(CBS Boston)- It has been a whirlwind week for the New England Patriots organization. Once more, the team finds itself in the middle of controversy over the taping of opponent’s signals. While the situation has been characterized as a misunderstanding by the team and they have accepted full responsibility, a league investigation is ongoing.
In the midst of all of that off-field news, Bill Belichick’s squad takes the field on Sunday reeling from consecutive losses and questions about the offensive side of the ball. NFL on CBS analyst Trent Green says it’s pretty clear that the team is missing tight end Rob Gronkowski, but also missing that deep threat receiver that has been played by guys like Chris Hogan, Josh Gordon, and Brandin Cooks in years past.
“It has really been a struggle because they don’t have that big-play capability. They mainly utilize the underneath passing game, the crossing routes, the backs out of the backfield in the passing game,” said Green. “That is really where the concern has been. When Tom [Brady] has had to hang on to the ball a long time, that is when the protection breaks down. There really hasn’t been any kind of consistency as of late.”
The matchup this weekend against the 1-12 Cincinnati Bengals appears to be a soft landing space for the offense at least. Cincinnati ranks near or at the bottom of the league in most defensive categories.
But, the concern for Patriots fans extends past this weekend. The goal, as always, is to contend for a Super Bowl. How does this year’s version do that if the offense is still lagging behind?
“The main thing that they have, and I’m going to jump to the other side of the ball, is their defense. The way they create turnovers, the way they pressure the quarterback, field position, their special teams is outstanding. That is really how they have gotten it done this year is by the defense and special teams getting the offense into positions where they can have success. I think that is what is going to have to carry them,” said Green. “That is where their success is going to lie is on the defensive side and special teams. And on offense, they just have to take advantage of the opportunity of those field position situations that they’re given.”
The Bengals offer plenty of opportunity for the Patriots to have a “get right” type of game this week on defense as well. Cincy ranks 31st in the league in turnover margin, with 11 interceptions and 12 fumbles this season. But, the Bengals are good in two areas where the Pats have struggled so far this season. Their special teams unit rates as the best in the league according to Football Outsiders’ ratings and their running game, with Joe Mixon, has continued to improve. If the Bengals have any chance, that is where Green sees them having the most success.
“For Cincinnati, Mixon is coming off of his best game in terms of his rushing. [Andy] Dalton is back under center which I think adds an improvement to that. With no A.J. Green, they’re having an equally hard time from a passing game standpoint,” said Green. “The Patriots are so good at pass defense, it’s going to be really hard for the Bengals to get that done. If the Bengals are going to be able to do anything, it would have to be with Mixon on the ground.”
The Patriots visit the Bengals on Sunday afternoon with kickoff slated for 1 p.m. EST/PST on CBS.