By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — OK, this has to be the week that the New England offense finally gets on track. Right?!?!?!
We sound like a broken record because we’ve been saying this for the last three weeks. There were grounds for that belief though, with the Patriots facing a pair of substandard defenses in the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs. But the Pats offense still couldn’t get things going against the Texans or Chiefs, with both teams ranking near the bottom of the NFL in various defensive categories.
They still stunk in the red zone. They still stunk on third down. And if it wasn’t for a late surge against the Texans, the offense would have put up less than 30 points total in those two meetings with poor defenses. Not ideal by any stretch.
Granted, the Pats had a touchdown taken away from them due to some officiating shenanigans last weekend. Maybe that will be what finally lights a fire under their fannies. Or maybe they’ll finally take advantage of a JV defense in the Bengals this weekend. Cincinnati ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per game (399.5) and dead last in rushing yards per contest (156.7), and they rank in the bottom third of the league in points per game, allowing 25 points per contest. If Tom Brady and company can’t take advantage of this group, well that’s just bad.
New England’s defense and special teams continue to be wagons for for the team, but the offense continues to drag them down. So it should come as no surprise that the offense is all we’re thinking about as we highlight what we’re watching for in a matchup with a one-win team.
It feels like the only way the Patriots have been able to score or effectively move the ball over the last month is through the use of trick plays. At least that has been the case when they haven’t been gifted a short field by their defense or special teams.
Josh McDaniels has emptied his bag of tricks since the bye week, trying just about anything to kick-start the offense. Some of them have worked. They scored a touchdown in Philly — their only touchdown of the game — on a double pass that ended with Julian Edelman tossing a scoring strike to Phillip Dorsett. Against Kansas City, they scored a touchdown on a flea flicker and then relied on a James White pass — his first in the NFL — for a big pickup.
The Patriots shouldn’t have to rely on such trickeration against the 1-12 Bengals, but who really knows with how the offense has operated this season. Maybe Jakobi Meyers throws a pass this weekend, since he’s having such a tough time catching them. (He was also initially recruited by NC State as a quarterback, so he’s got that going for him.) Or maybe we get a little Rex Burkhead wildcat in his return to Cincinnati.
Or, maybe the Patriots won’t need to rely on such plays to hoodwink the Bengals. It’d be much better if they can save these for say the postseason, rather than put them on film against a team that has only won one stinkin’ game this season. But this is where we are with the offense in Week 15.
Sony On The Bench?
Sony Michel just hasn’t had it in his second NFL season, and he was basically benched last Sunday against the Chiefs. Michel got just five carries against Kansas City, and he didn’t pick up more than three yards on any of them. He played just nine snaps in the game, and was a fixture on the bench in the second half.
Michel’s struggles have been well documented this season. He’s averaging just 3.5 yards per carry for the year, and he’s averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry in just one game this season — against the Washington Redskins.
The Bengals stink against the run, which should give Michel an opportunity to bust out of his slump. But he may instead remain on the bench, paving the way for more Burkhead, James White, and potentially, an appearance from rookie Damien Harris.
Red Zone Offense
The Patriots have scored a touchdown on just four of their last 12 trips to the red zone. And believe it or not, the Bengals defense tightens up pretty well against a short field.
Cincinnati somehow ranks third in the NFL in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns just 44 percent of the time their opposition gets inside the 20. Opponents have found the end zone just 29 percent of the time when they’ve reached the red area in their last three games. It’s likely because teams score on Cincy from outside the red zone, because they’ve given up a ton of points this season.
For the season, the Pats have scored touchdowns on just 44 percent of their trips in the red zone, which ranks 27th in the NFL. For comparison, they scored touchdowns on 63 percent of their trips inside the 20 last season.
More Harry, Please
The rookie is in the dog house, but he showed off his raw ability last Sunday. That raw ability won’t show up in the box score, since his athletic move to get into the end zone was wiped out by some buffoonery by the zebras, but it was on full display last weekend.
Let’s see it again this week. Please. Especially with Julian Edelman nursing a slew of injuries.
WBZ-TV has wall-to-wall coverage of Sunday’s Patriots-Bengals game, starting with Patriots GameDay at 11:30am. Kickoff is set for 1pm, and after the game stay tuned for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!