Given their personnel losses, aging roster and accumulated injuries, not much was expected from the 2013 San Diego Chargers. They finished 7-9 last season, but that was mostly thanks to a late-season surge when they won three of four after being ousted from the playoff picture. A new coach with some solid draft picks this year have the team back into the playoff hunt, making this game a lot tougher than originally expected for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Chargers decided to go with the big names in the draft, picking offensive tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round and linebacker Manti Te'o in the second. However, it's their third round pick that has been making the most noise with his play and could prove to a tremendous steal for the club. Wide receiver Keenan Allen was once though of as the top wideout in the class, but poor workouts and slow forty times had him slip much further than many anticipated. He has played with a chip on his shoulder since.
Since losing Malcom Floyd before the season, Allen has stepped up and become a go-to guy for a revitalized Philip Rivers. He has slowly crept into AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year discussions with his 50 catches, 737 yards and three touchdowns. He has four 100-yard receiving games in eleven total outings--all from October on. In short, he's getting better and growing up in this league.
Allen has decent size at 6'2" and 210 pounds, but isn't known as a deep threat per se (his season-long catch is for 36 yards). He has made his hay by moving the chains and reeling in the tough catches, quickly becoming a nice safety blanket for Rivers. While the aforementioned stats are impressive, perhaps the most eye-opening is that 39 of his 50 total catches have gone for first downs. To put it into perspective, that is only five less than the Bengals' A.J. Green and he has 17 more catches than Allen.
Of late, the Bengals defense has done a pretty solid job in not letting wide receivers have huge games against them. Josh Gordon had a big play last week, but that was when the Bengals had a big lead and it didn't affect the outcome of the game. In fact, one would need to go all the way back to the Week Seven game against the Lions where Calvin Johnson had a big game to see the last time a wide receiver really had their way with this stout defensive unit..
Regardless, the Bengals defensive backs group has been banged up this season. The team's best cover corner, Leon Hall, was lost for the year in that Lions game and he would have been a great match for Allen's abilities. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will likely need to get creative with the pieces he has available to take away the middle of the field from Allen, which is where he excels.
Undoubtedly, Allen has to be a guy who is featured during the Bengals' film studies this week. If the Bengals are able to take away the middle of the field for both Allen and tight end Antonio Gates, it will make life miserable for Rivers on Sunday. If they are unable to do so, the Bengals might find themselves needing to get into a shootout with the Chargers, as evidenced by their 41-38 win versus the Chiefs this past Sunday.