I, like all of you, was left in just as much shock as Philip Rivers (pictured above) following the Chargers game against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 13. The Chargers didn’t exactly play horribly, but for some reason, it was the most painful loss of the season. Maybe because the Chargers were coming off a huge upset win in Kansas City, or maybe because at the time it all but assured our exclusion from the playoffs. The offense finished with over 330 yards, but only scored 10 points. The defense only allowed 17 points, yet we suffered a crushing loss. So, what went wrong?
What Went Wrong On Offense:
1. The Running Game
Ryan Mathews only rushed the ball 14 times. Mathews was nursing a sore hamstring, but he was running well, averaging 4.4 yard per carry and had a few rushes over 10 yards. The Chargers instead went with Danny Woodhead, but even he only had 7 rushing attempts. The Chargers instead leaned too heavily on Philip Rivers, with 37 passing attempts, completing only 62% of them. The Chargers passed the pass time and time again on 3rd & short, and it killed a few drives. Leaning on Rivers was especially hard because of…
2. Horrible Interior Pass Protection
This game was directly in the middle of the Chargers’ game of musical O-line. The Chargers had a starting lineup of Fluker-Troutman-Hardwick-Rinehart-Clary. The unit wasn’t horrible, but they committed a few bad false start penalties and gave up an insane amount of pressure up the middle. The Bengals blitzed up with middle with Vontaze Burfict and James Harrison consistently, and it wreaked havoc on the Chargers’ offense. Philip Rivers was forced to throw it away and make quick check downs to Mathews and Woodhead far too soon. The pass rush was breaking down plays before any receivers had time to get open, so only receivers that could make hard catches in contact (Allen, Gates) were effective.
3. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers…
Wow. This should probably be #1, because turnovers are the easiest way to explain this loss. Antonio Gates fumbled twice near the redzone. TWICE. Gates lost 2 fumbles in his ENTIRE CAREER before this season. He lost 2 in this game (only one counted, the other was ruled an interception because he fumbled it before he even came down with the ball.) If the Chargers avoided just one of those crucial turnovers, they probably would have scored on one of those possessions and taken the lead. They were killer. The Chargers only ended up losing by 1 score, so even only one break could have led to a victory. Keenan Allen also fumbled inside our own 35 yardline. The Bengals ended up fumbling it back to us, but it wasted time and could have easily put the bengals up by another score.
4. Slow Starts
The Chargers didn’t score until 11:11 left in the 2nd quarter. They didn’t score in the 2nd half until 4:43 remaining in the game. The slow starts were made worse by turnovers, but the Chargers just couldn’t get it together until it was too late. They almost had that problem again last week against the Chiefs, but they happened to be playing backups. The Bengals are a playoff team and will certainly not be playing their backups, so the Chargers need to improve their effort and intensity from the start of the game AND the 2nd half.
What Went Wrong On Defense:
The Chargers just could not tackle anyone in the open field. The secondary gave the Bengals receivers so much cushion on the line that the Bengals just started running receiver screens and letting them run by our defenders. AJ Green is not exactly a bulldozer, so this was hard to watch. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is a bulldozer, so imagine (or remember) how much worse the tackling was in the running game. The first touchdown drive by the Bengals, 47 of the 67 yards were covered by Green-Ellis and Giovanni Bernard just smashing away at the Chargers defense. The secondary just couldn’t bring either one down without getting dragged 5 more yards.
2. Rush Defense
This may be a little unfair, because for the most part, the rush defense was OK for a lot of the game. Not great, but OK. They held the Bengals rushers to short gains for much of the game, and dropped them for losses 4 times. But, just like always, consistency was the issue. The defense could not keep the Bengals from breaking off the big play, no matter the situation. The Bengals ended with 164 yards rushing, averaging 4.3 yards per rush. This not only pounded the Chargers’ defense for a TD and tired them out, but it wasted clock for the Chargers offense. The name of the game for the Chargers is time of possession, so the rush defense must improve on Sunday.
3. Confusion in the Secondary
The secondary has played better as of late. In fact, it seems like this Bengals game was a turning point for the secondary. The strength of Cincinnati is the deep pass to superstar receiver AJ Green. The Chargers secondary held Green to a long of 28 yards. Again, OK, but not great. During that play, and several other times during the game, the secondary looked confused, unaware of what their job was or where they should be on the field. On AJ Green’s scoring play, Marcus Gilchrist was so far out of position that Green could have crawled into the endzone and still scored. Not to mention, they probably couldn’t have tackled him if they were in position. The secondary has played much better lately, and must improve even more to shut down the Bengals offense.
Look out for Chargers vs Bengals: What Went Well Last Time? later this week to see what did go well last game, and how we can exploit it again on Sunday.