The New England Patriots took a big hit in losing Vince Wilfork to an Achilles injury in Week 4. The hope was that Tommy Kelly and a rotation of rookies would be able to fill the void in an a good Patriots defense, but not having Wilfork was noticeable against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals had a pretty good day running the ball up the middle against the Patriots, which is going to be what a lot of teams are going to try to do with the absence of Wilfork. In an ugly game, the Bengals rushed for 162 yards, but the biggest of those came late when the Patriots were down and the Bengals were trying to kill the clock.
The Bengals had success late, especially with Giovani Bernard. This is where having Wilfork would have been key. The Patriots could not stop Bernard, which led to a few first downs and left even less time for Tom Brady to stage a comeback.
Losing Kelly late in the game did not help either, as he is another big body who is going to need to step up with Wilfork out. Where the Patriots missed Wilfork most was on the goal line where they have been great stopping the run. On a fourth-and-goal and Kelly not in, the Bengals ran it right down the Patriots’ throat for a score and a 13-3 lead at the time.
Kelly has said he will be fine, but the Patriots will have to do something to stop teams from running up the middle. With more reps, the hope is the young DT’s will be able to step up, or the Patriots will be relying even more on their linebackers to stop teams from breaking off big runs.
The best way to stop a running game is to score and make the opposing team throw the ball, but with the offense struggling, the Patriots need to find a way to keep the opposition from having so much success running up the middle. Look for teams to continue to expose that weakness until the Patriots can prove they can stop it.