It is a stigma that the Cincinnati Bengals can not get off their backs. They can make it to the playoffs, but can’t get past the first round. They can get to the big stage, but then they choke. For the first time since 2009, the Bengals have earned themselves a first round home playoff game. After going 8-0 at home during the regular season, a home playoff game seems like the right cure for fixing the skid. They’ll face off against San Diego on Sunday looking for their first playoff win in 23 years. If they want to end the drought, there are certain things they’ll need to do.
1) Get the offensive line healthy. Cincinnati has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, allowing only 29 sacks all year to quarterback Andy Dalton. Their dominance has been even greater in the last few weeks of the season, only giving up three sacks since week 10. The line has suffered some inures as of late, the most impactful being left guard Clint Boling, who suffered a season ending injury. Andrew Whitworth moved into the guard spot, and Anthony Collins took over at tackle for Whitworth. Collins has done a good job, and has not given up a sack of Dalton yet.
2) Have an outstanding game on the ground. The Chargers defense has not been the best against the run this year, giving up an average of 107.8 rushing yards a game and 112.1 on the road. When the Bengals traveled to San Diego on December 1st, they rushed for 164 yards en route to a 17-10 victory. If Andy Dalton throws for four interceptions like he did in last weeks victory over the Ravens, the run game will have to be the offense’s saving grace. The double edged sword of BenJarvus Green Ellis and Giovani Bernard should be able to have another decent day.
3) Get pressure on Phillip Rivers early and often. When defensive tackle Geno Atkins went down with a torn ACL against the Dolphins on October 31st, many thought that the Bengals’ pass rush was going to diminish. That has not been the case, and despite their sack total from last season is down this year, they have still been able to get to the opposing quarterback on a consistent basis. By getting pressure on Rivers, the Chargers will have to try and run the ball and the Bengals defense is stout against the run. They allow an average of 96.5 rush yards a game, good for fifth best in the NFL. Rivers has flown under the radar this season, hiding behind the hype of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady still winning games without his top receivers. Rivers threw for 252 yards and one touchdown and one interception in the loss to the Bengals earlier this season. Rivers beat the average that the Bengals normally allow to opponents, at 209 per game. At home, they are allowing an average of 198.4 passing yards per game. If they want to have a shot at winning, the Bengals defensive line will need to make Rivers uncomfortable behind center.
4) Get Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert healthy. Starting tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert both sat out of the regular season finale against Baltimore last Sunday because of injuries. Eifert is still recovering from a neck injury suffered two weeks ago against Minnesota, and Gresham is nursing a hamstring injury. Gresham seems to be fine, as he returned to practice on Wednesday and the team said he is likely to play on Sunday. Holding him out against the Ravens was just a precautionary move. Eifert’s injury, however, seems more serious, and he is questionable for Sunday. The two tight ends always caused match up problems for defenses, and you could tell the passing game was hurting from their absence on Sunday.