CINCINNATI – If anyone exemplifies the Cincinnati Bengals’ ability to create explosive plays, it is electric receiver A.J. Green.
Green has been targeted a league-leading 178 times. He finished the regular season with 98 catches for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns. Against San Diego, Green totaled five catches for 83 yards, including a 28-yard reception on a go route against Chargers cornerback Shareece Wright, and a 21-yard touchdown in which San Diego’s defense failed to cover the best receiver on the field.
Wright understands he and his teammates have to play better on Sunday.
“It’s like a redemption-type of game,” Wright said. “You go back and watch the game from the first time and see how you can be better. And if you do better on those things, hopefully it will be a different outcome.”
But Green isn’t the only playmaker the Bengals have at their disposal. Receivers Marvin Jones and Andrew Hawkins, tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert -- not to mention running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard -- can all create explosive plays.
The Bengals finished with 58 plays of 20-plus yards during the regular season, No. 8 in the NFL. Sure tackling and keeping big plays to a minimum once again will be a point of emphasis for the Chargers to move on in the postseason.
Win the turnover battle: Cincinnati has forced 21 of the team’s 31 turnovers at home, and returned six for scores. So it will be important for San Diego to hold onto the football. Antonio Gates was responsible for two turnovers against the Bengals earlier this season. I don’t expect that to happen again in this game. San Diego’s defense also has to get after the football. The Chargers have forced 10 turnovers in the past six games.
Play keep away: The Chargers lead the league in time of possession, but are only No. 12 in the NFL in points scored, averaging 24.8 points a contest. It will be important for San Diego to control time of possession, but at the end of those long drives, Philip Rivers has to get his offense into the end zone.
Ride a hot Ryan Mathews: He’s carried the ball at least 24 times in the past four games, all wins for the Chargers. In games Mathews has rushed at least 19 times, the Chargers are 7-1. It’s going to be cold and wet this afternoon. Those are good reasons to keep handing the ball to Mathews.
Pressure Andy Dalton: Dalton has 33 touchdowns, but 20 interceptions on the season. The Chargers have to find a way to create pressure up front with just the front four, so San Diego’s secondary can keep Cincinnati’s explosive playmakers from getting deep. Dalton will give San Diego some chances to create turnovers if he’s under duress.
Bring energy: The Bengals are trying to end a 22-year postseason drought. They are 8-0 at home this season, winning by an average of 17.6 points a contest. San Diego has to bring energy EARLY. The Chargers cannot fall behind in the first half and realistically expect to win. San Diego has to match Cincinnati’s intensity.