Would you ever criticize a Victoria’s Secret model’s looks? Tell Paul McCartney how to make a song? Give Floyd Mayweather training advice? I’m going to go with no for all three of those questions. After their 33-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns, trying to think of improvements for the New England Patriots feels the same way.
Every Patriots’ fan had this game circled on their calendar since the moment it was announced that Tom Brady was going to be suspended for the first four games. Brady came back like everyone thought he would: prepared, focused, and didn’t miss a beat. Brady torched the Browns, hitting on 28 of his 40 pass attempts for 406 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a QB rating of 96.3, as the Patriots moved to 4-1 on the season.
Brady will now receive his homecoming as the Pats head back to Gillette Stadium to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are going through a typical mundane Bengals-like season. They are 2-3 with their only wins against the Jets and Dolphins, with losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, and Dallas Cowboys. The Bengals are coming off a loss to the rookie-led Cowboys with Ezekiel Elliott running for 134 yards and two scores and Dak Prescott continuing the start of his career without throwing an interception.
Criticizing the Patriots after this game is like pulling hair off a fly, but there are a few things they must improve slightly on to ensure a win against the Bengals. Three of their five top tacklers were defensive backs/special teamers: Patrick Chung (seven tackles), Devin McCourty (five), and Nate Ebner (three). The Patriots’ defensive scheme was more concerned with stopping the Browns’ run game, so the secondary prioritized stopping Isaiah Crowell and the rushing attack over sitting back and waiting for the pass. The Patriots were successful, as Crowell came into the game with a 6.4 average per rush and 98.5 rushing yards per game, but finished with just 22 yards on 13 attempts.
The Patriots’ linebackers and defensive lineman have to be able to control the game and have the secondary prioritize defending A.J. Green and the rest of the Bengals’ receiving corps. The Bengals’ love featuring the “thunder and lightning” running back duo of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard to open up the passing game for Andy Dalton. The defensive core of Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Malcolm Brown, Chris Long, and Rob Ninkovich must shut down the run and short yardage pass plays so the secondary of Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung, Devin and McCourty can focus on A.J. Green and the aerial attack of the Bengals’ offense.
The Patriots must also tighten up how they defend tight ends. In five games, the Patriots have given up 28 receptions to tight end for a total of 264 yards and one touchdown. Every tight end has gained over 40 yards, with the Browns’ Gary Barnidge having the most success last game with five receptions for 76 yards. The Bengals are hoping their Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert returns so it gives Andy Dalton another legitimate weapon outside of A.J. Green.
Patriots’ fans fled to Cleveland and made their presence known to support Brady in his return. With the Tom Brady “Revenge Tour” opening its first act at home, be prepared for a hectic atmosphere in Foxborough. With some minor adjustments and improvements on the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots should be able to easily handle the Bengals at home.