On the very fringe of permissible reasoning is the ancient hope that a warm-weather team will struggle in the cold of Cincinnati in late-December. The problem with that idea, though, is that the Chargers are a tremendously successful winning team in winter and, in theory, can only play roughly half of those games in their pleasant Southern California air. Most road games -- if outdoors -- are bound to be played somewhere colder and yet Phillip Rivers and his team carries on with a 20-1 record in December. Nonetheless, history tells us that the more the elements infuse themselves into any game, the more of a ground-and-pound contest it becomes. Therefore, if a wintery mix of freezing temperatures and any precipitation were to occur, and the Bengals stick with the run, they have a good shot at playing spoiler. Still, that is a weak reason to hope for a win, so more exploration is required to fulfill the worth of the time spent reading this entry.
Most of the hard analysis concerning the Bengals, depends largely on what team shows up. If it's the sports car with the blown transmission, then we can stop now, because that team doesn't move at all. If it's the kids bike with the training-wheels, on the other hand, we can at least make it to the end of the driveway and back and maybe even beyond someday.
Bengals offense vs. Chargers defense
The flashy passing-too-much variation of the Bengals offense only helped the statistics of Terrell Owens. It was either needlessly complicated, or stubbornly forced into the play-calling, or both, but whatever the reason, it's safe to label the experiment at this point as a failure. Once TO blew a knee and came out of the game, everyone on the Bengals seem to wake up, like a weird sleeping curse had been lifted. They remembered who they were again and went on to finally win a game.
It's important that Cincinnati sticks with what works. Sure, many of these individuals will be working elsewhere in a few months, and most of what happens in the next two weeks is meaningless, but they still must play to win, and to do that, they have to be last-year's Bengals.
Since the television stars have been shelved, the youngsters now take over, and they seem to require a more basic workload. When watching these receivers run their routes, one notices the simplicity of their assignments and of the offense as a whole. Subsequently, each player executes with more confidence because he has a better understanding and clearer expectation of the play's result. Bengal coaches would probably tell me that the plays called are no different without TO, and that the execution has simply been better. Even if that is the case, figuring out why an improvement occurred at all is the key to "fixing" the Bengals, and I am convinced that it's because a lot of uncertainty was removed once ridden of the future hall-of-fame player.
Regardless, the Bengals are going with the youth movement again this Sunday, so it seems safe to assume that they will stick with the run and short passing game. It's the kind of offense they should have stuck with all season long -- especially after two wins where the team mightily struggled throwing the ball.
I still can't figure out why they ever went away from the run-heavy play-calling. Had the powers-that-be decided to go the other extreme and go no-huddle as often as possible and really attack the oppositions secondary with spread formations and lots of deep balls, then I would have been fine with that too. As it is, however, no true identity was assumed, and the team lost 10 straight games as a result.
To give the Bengals fans present a show, to some degree, is to not show them much at all. The more boring the game, the better the Bengals' chances are to win. Cincinnati should pound Benson more, sprinkle in another heavy-handed scoop of Bernard Scott, let the offensive line get in the groove again and require Carson Palmer to do as little as possible. Simple is better.
Chargers offense vs. Bengals defense
The Bengals safeties are spared this week as the great Antonio Gates is resting up for a playoff run and will forgo this Sunday's match-up, as will the stork-like receiver, Malcolm Floyd. Old Randy McMichael takes the place of Gates, who is still a big angry guy with decent hands, but not near the all-pro caliber of the Kent State basketball player. Still, the Chargers have other large targets like Vincent Jackson, and Tatooine native, Legedu Naanee, but the difference-maker could be the smaller guy, Patrick Crayton.
Crayton dislocated his wrist on November 24, and missed the last four weeks, but fully participated in at least one practice this week. If Rivers sees that he's matched up with the likes of Johnathan Wade, or Fred Bennet, or any other random corner the Bengals sign this week to play in the nickel, he will likely go after that person and Crayton could bust out on a slant or seam route. He has good straight-line speed and has big-play ability (18.4 yards-per-catch), but he sometimes experiences inopportune flare-ups of the droppsies and it keeps his career from blossoming. The Bengals would like to keep the score low and create a field-position war, but in order to accomplish that, they must limit the "explosive" plays that have plagued this defense many times this year. That means not losing track of Crayton and tackling receivers in the open field. This is a talented passing attack; if the game allows for passing, Cincinnati will need its star corners to play the game of the year.
If it is a ground-game played in snow and wintry wind, then the Chargers become less scary. Rookie Ryan Mathews hasn't really blown the doors of off anything, and Darren Sproles is still a jitter-bug extraordinaire, but he too is not a snow-back. What he is, is a screen threat. As soon as the Bengals see him enter the game, they should be mindful of the screen. The linebackers should flow to his side of the field when he enters the flats, and really sell out on the screens. If they get tricked on this kind of play, so be it, but they can't over think themselves into ignoring the strengths of their opponent. Keeping Sproles away from open field with blockers in front, should be this week's top defensive priority.
In spirit of the celebration of the winter solstice, I encourage all of you to join me in a pagan snow dance which will bury those sunny San Diego Chargers into a blizzardly void of howling northern winds and sharp, icy snowflakes. If we get nature on our side, we simply cannot lose. Collectively, we can make nature a Bengals fan!
So let there be an abundance of rushes and field goals and punts. Let there be Carlos Dunlap sacks and Leon Hall pick-sixes. And just for holiday fun, I want an onside kick too -- not the desperation kind either, a sneaky one, like the opening kick-off or something.
This is the final curtain call here in Cincinnati for a few of the main characters. The future hasn't looked so uncertain since the first few years of the 21st century for the Bengals and not every one is likely to return once the season concludes. Under all that cold and frost in the air will be a warm undercurrent of nostalgic camaraderie. The last look upon this era is before us. Behold the final home game of the Marvin Lewis Era!
Bengals 16, Chargers 13
Chargers 27, Bengals 16
Mojokong—long live the Krampus.