs in a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

James White runs in a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

EXPLOIT: Bengals cornerbacks, with the running game. James White had one of his best games as a Patriot, hauling in eight of nine targets for 47 yards and scoring his first two touchdowns of the season. Brady and Josh McDaniels got White into favorable matchups against the Bengals linebackers and defensive backs, often splitting him out wide, and he was able to produce with what the defense was giving him, which wasn’t much.

Dion Lewis could give the Patriots more of a “weapon” in that role if he can be similar to what he was last season, but if Lewis can’t be relied upon to stay on the field, the Patriots can at least rest easy that they have a serviceable option for a pass-catching running back with White. He won’t wow you with flashy moves or explosive plays, but as the fourth or fifth receiving option, he certainly does his job when called upon. This is another check-mark for the Patriots.

In Week 7 …

It’s on to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who host the Patriots in Week 7 without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It won’t be nearly as fun looking into this game without Big Ben under center for the Steelers, but expect a matchup preview on Wednesday nonetheless.

Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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