Secondary competition a primary concern

SAN DIEGO -- Playmakers.

The Cincinnati Bengals have them all over on offense, starting with one of the best receivers in the NFL in A.J. Green. The guy who plays on the other side, receiver Marvin Jones, isn’t too shabby either -- he has a four touchdown game this season.

Cincinnati also has two tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert who can get create explosive plays, and a change-of-pace running back in Giovani Bernard who can score from anywhere on the field.

“They are a big-time vertical team that is going to stretch the field,” San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano said. “It’s something that we’ve talked about -- making sure our guys understand to stay back, and really do a great job of making sure we stay on top of things -- because they take shots, and they do it all over across the field.”

With San Diego’s struggles defending the pass, it should not come as a surprise Pagano is opening up the competition in the back end in order to give his defense the best chance to shut down Cincinnati’s prolific passing attack.

“There were positives in that Kansas City game, but our bad is bad,” Pagano said. “And our good, when the head coach [Mike McCoy] has us make these tapes to show good and bad -- there was a lot of good in there. We had a lot of situations where one of our goals was winning on first and second down. And you see all 11 guys doing that.

“Like I said when I talked to the players today, [I hold] myself accountable to get them to understand and play faster. It’s everybody playing more consistent.”

Cornerback Derek Cox’s poor play has been well-documented. Signed to a four-year, $20 million deal this past offseason, Cox has been benched three of the past four games. Pagano was asked why his top cornerback at the beginning of the season has struggled.

“I think for the most part when you watch him on tape, most of his plays that you see at the struggle point are the big-time plays,” Pagano said. “There’s times where I’ve sat down with him and Coach [Ron] Milus, and we’ve shown him plays [where he plays] on a consistent level. And that’s his deal. I think his breakdown is not only each guy in the back end having that mental focus, but it’s also the consistency and keeping them playing every play out.”

But Cox’s play isn’t the only issue. Pagano is also looking for players to compete for different roles in the defensive backfield, whether it’s third down or goal-line sub packages.

“Everybody’s got to be accountable out there, and everybody’s got to get ready to play,” Pagano said. “We’ve got a nice competition going right now back there. And how it shakes out at the end of the week, and how we see it as a staff, you’ll see how who comes out.

“It can be goal line, or it could be some situation where certain guys aren’t even out there in the package. It’s really not about who starts. But it’s about getting 11 guys out there playing together and competing at the same time.”

The Chargers have had struggles in the back end all season, so why have this competition now?

“Sometimes you see situations out there where you’ve got to give your team and everyone the best opportunity to go win, and go make plays,” Pagano said. “And it’s about competing. I think it gives us an opportunity to let those guys go compete and make them work.”

Safety Eric Weddle, one of San Diego’s defensive captains, says his group is embracing the challenge.

“We have to be positive, regardless of who’s out there,” Weddle said. “Be behind them and pick them up. Right now we’re just as one. Whoever is going to play, we’re going to be out there together and we’re going to play the best we can.”

Added reserve safety Jahleel Addae: “Every week you’re working to get better. Everyone’s out there competing -- whether it’s one-on-ones, seven-on-seven or team. So it’s the Charger way. And we’re just continuing to work.”