CINCINNATI — Despite being 4-0, it appears there are a lot of issues up in the air for the Patriots. In Sunday’s game against the Bengals, a number of the questions about the team will be answered.
Here’s what we’ll be watching.
1. The Wilfork replacement committee — Whether it’s Tommy Kelly, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones, or some mix of the four, the Patriots will be hoping for solid production at both defensive tackle spots. Any one of these players will have an opportunity to show what they can do, just with an added bit of attention following Vince Wilfork’s season-ending injury. All the more reason to do well.
2. Two backs left — The Patriots will have to rely on the instinctive running abilities of LeGarrette Blount and the little used Brandon Bolden without Stevan Ridley (knee) against the Bengals. Cincinnati sports the 11th-ranked run defense, allowing only 3.8 yards per attempt and 99 yards per game. Blount and Bolden so far have accounted for a combined 223 yards rushing. Bolden, who has been hampered with a knee injury himself, has only nine rushing attempts this season but averages 7.6 yards per carry.
3. Another talented receiver needs to be shut down — The Patriots held their own against one of the best receivers in the game in Week 4 with Julio Jones. While Jones had six receptions for 108 yards, he was largely locked up when covered by Aqib Talib, who shadowed Jones through most of the game. Talib will have his work cut out for him against the Bengals’ A.J. Green, another tall (6-4) and athletically gifted player who has been highly productive. He has 26 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Green is tied for the NFL lead with 51 targets. The next closest Bengal, in terms of targets, is wide receiver Sanu Mohamed (16). It’s almost a sure thing that the Bengals will look to Green first in their passing attack. Talib will have to be ready.
4. Will Austin Collie have a role? — I think it’s fair to say the Patriots’ offense is complicated and has some non-traditional verbiage for new players to get used to. Collie, who was brought in off the street earlier in the week for depth, had been a good wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts (173 receptions, 1,845 yards, 16 TDs) until he suffered a spate of concussion injuries. Whether or not he can contribute right away seems to be a stretch. But we will know for sure after Sunday’s game. But even more pressing will be the health of his peers.
5. The return of Danny Amendola? — According to reports, Amendola made the trip to Cincinnati. He is listed as questionable to play after missing the past three weeks with a groin injury. He could certainly provide a boost to the passing attack after a stellar performance in Week 1 against the Bills. But nothing is guaranteed.
6. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins’ availability — Dobson suffered a neck injury against the Falcons and had to leave the game, but the wide receiver immediately returned to practice on Wednesday and was limited throughout the week. He is also listed as questionable for today’s game, as is Thompkins, who has been limited in practice with a shoulder injury. With all these wide receivers banged up, it’s no wonder the Patriots brought in Collie. Their availability, or non-availability, could greatly change the passing game.