X's and O's thought: Protecting Brady

Throughout the first two weeks of the season, we saw something from the New England Patriots' offensive line that was perhaps unanticipated: Left tackle Nate Solder was used as an extra tight end, with third-year player Marcus Cannon filling in as his replacement.

The tactical ploy likely was rooted in the team’s depth concerns at tight end, as Michael Hoomanawanui and Zach Sudfeld were the only players active at the position in Week 1.

Sudfeld is no longer on the active roster, and the Patriots could be down to two tight ends again Sunday when they take on Cincinnati. But even if Rob Gronkowski does dress and play, one thought that comes to mind is again using Solder in an extra-tight-end alignment.

The thinking is this: The Bengals possess one of the best and most disruptive fronts in the NFL, catalyzed by an interior-exterior rush presence that can live in an opposing backfield.

One way to neutralize an opposing rush is to involve running backs and tight ends in protection schemes, something that having Solder in the game as an extra tight end may accomplish.

While having Solder in as an extra tight end takes one receiver away from the formation and one target away from quarterback Tom Brady (yes, Solder began his college career as a tight end, but it’s unlikely we’ll see him running many -- if any -- routes on Sunday), one factor to keep in mind is the health of the Bengals' defensive backs.

The Patriots may be able to compensate for the lack of an extra receiver because of the possibly watered-down Bengals secondary (top cornerback Leon Hall is doubtful). Beating man coverage against rotation players is something they’re capable of doing.