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Keys to the Game: Chargers vs. Bengals

Posted Jan 3, 2014

Here are five keys to the game heading into Sunday’s match between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Here are five keys to the game heading into this week’s Wild Card playoff game between the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals:

1.  Protect the FootballTurnovers doomed the Boltsthe first time these teams met in Week 13 as the Chargers committed three in the 17-10 loss.  The Bengals created the seventh most turnovers in the NFL with 33, forcing 20 interceptions and 13 fumbles. For the majority of the season, the Chargers have done a terrific job protecting the football and they will be the first to tell you those turnovers played a key role in their loss to the Bengals the first time around.  Like Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said, they like their chances if they don’t turn it over like last time:

“Turnovers are really what hurt us. We had opportunities to get in the red zone and to try and score points, but we had turnovers at critical times. When you are playing a good team like that, those are things you can’t do.”

 

2. Show the Growth–In addition to the turnovers, the Chargers said they are simply a more mature team than the first time they played Cincinnati.  It was only five weeks ago, but they have grown over their recent four game winning streak, enough for them to feel like a completely different team on both sides of the ball.  Gates was particularly vocal in saying that they must show that maturation when they take the field on Sunday:

“I think we have grown and matured a lot as a team. One thing about it is when you have a new staff and guys coming in and out from different places, you are adding guys to a team, then you have the core guys that have been here, it takes time to build that continuity. Fortunately we were able to overcome some bumps in the road early in the season to still be fortunate enough to play in the playoffs. Now, you see a sense of urgency. You can see the confidence and belief that we have. Not only did we have it all year, but you can kind of see how we believe and we know what guys can do and we trust in the calls that are being made from the offensive staff. We can just see that this is a different team in a different situation. Mostly that has to do with winning football games. When you win you build confidence. That’s what we have done over the past four weeks and hopefully we can do that in the post season.”


3. Stuff their Run– The Bolts had their worst run defense of the year against Cincinnati as BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovanni Bernard ran wild.  Green-Ellis ran for 92 yards and Bernard chipped in with 57 as they led the Bengals to 164 yards on the ground.  They were especially effective on the final drive of the game when the Chargers needed the ball back for a chance to tie it.  The defense knew the run was coming but they were unable to stop it  Corey Liuget knows the Bolts must improve against the run to have a shot at coming out victorious:

“We definitely know we have to gang tackle. They have two excellent running backs and we know, defensively, that can’t happen again. We just have to be sound with our tackling. If we have to do tackling drills or whatever it is that the coaches may have planned for us, we just have to do it and execute it and make sure we bring those guys to the ground.”

 

4. Don’t Give Up the Big Play  – A.J. Green is quite simply one of the elite wide receivers in the NFL.  The last time these teams met, Green posted five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.  That is actually a more pedestrian day for the third-year pro who is accustomed to topping 100-yards and finding the end zone. For the season, Green posted a career-high in both receptions with 98 and yards with 1,446.  His 3,833 yards over his three-year career is the second most of any NFL player for his first three seasons.  It’s not just A.J. Green however.  Marvin Jones posted 10 touchdowns on the year and Andrew Hawkins had a big game against the Bolts in Week 13.  Defensive Coordinator John Pagano talked about the need for the secondary to limit their big play receivers:

“We can’t give up those shot plays to number 18 (A.J. Green) and then we’ve got to be aware of Andrew Hawkins being in that situation with the big play he got. So the biggest adjustments for us defensively is, number one, making sure we don’t give up big plays.”

 

 5. Stick to the Game Plan and Stay Focused  – There is a lot of pressure on Andy Dalton.  The Bengals quarterback has led his team to the playoffs in all three of his years, but he struggled in his first two trips to the postseason.  In two losses he threw for a combined 384 yards with no touchdowns and one interception for a 48.6 passer rating. While in the regular season this year he tossed 33 touchdowns, he also had 20 interceptions and has shown a knack for turning the ball over if pressured.  Still, Eric Weddle cautioned his teammates not to try to do too much, saying good things will happen by playing their brand of football:

“Just be in position, honestly. Don’t look at this game, this situation, this opportunity for more than it is. You don’t want to over-psych yourself up or pressure yourself to try to make more plays than you’re already trying to do. Just stay within yourself. Stay within the defense. Do what your job entails and do it the best you can. The ball will find you if you’re consistently doing your job in-tune in the game and understanding what the opponent’s trying to do. Just don’t go out there and (be) all free-lance all of a sudden because we’re in the playoffs and everyone’s watching us now. Just stick to the game plan and if you’re in position, the ball will find you.”

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