In the NFL, there are important individual matchups that help to decide each and every game. Whether it’s a position group against another position group, an individual against a position group, or an individual against an individual, these matchups can determine winners and losers. Every week throughout the season, I break down at least two matchups for both the Bengals’ offense and defense against their opponents.
Bengals Offensive Line vs. Chargers Pass Rush
Injuries have found their way to the Bengals’ offensive line. A group that has actually outperformed expectations is beginning to suffer the same fate as the rest of the team. Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn went down with an injury and was immediately followed back up Jake Fisher, who is now on injured reserve. Left Guard Clint Boling has been forced to play left tackle and understandably had some issues against Denver last week. Rookie Billy Price has been up and down since coming back from injury, with last week being one of the down games. Guards Trey Hopkins and Alex Redmond are monsters in the run game but can’t pass block to save their lives at times, particularly Redmond. Right tackle Bobby Hart is probably the worst starting tackle in the NFL.
The Los Angeles Chargers boast one of the most dangerous pass rushing duos in football. Defensive end Melvin Ingram is one of the more underrated players on the team. A shorter, compact pass rusher, Ingram is a twitchy rusher off the edge. Across from him is one of the young terrors for offensive linemen across the league. Joey Bosa is back from injury and making sure everyone remembers that he is one of the best at getting after the quarterback.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel is set up for failure for the second week in a row. After having to deal with star rushers Bradley Chubb and Von Miller last week, the beat up Bengals offensive line faces another duo near the top of their positions. Bosa lining up against Hart should be one of the worst matchups for the Bengals for the whole game. Expect to see Driskel running for his life all afternoon.
Jeff Driskel, Quarterback vs. Derwin James, Safety
Jeff Driskel has been forced into a bad situation and is handling it relatively well after just one game. Yes, he didn’t look great, but he was no the reason they lost against the Broncos. He plays aggressive as both a runner and a passer and that has some benefits to go with all the drawbacks. Driskel is a great athlete at quarterback and brings another facet to the Bengals offense. He may not be a great starter be so far he looks like a pretty darn good backup.
Everyone who follows the NFL Draft is still trying to figure out why Derwin James fell to number 17 overall last spring. The Bengals have their own stud rookie safety in Jessie Bates III and as much as it pains me to say, James is on another level. Rangy enough to play over top, physical enough to play in the box, technical enough to line up man to man, athletic and big enough to rush the passer, James does it all. He has 3 interceptions, 12 passes defensed, 3.5 sacks, and 81 total tackles. Those numbers scream versatility and talent that is rare. James is already good enough that teams need to be aware of where he is on the field at all times.
Driskel is already going to be dealing with a lot from the Chargers pass rush. He absolutely needs to keep his eye on James all game long. Both as a runner and a passer, James could end up making some big plays on Driskel. If Driskel takes off to run, you’ll see James flying to make that hit. Dropping back to throw, Driskel needs to be aware of how athletic and instinctual James is in coverage. Look for James to make a few plays in this game.
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Chargers Wide Receivers vs. Bengals Cornerbacks
The cornerback play has been average this year in Cincinnati. However, average play on that defense makes them the strongest position group. William Jackson III has been solid but not the breakout star we all expected him to be. All the tools are there for Jackson but he’s still putting together the mental aspect of the game. Fellow starter Dre Kirkpatrick has been bad for the most part and is currently injured. His replacements have found ways to be worse. KeiVarae Russell and Darius Phillips are nice backups but shouldn’t be playing starter reps. Slot guy Darqueze Dennard came back from injury and was a welcomed addition to the struggling defense.
Los Angeles is loaded at wide receiver. Keenan Allen is one of the game’s best technicians at the position and makes defensive backs look silly on a weekly basis. 2017 first round pick Mike Williams is having his own coming out part so far in 2018. Still developing, he has begun to showcase the ball skills and athleticism the Chargers knew he had. Tyrell Williams can go off for a huge play at any given time but is just as likely to disappear for an entire game also. Travis Benjamin is a slot guy, but one of the more dynamic slot receivers you’ll come across. A deadly combination of fast and quick, he makes life hard for corners.
Cincinnati looks to have a hard time matching up with all of the Chargers weapons. The wide receiver depth is crazy and the Bengals don’t have the cornerback depth even with Kirkpatrick healthy to handle those guys. Los Angeles will most likely attack the player lining up on the opposite side of Jackson. The Bengals like to rotate their players so much that it will probably be a number of guys getting picked on by this strong group of wide receivers. Mike Williams could be in for a big day.
Bengals Pass Rush vs. Chargers Offensive Line
I say it every week, someone needs to step up outside of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap on that defensive line. We are still waiting for that to happen, although there were signs of life from the other guys against Denver. Jordan Willis needs the consistency, there were a handful of plays where he showed off his athleticism last week. Those plays were followed by a disappearing act more often than not though. Rookie Sam Hubbard is coming along but has problems against the better blockers he comes across.
The Chargers offensive line is like the Bengals in a way, they have outperformed expectations. Russell Okung was thought to have been past his prime but has been playing pretty well lately. Guard Dan Feeney is still progressing and looks to be a solid piece. The addition of center Mike Pouncey has really brought the group together and become the centerpiece of a rejuvenated line. The right side looks like the weak link with Michael Schofield III and Sam Tevi manning the guard and tackle spots.
The Bengals best hope of not getting trampled lies in their pass rush. If they can get pressure on quarterback Phillip Rivers, they have a chance. The pressure will most likely have to come from the left side of the Bengals defensive line. Dunlap and Willis need to take advantage of facing a below-average playing like Tevi and get in Rivers’ face as much as possible. Atkins should be able to get some push up the middle and force Rivers out of his comfort zone.