It is amazing what a couple - or three, to be correct - healthy players back in the mix can do for a team. Focusing on defense, the return to full strength of Geno Atkins, and the re-signings of Michael Johnson and Pat Sims have eased everybody else's job on the Bengals' defense. With more pressure up front it's proving harder for opposing quarterbacks to look for targets down the field, and the Cincinnati Bengals' cornerbacks did a solid job stopping the quick, short passes that San Diego's Philip Rivers counterattacked with.
The Bengals did not need their backs to be great on Sunday, with Atkins, Dunlap and Gilberry feasting on the banged up Chargers' offensive line. Rivers had been very efficient against the Lions in Week 1, but the big majority of his throws did not travel much in the air. The plan was similar again this time, and San Diego did open the field with a big touchdown pass to Malcolm Floyd late in the fourth quarter, but it looked like a blown assignment by safety Reggie Nelson and later Dre Kirkpatrick admitted it was a miscommunication - he was expecting help over the top.
Mike McCoy, the Chargers' head coach dediced to go for two after the touchdown, to make it a field goal game. Nonetheless, another cornerback, Leon Hall, stepped up and stopped Keenan Allen short of the goal line, displaying great awareness.
The savvy Bengals defender recognized the play and helped keep the Chargers out of the endzone, a very common design in the red zone now for many offenses in the NFL. He waits, doesn't bite, and makes a sure tackle on Keenan Allen.
This 2-point conversion attempt also shows one of the big differences between the Lions' defense that got burnt two weeks ago and this unit, that contained San Diego for much of the game. Cincinnati's backs are very solid tacklers and that prevented the Chargers from getting more big gains. Adam Jones was, again, impressive in this facet, leading the way with 9 combined tackles after notching up 10 against the Raiders, a team that also relies on quick, short passes to make the most out of their play makers.
I know San Diego gets a first down here, but Ladarius Green had the chance to make a play after finding a hole in the zone, Vinny Rey and Jones stop him.
Cincinnati plays nickel defense much more than their base defense, so it is important that their backs can contain the short game. Most of the damage the Chargers managed to make on Sunday was on screen passes to Danny Woodhead or with their running game, and one of the few times the Bengals allowed a big play after the catch on a short completion was in Stevie Johnson's touchdown in the third quarter, and I have doubts the blocks on the back that set up the run were legal.
And let's not get started on the bogus call the refs threw on Dre Kirkpatrick, when they could/should have seen the face mask penalty on him instead. Dan Fouts said it was against Stevie Johnson on the broadcast before they even showed the replay.
Overall the Bengals did a great job preparing for this game. Rivers and the Chargers' offense had their hands full and Keenan Allen, who had a terrific outing against Detroit seven days before, was held to two catches for 16 yards on 4 targets. Their secondary is doing what they are expected to do. They don't have any shutdown corner - yet - but their game plan now includes a healthy and dominant pass rush that covers for what their backs lack. And when they are called to make a play, they deliver.
They'll probably have a different job against the Ravens in Week 3, with a tougher offensive line and a quarterback who loves to throw down the field. We'll see in Baltimore what the Bengals cornerbacks continue to do.