The Patriots offense will look to get on track this weekend against the Bengals in Cincinnati as they enter the final stretch of the 2019 regular season. The one word that seems to keep popping up is "consistency". Tom Brady and company have produced at times, but have failed to string together a full game of steady production for many weeks now.
After seeing the iron of the AFC in three of the last five weeks, the Pats will now take on the 1-12 Bengals, whose defense has had their struggles. It would seem to be a recipe for getting the offense on track.
"I think every week we're making a little progress," said Tom Brady on Friday afternoon. "Every week we're trying to learn from our mistakes. Just put the right things together. Hopefully just keep improving. Guys are working really hard, that's been been great to see. That's what we gotta keep doing. Things don't happen magically. We're working pretty hard at it."
Whether the it's getting the rookies more involved, seeing the offensive line more in sync, producing on the ground with the running game, or some combination of all those aspects, time is quickly running out and the offense could use some reward for all the hard work they've been putting in for limited results.
"We gotta maximize our potential," said Brady. "I don't know what our potential is. We gotta be the best we can be. If we do it well one time, it's how well can we do it consistently? I think part of it is just consistently we haven't done a great job. When you're not consistent it just leads to other issues. Trying to be consistent and dependable is what a great offense is all about."
In the red zone, where the Patriots are ranked 27th in the NFL, they'll see some stiff competition in Cincinnati. The Bengals are 3rd in red zone defense, one of their best statistical areas. Bill Belichick was asked by Megan O'Brien what makes them so good inside the 20.
"They just play a lot of tight coverage," said Belichick on Friday. "They mix man and zone, but their zones match pretty quickly. So, when you try to run man-beater routes, you run into zones, and if you run zone routes, they're matched kind of like man. They do a good job of it. They mix in some pressure as well, so you have to be aware of your pickup, as well as the conventional seven-man coverages. So, they do a good job of mixing it up."
Starting fast will be a big key on the road, as it has been all season. The Patriots manufactured an opening drive touchdown last week with a flea flicker but would love to get to the end zone with more conventional methods.
James White acknowledged a fast start and playing complementary football will be key.
"I think just trying to start fast offensively, defensively, special teams, complementing each other," said White. "Defense has been doing a great job on the road, playing good defense, creating turnovers. Special teams doing what they do – making plays, making game-changing plays, and just trying to control the football game and trying to take the crowd out of it. You don't want to start slow because then the crowd gets into it, and all of the other team gets into it, and then you're down seven, 14 points and then it becomes a slugfest."
Fellow running back Rex Burkhead said they'll be ready to try to get things started on the ground. New England's ground game is ranked just 19th in DVOA and 23rd in rushing yards-per-game but the Bengals are giving up the most rushing yards per game in the league (156.7).
"We're gonna do whatever we can to get it going," said Burkhead. "We know it starts up front. This is a great defensive line with Geno and Carlos, those guys up there they have experience, they've been in this league a while. Any time we can control the run game it helps out our offense."
But ultimately Brady says it's just about staying focused and not giving up.
"Football season's not supposed to be easy," said Brady. "Just gotta have the mental toughness and competitive stamina to keep showing up every day and working as hard as you can to be ready to compete when we're called upon."
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots welcomed back Isaiah Wynn after the starting left tackle had missed Thursday's practice with an eye issue. This gave the team full attendance and their final day of on-field preparations for the Bengals. While there are still injury issues to monitor, having the full team present at practice this late in the season is always a welcomed sight.
No players were ruled out, but seven are questionable including Julian Edelman and Ted Karras.
LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, Knee (LP)
DL Byron Cowart, Concussion (LP)
WR Julian Edelman, Knee / Shoulder (LP)
OL Ted Karras, Knee (LP)
CB Jason McCourty, Groin (LP)
WR Mohamed Sanu, Ankle (LP)
DL Danny Shelton, Shoulder (LP)
Locker Room Sound Bites
Matthew Slater on what the Patriots will have to do against the Bengals special teams:
"I think they just do everything the right way. They're very well coached.They have players that play very hard. They're very, very sound. That makes them really tough. For us, we're gonna have to be technically sound on every play, we're gonna have to be assignment sound on every play and understand it's going to be a difficult challenge for us."
Bill Belichick on facing the Bengals special teams:
"It's like an inter-squad scrimmage. They have all our calls, we have all their calls. The way they handle situations is probably, fundamentally, the way we would handle them. Not that we always do it the same way – you might have two-or-three options, but you would see similar strategic positioning, or strategy that either we would use or have used type-thing."