5 Adjustments Cincinnati Bengals Must Make in Week 2 Matchup with Chargers
The Cincinnati Bengals put on a show against the Oakland Raiders in Sunday's victory, but the team will need to change certain aspects of its approach for a date with the San Diego Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 2.
While the Raiders are a rebuilding franchise with a promising young quarterback and key defensive pieces, the Chargers are hopeful conference contenders with big names such as Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen on offense and Melvin Ingram and Eric Weddle on defense.
Really, the Chargers have the same core pieces in place that bounced the Bengals from the postseason in 2013. The trip east won't prove easy on San Diego, but don't expect Cincinnati to trot out the same game plan as Week 1 hoping for a victory to come just as easy.
Within, let's take a look at the biggest changes the Bengals need to make in order to start the season 2-0.
More Looks with Extra Defensive Backs
The Bengals didn't need to get wildly creative with formations in Oakland this past weekend.
Sophomore quarterback Derek Carr attempted all of 12 passes before leaving the game with an injury, leaving things to backup Matt McGloin. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are a solid tandem, but the Raiders just don't pose the depth San Diego does.
Keenan Allen is an elite receiver on his own and caught 15 passes for 166 yards against the Detroit Lions last week. He's flanked by Malcom Floyd and the elusive Stevie Johnson, who caught six passes and a score last week.
Then there are others who can hurt Cincinnati, including Danny Woodhead out of the backfield and tight end Ladarius Green, who folks will remember caught a score when the Chargers beat the Bengals in the playoffs.
For this reason, the Bengals will need to commit more resources to stopping the pass. San Diego likes to get in tempo and air things out and has the weapons to do serious damage. Cincinnati can counteract by putting an extra safety or linebacker on Green and locking down the others.
This would leave room for rookie back Melvin Gordon to go to work, so the line up front would need to rise to the occasion.
Oakland's attack never really got off the ground last weekend.
Rivers won't have the same issue, and once he's in a rhythm and hurrying to the line, things could only get worse for the Cincinnati defense.
Just ask the Lions. Rivers got in a groove in the second half after entering the locker room down 21-10 and rattled off 23 points over the final two frames, settling on a 35-of-42 line with 404 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Disruption is key. Geno Atkins and the line are great, but the Bengals will want to bring stunts and blitzes from various angles to mix things up: shoot the A-gap, send defensive backs around the edges, etc.
Anything and everything helps to keep Rivers on his toes, especially if the corners can jam the receivers at the line long enough to ruin the timing of a given play. If the Bengals can blitz often and win one-on-one matchups in the secondary, the Cincinnati offense can grind out the clock.
More Unbalanced Sets with Bigger Commitment to Run
On paper, the Bengals had quarterback Andy Dalton throw 34 times to 31 team rushes against the Raiders, which borders on perfect balance.
Really, though, many of the rushes came with the game in hand as a way to grind out the clock. The balance will need to swing in favor of the running game next weekend with San Diego in town as a way to keep Rivers off the field.
In theory, it shouldn't be a problem. Hill grinded his way to a pair of scores, and Giovani Bernard averaged almost eight yards per carry. Last week, the Chargers allowed Lions rookie Ameer Abdullah to rush for 50 yards and a score on just seven carries, but Detroit's balance despite the halftime lead was 30 pass attempts to just 16 total rushes.
Cincinnati loves games in which it can pound the ball 30 times with a single back and then some with others for good measure. Hill needs to get behind unbalanced sets often and rush around 30 times. The Bengals can win the battle in the trenches against San Diego if they commit to it.
Fewer Risks Down the Field
Along those same lines, the Bengals will want to reel in some of the riskier throws down the field when possible.
Tyler Eifert's breakout game was quite a lot of fun to watch, but the Chargers are more talented and athletic than the Raiders at all levels. Ingram, Donald Butler and others can run with big players like Eifert in the flats, and Weddle has a nose for the football.
On the outside, Weddle and Brandon Flowers bracketed Calvin Johnson last week, holding the man known as Megatron to two catches for 39 yards. On the other side of the field, Jason Verrett limited Golden Tate to four catches for 24 yards despite seeing a team-high eight targets.
In other words, there are many reasons for the Bengals to employ a serious run-first approach Sunday. The Chargers are far from a slouch on the defensive side of things when healthy, which they are after shutting down what should be one of the league's most prolific offenses.
A mistake here and a mistake there in the passing game would force the Bengals out of their comfort zone into a one-dimensional attack, so the offense will need to keep it short and smart.
Fewer Yards Left on the Field
This is just nitpicking at this point, but coaches will always find areas for a team to improve.
As ESPN.com's Coley Harvey pointed out, the staff would have liked to see better execution on the ground against Oakland: "Bengals coach Marvin Lewis believes Cincy's backs left a lot of rushing yards on the field in Sunday's 33-13 win. He feels the backs need to run 'significantly better' at the point of attack."
Again, Hill ran for 63 yards and two scores, but a few issues did pop up. At times he danced too much in the backfield, and other times the offensive line stumbled and closed holes before he could shoot through.
To be fair, some of the issues could be accredited to Oakland's miserable stadium with the dirt infield. If so, Lewis and the staff don't have much to worry about in the friendly confines of PBS.
Still, it's the little details, which is nothing but a good thing because it means the team is for the most part running like a well-oiled machine. Against an opponent like San Diego, it's a requirement for victory.