The Cincinnati Bengals face a difficult trip to play the San Diego Chargers this weekend as they continue their journey towards what was once considered an unlikely spot in the playoffs. With the Pittsburgh Steelers facing an even tougher trip to face the Baltimore Ravens, Bengals fans will be excited by the prospect of picking up another win to extend their winning streak and take control of their fate in the AFC North.
Michael Johnson v. Michael Harris:
The San Diego Chargers invested in Jared Gaither this off-season to fortify their offensive line. Last season, Philip Rivers was continuously under pressure form his blindside, and that was partially to blame for his downturn in production. Rivers played his best football when Gaither became the starter late in the season and that led to him being signed to a long-term deal. Fast forward to this season, Gaither has barely played and was placed on IR a matter of days ago.
In his place, the undrafted rookie Michael Harris has failed to produce. Harris has given up six sacks, five quarterback hits and a massive 36 quarterback hurries in just seven starts. Harris will be the starter for the Chargers this weekend and will be facing off on a regular basis with Michael Johnson. Johnson is second on the Bengals’ with eight sacks on 617 total snaps. Johnson has a sack in each of his last two games so will be confident of consistently beating Harris in this game.
The whole of the Bengals’ defensive line should be able to get the better of their opposition, but Johnson’s ability against Harris is the most overwhelming mismatch.
Eric Weddle‘s Health:
Regardless of whether Eric Weddle plays or not this week, he has been limited in practice this week and would be forgiven for being a bit tentative on the field after that jarring hit from Anquan Boldin last week. On Ray Rice‘s now infamous fourth down and 29 conversion against the Chargers, Boldin hit Weddle from his blindside and knocked him out of the game with a concussion.
Weddle is arguably the best free safety in the NFL right now and is very important for the Chargers’ coverage schemes. He is not only an outstanding football player individually, but his team rely on him to make calls and provide leadership for an otherwise shaky secondary. Furthermore, Weddle provides very reliable tackling behind the front seven which can’t be guaranteed from his replacement.
Norv Turner‘s Offensive Play-Calling:
Turner doesn’t receive much praise at all in San Diego, and even though he is regarded as an excellent offensive mind, it is for good reason. Much of the fans’ frustrations with Turner lie with the way he uses his offense. Despite having a shoddy offensive line and underperforming left tackle in particular, Turner has neglected to put the offense in the hands of his best player, Ryan Mathews.
Mathews entered the season injured, so his bit part role early on was understandable. However, now he is completely clear of any lingering affects from that and is still not being used as a feature back. He did have 19 attempts on 42 snaps last week, but Mathews is the type of player who could really dominate a game if given even more opportunities.
Instead, Turner has consistently put the ball in the hands of Philip Rivers who has 14 interceptions and nine fumbles this year(four lost fumbles). Because the Chargers have size match-ups on the outside against the Bengals’ secondary, Turner will be even more determined to put the game in Rivers’ hands, but that also will play into the Bengals’ gameplan. Zimmer’s defense will fear Mathews much more than Rivers considering their recent run against quarterbacks, but Turner will save them from that test.