Through the first four weeks of the season, the New England Patriots were able to shut down some very talented running backs in C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Doug Martin among others. That trend will have to continue against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Given the fact that the Patriots are fully capable of taking superstar wide receiver A.J. Green out of the equation with Aqib Talib covering him, and with the Bengals’ lack of weapons behind him in the receiving game, they could have trouble matching the Patriots offensively through the air in this game.
This brings me to rookie running back Giovani Bernard. Bernard, who was the first running back taken in this past April’s draft, has slowly overtaken former Patriot BenJarvus-Green Ellis as the Bengals’ primary ball-carrier in recent weeks. He has shown to be more explosive, better receiving back, and he has been very productive around the goal line.
He has totaled 269 yards from scrimmage with three total touchdowns so far on only 47 touches. Taking into account how versatile he has shown to be as of late in the Bengals’ offense, Bernard will probably see his biggest workload of the season in Week 5.
If the Patriots can bottle him up early, they will force Andy Dalton to make some tough throws in traffic for the remainder of the game, a challenge that the Bengals’ offense is not accustomed to facing. After the Patriots lost Vince Wilfork for the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles, the Bengals might be looking to run early and often to try to exploit that weakness.
If the Patriots can go out, stuff the run and assert their defensive dominance early, it may ultimately throw off Cincinnati’s game plan, making them one-dimensional.
Stopping Bernard could be the quickest way to a Patriots victory and a 5-0 start for a team that many thought would struggle without Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski to start the year.