The San Diego Chargers find themselves as the most over looked team in the NFL playoffs. Many pundits will argue that they are not even supposed to be in the tournament, as the refs definitely botched one call and possible a second one in the overtime period. Nevertheless, here they are and they have a chance to make some real noise.
At first glance the idea of the Chargers making noise in the playoffs may sound laughable at best. However, after closer examination, one may reconsider. The Chargers did face these same Cincinnati Bengals a month ago and lost by a touchdown. The Chargers have fared well in rematches this season after a loss. They defeated the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos after earlier defeats.
There is an old adage in boxing that styles make fights, the same reigns true in football. In their first meeting the Chargers did not execute well their advantages well. Even without stud defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Bengals are still stout against the run. Where they struggle is with their linebackers in coverage. The Chargers did not attack that area enough. They attempted to with Antonio Gates but he had an off day. Danny Woodhead only had two receptions. If the Chargers want to win they will have to be more productive.
Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has struggled against double moves all year long. Last week against the Baltimore Ravens, he was beat by Jacoby Jones on a double move but Joe Flacco overthrew the pass. If Philip Rivers can get time and be more accurate than Flacco, Kirkpatrick could be the weak link in the Bengals secondary.
Offensively the Bengals have weapons but there are still questions about their trigger man. Quarterback Andy Dalton is talented but inconsistent. Last week for example, he threw for two touchdowns, rushed for another, but he had four interceptions. If the Chargers can cause a few turnovers in this game, Dalton may get flustered due to his previous lack of success in the playoffs.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is 0-3 in the playoffs and his teams have looked overwhelmed even when they should have been favored. In 2009 rookie Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets defense defeated the Bengals at home. Two seasons ago, rookie fifth-round pick T.J. Yates and the Houston Texans did enough to defeat the Bengals. Last season, the Bengals again traveled to Houston and missed chances by Dalton cost the team the game.
If the Chargers can take care of the ball during this meeting the outcome could be much different. The Chargers gave the Bengals three turnovers. Keenan Allen had an uncharacteristic fumble. Gates had a fumble and lost a ball that turned into an interception.
The Chargers may not be the sexy pick to go deep in the playoffs but they have every opportunity to do so. They are not the most talented team but as history has shown us, it is not about the most talented, it is about who executes the best in January.
Photo Courtesy: Sean M. Haffeny