FOXBOROUGH — Filling the hole left in the wake of Vince Wilfork’s injury will be tough for the Patriots. The All-Pro defensive tackle had a pretty sizable role on the team and was respected league-wide for his ability to disrupt offenses.
For the Bengals, the Patriots’ opponent on Sunday, there is still a belief that the next man available for the Patriots, whether that is Joe Vellano or Chris Jones, will be just as serviceable. But they concede it won’t be the same.
“[Wilfork] has been the center point of that group for a long time,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. “They obviously in their minds have planned — you always plan for the loss of a player. So they’re going to have the next guy step up and go with the addition of Tommy Kelly that they had in the offseason. And they have the young players in there also that played when Vince was out and have been rotating in throughout the season. But, he is obviously a good player. I’m sure they have guys that are excited to get their opportunity.”
Said Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who played for the Patriots from 2008 to 2011, rookies Vellano and Jones are worth watching, there’s just no replacing what Wilfork did for the Patriots’ defensive line.
“Those younger guys have been playing this year, so it’s an adjustment obviously,” Green-Ellis said. “They can’t do the same things that Vincent does, but the guy [Joe Vellano] came in, he got a sack. I remember watching the game and he came in, he got his sack, so obviously he brings some things that are going to challenge the defense as well.
“Every player has strengths, so we’re going to have to take away his strengths and make him play to his weaknesses. But obviously, like I said, you never can replace a Vince Wilfork, not in the middle of the season like this. But the other guys, the young guys that they have are doing a good job when he’s not in of coming in and playing well as well.”
The Bengals (2-2) are coming off a 17-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns in which they struggled mightily on third down, converting on 4 of 14 attempts. They hope to do better against the Patriots.
“We really haven’t performed to expectations totally throughout an entire football game,” Lewis said. “We can play brilliantly and we can play with a lot of error, and the error gets you beat. So we have to do a better job of taking care of the football, we have to do a better job of converting third downs and we have to get takeaways on defense.”
Sunday’s game will be the first for Green-Ellis against his former team. Lewis called him a “stabling force” for the Bengals since his arrival in 2012.
“He’s got just a great personality, a great work ethic and he fits well with the guys here,” Lewis said. “When we bring [in] a guy from another team, a team that has been very successful, they watch how he goes about his business and it really is a great reinforcement for the things as coach that you’re always trying engage your guys in and reinforce to your players.”
Brandon Tate, a former Patriots wide receiver, returns kicks for the Bengals as well.