Over the last five games, the New England Patriots have hit an extremely rough patch. With a record of 2-3 over the course of that stretch, the Patriots offense has lost itself while scoring an average of just 17.6 points per game since week nine. However, the team will travel to face a 1-12 Cincinnati Bengals club this Sunday. The matchup already has a national narrative of “Spygate two,” but the narrative should be centered around how New England’s offense performs.
Despite the Patriots currently ranking as the league’s ninth best passing attack with an average of 258.2 yards per game, the numbers fail to tell the full story. New England’s passing game has limped through the last month of the season and much of their production has come from Julian Edelman along with trick plays. An offense which relies on trick plays, is an offense that is not good enough to beat an opposing defense with conventional methods. Furthermore, the team’s heavy reliance on Edelman has resulted in the 33 year old being very banged up. Currently listed as questionable for Sunday’s matchup, the Patriots may opt for the safe route with Edelman and hold him out as a means to preserve the veteran. If there was any time to utilize load management, now would be it as the Bengals are not only 1-12, but also rank 19th against the pass. This game provides the perfect opportunity for secondary receivers such as Mohamed Sanu, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, and N’Keal Harry to get on the same page as Tom Brady.
Compared to New England’s rushing attack, their passing game looks elite. The Patriots running game has failed to capture last year’s dominance and has struggled for almost the entirety of this season. The team currently ranks 23rd in league rushing with an average of just 96.2 rushing yards per game. While many have directed the blame at running back Sony Michel, the inconsistency of New England’s offensive line is also to blame. The offensive line has failed to frequently open up rushing lanes for backs and on the rare occasions which they have, Michel has either missed the lane, or has been too slow to get there. Additionally, the communication between offensive linemen has been atrocious and has caused players to miss blocks as well as execute the completely wrong blocking scheme at times. However, the Bengals defense currently ranks a league worst at 32nd when defending the run. Again, this matchup provides the perfect opportunity for New England to reset their running game and improve their offensive line communication.
The Patriots simply cannot afford to lose another game down the home stretch of this season as it would likely result in them losing a playoff bye week. New England should beat up on the Bengals and use Sunday’s matchup as an opportunity to reset the foundational communication of their offense.
Rian Queen is a Contributor for the Unwrapped Sports Network website. Follow him @takes_boston on Twitter.