The New England Patriots will look to improve to 5-1 on the season Sunday when they welcome the underachieving Cincinnati Bengals to Gillette Stadium.
Here’s a quick look at what Cincinnati brings to the table:
— Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green must be accounted for at all times. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick raved about Green’s ability in his Wednesday morning news conference, saying the wideout’s quickness and ability to get open on short, intermediate and deep routes separates him from some of the other elite players at his position.
“I’d say the thing that really to me puts him at the top of the league in receivers is his ability to affect all three levels, particularly those intermediate routes,” Belichick said. ” … He’s an elite player. He’s just an elite player. There’s no real weak points in his game.”
Green ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards this season with 518, one behind former teammate Marvin Jones, who now plays for the Detroit Lions. Green shredded the Miami Dolphins for 173 yards on 10 catches two weeks ago but was relatively quiet in Sunday’s 28-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, catching four passes for 50 yards.
— Quarterback Andy Dalton’s No. 2 target is old friend Brandon LaFell, who’s off to a solid start in Cincy after behind cut by the Patriots this past offseason.
LaFell, who caught two touchdown passes against Dallas, has 21 catches for 276 yards this season, and Green said Wednesday in a conference call that the 29-year-old has “brought some toughness” to the Bengals’ receiving corps.
“He has done a good job for them,” Belichick said.
— Dalton is second among NFL quarterbacks in passing yards through five games, but he’s thrown for just five touchdowns and has been sacked 17 times, tied for second-most in the league with Miami’s Ryan Tannehill.
— The Bengals’ ground game has been nearly nonexistent this season. Cincinnati ranks 24th in rushing yards and 28th in yards per carry, and Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard both are averaging fewer than four yards per rush. Hill also left Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys with a shoulder injury.
— It remains to be seen whether Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert will be active this weekend. Eifert has yet to make his season debut as he recovers from a back injury.
— Cincinnati’s D has been middle-of-the-road this season, ranking 16th in points allowed and between 11th and 19th in total defense, rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed. It’s yet to allow more than 30 points in a game.
— Belichick has great respect for Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a two-time All-Pro whom the Patriots coach called “one of the most disruptive players in the league.” Atkins ranks second among Cincy defenders with 2 1/2 sacks this season to go along with 11 tackles and two tackles for loss.
“Geno’s a great player,” Patriots center David Andrews said. “He’s been doing this for a long time. He’s kind of got it all — he’s quick, he’s strong, he’s explosive. He’s definitely a good player.”
— Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has been productive this season, leading the Bengals in sacks with four while also racking up 22 tackles and forcing two fumbles. He leads the team with five pass breakups.
— The Bengals’ two wins have come against the Dolphins and New York Jets, who are a combined 2-8 this season. Cincinnati has lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos and Cowboys, all of whom would be playoff teams if the season ended today.
— The Patriots have dominated the Bengals in recent years, winning five of the teams’ last six meetings dating back to 2004. New England scored at least 34 points in all five of those wins, including a 43-17 beatdown two years ago in the famed “On to Cincinnati” game.
Thumbnail photo via Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports Images