STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
The Bengals placed rookie third-round defensive end Frostee Rucker on the injured reserve list, ending his season. Rucker suffered a shoulder injury in practice Sept. 13.
In Rucker's place, the Bengals signed Hughes Center graduate Andre Frazier, a linebacker, to their 53-man roster.
"He really excelled on special teams in Pittsburgh last year," coach Marvin Lewis said of the linebacker. "He did a good job in coverage. Unfortunately, he got hurt in the AFC Championship Game. They released him.
"We were looking for a guy to come in and contribute on special teams and back up our linebackers. He fits the bill. We tried hard to sign him as a free agent after UC and weren't able to do it, and now we've got him."
Frazier played in 10 games as a rookie with the Steelers in 2005. He had two tackles, one sack and one forced fumble on defense. Frazier, who played high school ball at Hughes Center, also had eight special teams tackles during the regular season for Pittsburgh and four in the playoffs.
Frazier is 6 feet 5, 235 pounds and made the Steelers roster as a rookie free agent out of the University of Cincinnati.
Guy Frazier, Andre's father, played linebacker for the Bengals from 1981-84.
The Patriots have used both the 3-4 and 4-3 so far this year and it wouldn't be a shock if they decide to go with a four-man front against the Bengals. New England has to get pressure on Carson Palmer or they will get killed on defense. Going to a 4-3 will allow the Patriots to use Tedy Bruschi on the inside and Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel as outside linebackers.
Vrabel is the key. The Patriots have been moving him all over the place early in the year but he's most effective on the outside rushing the passer. While New England is known for its 3-4 defense, they don't really have the talent and depth at the linebacker position to run it full-time this year.
By going to a four-man front, Jarvis Green would come in at defensive end with Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin rushing from the outside. Those three, along with Richard Seymour and Ty Warren, gets the Patriots five best pass rushers on the field at the same time. Mike Wright will also be used at both end and tackle. When Wright lines up next to Wilfork inside, it allows Seymour to play end. In this formation, the Patriots could possibly have the trio of Seymour, Vrabel and Colvin all rushing Palmer from the outside at the same time.
The Patriots will never go primarily to a 4-3 defense, although expect to see them in it quite a bit this week. Seymour, Bruschi and Vince Wilfork should be able to control the Bengals running game inside while Colvin, Vrabel and Green can pressure from the outside. While playing a four-man front against the Jets, New England recorded 4 sacks. Last week against the Broncos they had none. If the Patriots leave Cincinnati with no sacks again, they'll most likely be leaving with a 2-2 record as well.
--Expect to see more of rookie tight end David Thomas against the Bengals. While he didn't record a catch against the Broncos, Thomas was on the field more than he had been in the first two games. With all the problems the Patriots are having at receiver, Thomas -- a productive pass-catching tight end in college -- should start to become a bigger part of the offense in the coming weeks.
The Bengals were fortunate to win Sunday at Pittsburgh after giving up 170 rushing yards. The Bengals have to slow down the run against New England's two-headed running back combination of Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney, both of whom have 169 yards in three games. The Patriots will try to make the Bengals one-dimensional on offense, but the Bengals need to stay balanced. New England also is likely to come after Carson Palmer, who was sacked six times and hurried into three turnovers by the Steelers last week. The Patriots will throw a lot of different looks in their front seven at Palmer, and the Bengals offensive line must do a better job protecting him.
Run the football. The Bengals offense is so explosive right now that it's hard to ask any defense to shut them down. However, if the Patriots can run the ball and chew up clock with long, time-consuming drives it will keep Carson Palmer and all his weapons on the bench. The Steelers used this strategy in their first meeting with the Bengals last season and it worked to perfection. They pounded the ball right at the undersized Cincinnati front with Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis, limiting the Bengals offensive possessions. While the Patriots running game struggled against the Broncos, they have the kind of backs in Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney to run the ball straight at the Bengals and control the clock. New England probably won't win a shootout with Cincinnati; they just have too many weapons. However, if the Patriots can use their rushing attack and short passing game to control the clock, put points on the board and help out their defense, it will give them a chance to pull off the upset.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Bengals DT Sam Adams vs. Patriots RBs Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney -- The Bengals allowed 170 rushing yards at Pittsburgh last week but had averaged 85 yards a game allowed in the first two. Adams, signed primarily to bolster the run defense, seemed to take the 170 yards personally. The Bengals will face another challenge this week with Dillon (169 yards in three game) and Maroney (169 yards, as well) when the Patriots visit Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals have to limit what New England can do on the ground to make the offense more one-dimensional and force Tom Brady to beat them with a depleted receiving group.
Bengals WR Chris Henry vs. New England secondary -- Really, this matchup could be Henry against himself. Will the gifted second-year wide receiver be able to perform after another public embarrassment that has many fans doubting his commitment to the team. He was a passenger in the vehicle when linebacker Odell Thurman was cited for DUI. Henry vomited out a window of the SUV. Henry is a vital player in the Cincinnati offense, especially if defenses, like Pittsburgh, try to take Chad Johnson out. Henry had five receptions for 69 yards and two touchdowns in the first half against the Steelers. At 6 feet 5, he dominates smaller cornerbacks.
Patriots secondary vs. Bengals receivers -- This is probably where the game will be decided and the Bengals have a big advantage. Not only do Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have the edge over Ellis Hobbs' replacement and Asante Samuel, Cincinnati can also hurt the Patriots when they bring their third and fourth receivers. Chris Henry and Kelly Washington are big-play wide outs in their own right and the combination of James Sander, Chad Scott, Hank Poteat and Antwain Spann will have their hands full when the Bengals spread the field.
Patriots OT Matt Light vs. Bengals DE Justin Smith -- Light has had some trouble with speed rushers in the past and that could be a problem this week when he goes up against Smith. The Bengals top sack artist is developing into one of the better pass rushers in the league. He should give Light his share of problems this Sunday, so expect the Patriots to keep tight end Daniel Graham in to block and help out with Smith.
The Bengals returned to practice Wednesday afternoon without starting outside linebacker Rashad Jeanty, who is questionable for Sunday against New England with a foot sprain. He had a walking boot on in the locker room. Caleb Miller is likely to get more defensive snaps.
Wide receiver Antonio Chatman (groin) is questionable but practiced Wednesday for the first time during the regular season.
Chad Jackson needs to get back on the field and stay there. Even if he doesn't know the entire offense, Jackson does something none of the other Patriots receivers do: strike fear in opposing defenses because of his big-play ability. The rookie showcased some of his skills in the one game he played against the Jets. Following their victory last week, to a man the Broncos players said that their goal on defense was to stop the run and make Tom Brady beat them through the air. It's hard to imagine a team would want a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback to beat them but that's the state of the Patriots passing game right now. Jackson's downfield speed will help open things up for guys like Ben Watson and Troy Brown to be more effective over the middle. Until Jackson is able to play and contribute on a consistent basis, Brady and the New England passing attack could continue to struggle. The Patriots will need to score some points this Sunday in order to beat the Bengals. That will be much easier to accomplish with Jackson in the lineup.