The Cincinnati Bengals recent three game winning streak has been based upon two key facets of play. One, a productive and balanced offense, the other, a high-powered defense. That is the team’s ideal formula for success moving forward, but ultimately, against better teams, parts of their gameplan will be taken away. This week’s match-up with the San Diego Chargers will be one of those occasions.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is coming off two consecutive career days in a Bengals’ uniform, but those performances came against the 24th and 28th ranked run defenses. The Chargers on the other hand are ranked fifth overall giving up just 91.5 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry. Including his two most recent big performances, Green-Ellis is averaging 3.8 yards per carry and 69.7 yards per game total. With Cedric Peerman chipping in more and more as the weeks go by, the Bengals will need a big run or maybe two to crack that average this week.
More important than the statistical side however, the Chargers match up very well with the Bengals to shut down their rushing attack. Some teams make it a philosophy for every man on defense to aggressively fly to the football from play-to-play, but other teams simply have outstanding front sevens that they rely on to overwhelm any potential rushing attack. The Bengals are better suited to take advantage of the defenses who fly to the football, because of AJ Green on the outside, but the Chargers are the other kind of expert rush defense.
While the Bengals’ offensive line is very good, the offensive line can only do so much when they are outnumbered. Green-Ellis will be forced to beat a defender or two on a consistent basis if he wants to have a big day. Much like their game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bengals face the prospect of playing against a 3-4 defense with a very inexperienced center starting. Unlike against the Chiefs however, Trevor Robinson and the interior line don’t have an easy task with the Chargers’ nose tackle.
Aubrayo Franklin returned from injury last week, while Antonio Garay and Cam Thomas remained active after filling in for him in his absence. Franklin has had an outstanding season in the middle, while Garay and Thomas played well when he was sidelined. Franklin was seemingly still feeling the effects of his knee issue last week, but should get better the more that he plays. Unlike the Chiefs’ Dontari Poe, each of the three will provide a consistent obstacle, with more importantly consistent effort, to test the interior of the offensive line. Against the Chiefs, 93 of Green-Ellis’ 101 yards came through the middle.
Maybe more importantly, defensive end Corey Liuget is having a phenomenal season and will consistently disrupt both running and passing plays. It’s a big ask for either of Clint Boling or Kevin Zeitler to handle Liuget alone, but the Bengals only have so many offensive linemen to pass around. Doubling down on Liuget and the nose tackle would put one of the Chargers’ outside linebackers would be matched up against skill position players.
Shaun Philips hasn’t had the best of seasons, but Jarrett Johnson and Melvin Ingram offer the Chargers two edge rushers who have the potential to dominate the run on any given day. The Bengals have good offensive tackles, but putting any of the team’s three linebackers against a fullback or tight end will result in disruption in the backfield. There is simply too much talent there for anyone but the offensive tackles to manage.
At the inside linebacker position, things don’t get any easier for the Bengals. Young star Donald Butler is dealing with a groin injury, but he and Takeo Spikes are both imposing presences inside that will continually wrap up and stop either of Peerman or Green-Ellis. When the defensive line ahead of them is providing such difficult matchup problems for the offense, those linebacker should be able to consistently make plays on the ball-carrier.
With the front seven handling the running game, the Bengals will be forced to throw against the Chargers’ secondary that is unconcerned with the offense’s rushing attack. Even though that secondary is not overly talented, playing with that freedom will allow them to concentrate coverages on Green and force Andy Dalton to make difficult throws.
Dalton has enjoyed his recent outings for the Bengals, this game in San Diego may prove to be more of a problem however.