For once, the Bengals were able to outgain their opposition on offense with 295 yards compared to the Chargers 288. They were unable, however, to outscore the Chargers, which the most important stat there is.
Even though the Bengals did better on offense and defense than they had in weeks, there were a few key moments that just slipped away. The failed fourth down conversion towards the end and the two failed two-point conversion attempts scratch the surface of what the Bengals need to change. From their play calling to their player evaluation, the coaching staff should shoulder most of the blame for the loss.
If the Bengals somehow work out all the kinks, they are capable of being that team we saw in the first half of the season. Even without the some of the most impactful players on offense, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon can pick up the slack on offense. Jessie Bates and Carlos Dunlap are able to keep the defense honest if they play to the abilities they possess. But the few week links keep breaking the chain, which is why the Bengals could possibly lose out.
With the team playing better but not well enough, what did we learn from Sunday?
The Bengals keep feeding the Mixon machine
Joe Mixon had rushed the ball less than 15 times in six of the seven previous games, and the Bengals lost each of those six games. Even though Mixon carried the ball for a career-high 26 times, this Sunday’s game in Los Angeles was the first time the Bengals have ever lost when Mixon recorded 20-plus carries.
The Bengals’ rushing game has been suffering supremely over the last few weeks, which oddly coincided with the Bengals’ losing streak. But with A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, and Tyler Eifert all on injured reserve, the Bengals didn’t have anywhere else to turn. So they let Mixon touch the ball an astounding 31 times in their 62 offensive snaps. His season-high tying 138 yards accounted for 47 percent of the team’s offense.
This really helped Jeff Driskel in his second career start. If the Bengals are going to win any games, which at this point seems very unlikely, they’re going to need more of this. Driskel is going to need some help behind the injured offensive line and with the battered receiver corps. Mixon is going to be key to the offense going forward.
Westerman needs more playing time
It took injuries and a poor performance from a backup to get Christian Westerman some playing time, but when he got in the game, he showed up.
#Bengals' Christian Westerman earned an 84.0 overall grade across his 42 offensive snaps on Sunday, the highest overall grade of any qualifying Bengal in Week 14.— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) December 10, 2018
Westerman and C Billy Price were the only two CIN OL that allowed zero pressures against LAC. #WestermanHive
Christian Westerman hasn't given up a single pressure in 70 pass blocking reps this season (PFF).— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) December 10, 2018
It’s one thing to say that Westerman isn’t a starter, but it’s another thing to say that he can’t play despite the dumpster fire that is going on on the offensive line. Bobby Hart and Alex Redmond have been awful, and Billy Price is still struggling with the NFL’s learning curve. For the Bengals to have left Westerman on the bench all season is inexcusable.
It’s really disturbing that Westerman is getting left out of the game when the Bengals have been throwing Hardy Nickerson out there all season, even though he has been nothing short of a liability.
Knowing the Bengals, Westerman will head right back to the bench after his impressive performance. But the Bengals would find a way to get him into the lineup if the coaching staff had any wits about them.
Fourth downs and two-point conversions continue to haunt the Bengals
We now know why the Bengals don’t ever go for it on fourth down: They’re terrible at it.
That’s not an excuse. That’s actually an indictment on the coaching staff for preparing so poorly for that situation.
Of course, it doesn’t help that false start penalties often take the Bengals from fourth-and-short to fourth-and-medium almost every time they try to go for it. That’s also a big problem.
But the fact that the Bengals laid a goose egg on their two-point conversion attempts and fourth down attempts. That means that the Bengals failed to advance the ball five yards on three attempts.
The Bengals have been going for two and going for it on fourth down, which is good. But then when they finally do go for it, they seem woefully underprepared, which is bad. The coaching staff really needs to get there game plan set so that they actually come up with something on fourth down other than a predictable screen to Giovani Bernard.
When the defense is good when the playmakers make plays
The saying goes, “Great players make great plays,” and the Bengals proved it. When players like William Jackson and Carlos Dunlap stepped up, the Chargers found it tough to score points. Jackson returned to his 2017 form, keeping receivers on his side of the field in check.
#Bengals' William Jackson III earned a season-high 86.5 overall grade against LAC on Sunday, as he allowed 2 receptions for 9 yards from 5 targets on the day. #KingWJIII— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) December 10, 2018
Dunlap had four combined tackles, two passes batted down, and a sack. He was key in putting pressure on Philip Rivers.
Not only did some of the stars step up, but they had help from an unlikely source. Christian Ringo recorded his first career sack two weeks after being signed off of the Cowboys practice squad.
If the Bengals can get all their parts together, the defense might be able to avoid ending the season as the worst defense of all time.