Every week in every NFL game, one-on-one match-ups go a long way in deciding the outcomes. Even though football is a team sport, one of the beautiful things about the game is one player lining up against another and seeing who wins. Such will be the case when the San Diego Chargers come to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals this Sunday.
Both teams are relatively healthy, though the Bengals seem to be a bit more complete on that front than the Chargers. Let's take a look at some of the more intriguing individual match-ups we'll see on Sunday afternoon.
Carlos Dunlap and Chris Carter versus Joe Barksdale:
The starting offensive tackles for the Chargers are massive, as are the Bengals' defensive ends. Usually, Dunlap lines up as the left defensive end, so we won't be seeing a Dunlap versus Dunlap (Carlos versus King) all that often, but it's going to be interesting to see if big against big is the key, or if using the speedy Carter to fly past the mammoths will be the best strategy on Sunday. Carter did play in 20 snaps last week against the Raiders, so they might employ him further as he gets his feet under him.
Michael Johnson and Chris Carter versus King Dunlap:
The same goes on the other side of the line. Carter can move a bit more around the line than Dunlap and Johnson, so he might be mixed in on both sides. Johnson still looked like he was getting his feet under him after missing almost all of training camp, so maybe he'll be in a bit more of "football shape". Dunlap and D.J. Fluker are San Diego's best linemen, so their left tackle will really need to play well with Fluker looking to be out this week at right guard.
George Iloka versus Ladarius Green:
Over the years, tight ends killed the Bengals' defense. However, with the additions of Iloka and Reggie Nelson, the position hasn't been nearly as effective against Cincinnati as it used to be. Iloka got a bit dinged up last Sunday, but returned to practice on Thursday, in a limited fashion, so it looks like he'll be playing on Sunday. The fourth-year safety is an emerging star who is an all-around solid player. Green will be a focal point with Antonio Gates serving a suspension, so Iloka better be on high alert.
Giovani Bernard versus Donald Butler:
After a sluggish preseason and start to the game against Oakland, Bernard hit his stride. He had a number of nice runs and was the co-leader in rushing yards, even though he had 11 less carries than Jeremy Hill. Butler had a nice debut for San Diego, even though Detroit shot out to a big early lead. If the Chargers are able to contain Hill, Eifert and A.J. Green, then Bernard will be a big factor in the game and Butler will likely be shadowing him.
Eric Weddle versus Tyler Eifert:
The big tight end had a field day in his triumphant return from an injury-plagued 2014 season. The Raiders put safeties, linebackers and corners on Eifert all to poor results for Oakland. Weddle is the Pro Bowl safety for San Diego and will likely be tasked with keeping an eye on this generation's No. 85. If Eifert is a major factor once again this week, the Bengals should have a good chance at a victory.
Mike Scifres versus Brandon Tate and/or Adam Jones:
Sometimes it's the non-obvious players who make the big impacts--especially in non-obvious ways. The Chargers call Scifres "arguably their best punter ever" and "one of the best in the NFL this decade", which, actually is pretty true. With two teams who are pretty evenly-matched, it might come down to an electric special teams play to create a spark. Will Scifres pin the Bengals deep in their own territory as he has done for 13 years? Or, will Tate and Jones be able to make a play in what could be a close one?
Vinny Rey versus Melvin Gordon:
Some Bengals fans love Vinny, others think he's simply a chase and tackle kind of guy after a play has been made by the offense. Gordon didn't have the best debut for the Chargers, but they'll want to ride him to take pressure off of Philip Rivers, so he won't have to come up with another miracle after a big deficit. With Vontaze Burfict sitting on the PUP List, Rey was the only linebacker who played every snap (66) against the Raiders. Will the heady Rey lead the Bengals' defense to another good performance against the run, or will he be chasing Gordon down after big gains?
Dre Kirkpatrick versus Stevie Johnson:
While most eyes will be looking at Adam Jones against Keenan Allen, the match-up of size on the other side of the field will be on the lengthy Kirkpatrick against the speedy Johnson. The tall Malcolm Floyd has taken a backseat as the No. 3 to Johnson and Allen, but Mr. "Why So Serious?" had a solid game against the Lions with six catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. If the Chargers happen to get behind early once again, Rivers will be slinging it around the field and Johnson will be looked at often.
Melvin Ingram versus Andre Smith:
The Bengals offensive line had a solid day against the Raiders in both run blocking and pass protection, but they are likely facing a different animal in the form of San Diego's 3-4 defense. Smith has had a solid career, but has had lapses against the smaller, speedier rushers. He too played well against Oakland, but there were times Khalil Mack got around him even though they were negated with quick pass plays. Ingram has disappointed a bit in his young career, but could provide problems if he is overlooked by the Bengals in lieu of other defenders.