While the Cincinnati Bengals travel across the country looking to continue a recent streak of success, the San Diego Chargers are lying in wait looking to reverse their recent record against the AFC North. The Bengals have won their last three games to establish a record of 6-5, while two losses against AFC North opposition are part of the Chargers’ 4-7 record.
Close losses to the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens are part of the Chargers’ 1-4 record in their past five games. However, the other two losses during that stretch came against Peyton Manning‘s Denver Broncos and the high-flying Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Chargers have repeatedly lost games from winning positions this year as a result of minor details or lapses in concentration. For that reason, in a one off game, they are a very dangerous 4-7 opposition.
Purely based on their recent form, the Bengals should add another convincing victory to their playoff push. However, purely based on matchups, the Chargers have a clear advantage in many areas.
Even though Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson should be able to have big days as pass rushers upfront on defense, the Chargers’ sheer size at the offensive skill positions will cause havoc for the secondary and linebackers in coverage. The Bengals’ secondary has played outstanding football in recent weeks, but they haven’t faced two 6’5 starting receivers. The Chargers, with Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd, not only pose that threat, but also have a depth of physical receivers and tight ends who will have mismatch advantages in coverage.
The only limitations the Chargers’ receivers should face in this game will come from the performance of Philip Rivers. Rivers was at one time an elite quarterback who hid many of the flaws of his teammates, but over the past two seasons he has been the most inconsistent starting quarterback in the NFL. Rivers will have to deal with pressure all day and that pressure will lead to turnovers if Rivers forces passes as he so often has. If the Chargers are too pass-happy, as they often are, that will work in the Bengals’ favor somewhat as they can focus on coverage.
If the Chargers unleash Ryan Mathews and make him a focal point of the offense, today’s gameplan on defense becomes very difficult. Mathews is a gamechanging runner who has had a very quiet season after entering the regular season injured. If Norv Turner doesn’t use Mathews, the Bengals’ pass rush will tee off on Rivers while Mike Zimmer will flood the field with coverage. If Turner does establish the run, the Bengals’ defense will go from being very proactive to completely reactive. Reactive is never the approach a defense wants to take.
That is the biggest test facing the Bengals’ offense today. The Chargers’ defense will be proactive today, because they have a top ranked run defense who will be able to shut down the Bengals’ rushing attack with just their front seven. In recent weeks, Jay Gruden has run a very balanced offense to help Andy Dalton. Dalton has flourished during that time, but he will really be tested this week because he will have to pass significantly more than hand the ball off if the team is to have offensive success.
Unless the offense is benefited by an early special teams or defensive big play, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman won’t be big factors. That will force Dalton to throw to a wide receiver group that is missing the injured Mohamed Sanu. However, in Sanu’s place, Marvin Jones and Andrew Hawkins have returned just in time to play in this game. The Chargers’ weakness on defense is in the secondary, where the Bengals should get appealing matchups on either side of the field.
Two secondaries facing tough matchups, one pass happy team and one team who will likely be forced to pass, could turn this game into a shootout.