The difference in the game, however, will be both teams' defense. The Bengals will be facing a team that not only has gained the most yards in the league through three games, but has also given up the fewest points in the NFL. The Patriots' defense is holding opponents to an average of 11.7 points per game.
The Bengals defense, on the other-hand, has allowed opponents to average 32 points per game, including 51 points to a Cleveland team that has only scored a total of 58 points in three other games.
With pro bowl running back Rudi Johnson out of the game due to a hamstring injury, the Patriots job got a little easier. The Pats this year have been particularly stingy against the run, not giving up a rush of longer than 12 yards this year and holding teams to a meager 3.3 yards per rush.
The Bengals will have to show a balance attack in order to keep up with the scoring attack of Brady, Moss, Maroney, and company. Picking up the slack for Johnson will be backup runner Kenny Watson. He will have to carry the load in Johnson's absence and prove he can make the Pats respect the run enough to make the Bengals passing attack effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may be dropping seven and eight men in coverage to help neutralize pro bowl wide-outs T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson. Watson gained 60 yards on nine carries in Week 3, including an 8-yard touchdown run.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said this week he's confident Watson will be able to handle the load as the starter. "We made a big push prior to the season and during the start of free agency to resign Kenny [Watson] because we felt Kenny gives us a guy that we know we can count on in many different areas We're real confident in the things that he can do. He gives us a different style, a little bit more flashy than what Rudi J. is. We'll have to play out the week and see what happens."
Patriots Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said this week that the defense will not take Watson lightly and will be ready for him. "I tell you what, if you watched [Kenny] Watson last week I don't know if it changes anything. That guy is pretty dag-gone good. Everything I had always read about him and we knew about him even from the past, I don't think it changes anything. All runners are different style runners, and so you have to get accustomed to the style of runner that guy might be, but it doesn't really change
You still have to defend them. You still have to stop the run, whether it's a cut-back runner or a downhill runner, a bounce-out runner - whatever they might be, you still have to defend them, so I don't think that slows down their running game.
Pees also said the offense is capable of scoring many different ways and the defense has to be ready for anything. "They could throw every down, they could be run every down. We see different things every week and you have to be able to adapt to it. I have no idea what their philosophy will be You do whatever it takes to stop the other team; they're going to do whatever it takes to move the ball I don't think that their running game lacks because Rudi is out and Watson is in."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the Bengals production on offense hasn't wavered with without Johnson. "It didn't look like it. In fact their running game was productive with Watson in there too. He's been a solid player for them."
Belichick said Carson Palmer will be the key for the Bengals success. "He's a quarterback that really has pretty much everything you want in a quarterback. He has great size, throwing mechanics, delivery, accuracy, sees the field well, has a lot of poise in the pocket, is a big, strong kid that's hard to bring down I have a lot of appreciation and respect for not only how good he is physically, but how good he is mentally and his awareness and his field presence.
|Bill Belichick and Tom Brady during practice (PI Photo)|
"Cincinnati has a great passing game," said Belichick. "They're very hard to defend. The running game is hard to defend too, but the passing game with Palmer and T.J. [Houshmandzadeh] and Chad [Johnson] and whoever the third receiver has been, they've had a number of them over the last couple of years and they've all been productive too. They use their backs and their tight ends enough to keep you honest, but T.J. and Chad have just had so much production as a tandem with Palmer that it's right up there, at or above, pretty much everybody else in the league."
With the Patriots averaging 38 points per game and Randy Moss and Wes Welker seemingly open everywhere on the field for Tom Brady, Lewis said his defense has its work cut out for them. "Your team is defined by where it ends up at the end of the football season and not after three games," said Lewis. "We've had some highs and some lows and we just have to keep working."
Lewis said despite the passing threats the Patriots possess, Cincy will need to stop the running tandem of Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney and third down threat Kevin Faulk. "Their running game kind of gets somewhat overshadowed at times, but their running backs are tremendous. All three players really just do, I think, just a tremendous job. They're great runners with great speed and really can cut and hit the ball downhill and make a big play in a hurry. I've been very impressed last year when we got to play against Maroney as a rookie. They have a fine running game. I think they do a nice job of running the run and the pass together. They've gone out and got some weapons as you said that keep you from just sitting on there and stacking in the running game."
Offiicial Game Thread (Pats site)