THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Patriots have grounds for concern in this area

By Shalise Manza Young and Monique Walker
Globe Staff / September 12, 2010

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Much has been made about the Patriots’ young cornerbacks as the team heads into today’s season opener against Cincinnati and its talented receivers.

Not getting as much attention? Cincinnati’s running game.

But the Patriots are well aware of the Bengals ground game.

“I think it sets up their passing game a little more than people like to pay attention to,’’ end Gerard Warren said. “They run the ball well, and when they run it well, it opens up opportunities to throw it down the field and play-action.’’

Behind an offensive line that Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo calls “huge,’’ the Bengals’ Cedric Benson rolled to 1,251 yards in just 13 games last season, averaging 4.2 yards per carry.

New England gave up 4.4 yards per carry on defense last season, and the last time the Patriots were on the field at Gillette Stadium, they were giving up 234 rushing yards on 52 carries to the Ravens in a wild-card playoff loss.

The Patriots likely will have two new starters on the defensive line, with Gerard Warren stepping in for Ty Warren on the left side and Mike Wright the likely starter on the right. New England also likely will have a rookie starting at inside linebacker next to Mayo in Brandon Spikes.

Gerard Warren is in a base 3-4 defense for the first time in his 10-year career. But he says some things about defense are universal no matter what the alignment.

“Regardless of what defense you’re in, you try to make a team one-dimensional, that’s usually the focus, so eliminating the run is always a big goal on the defense’s priority list,’’ Warren said.

Spikes is more of a thumper in the run game, meaning the middle of the New England defense, with Spikes, Mayo, and Vince Wilfork at nose tackle, could be more stout than the edges.

Playing the run is not a strength of outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, and it isn’t clear who will be starting opposite him.

Jermaine Cunningham is likely not in game shape after not playing a down in the preseason because of an ankle injury, so odds are one of two veterans known more as special teamers — Rob Ninkovich or Marques Murrell — will get his first career start.

Whichever players are trying to stop Benson, Warren believes that technique is key.

Slowing Cincinnati receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens is a tall order, but controlling Benson as well means the Patriots defenders will have a lot on their plate today.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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