Pre-game information is available at a premium in the NFL right now. The lack of preseason football has us guessing more and more about what every team looks like.
The starting lineups for the Cincinnati Bengals appears pretty secure. Mike Daniels will start for an injured Geno Atkins and But what schematic changes await us? Will personnel rotations differ in year two of Zac Taylor’s offense and Lou Anarumo’s defense?
For every question we have about the hometown team, there are so many more questions about their opponents. The Los Angeles Chargers are no different.
So what matchups can we expect to see? Here are four that will have our attention on Sunday.
Jonah Williams vs. Joey Bosa
This seems like half of the big story to watch outside of a certain No. 1 overall pick making his debut. Joey Bosa has been methodically rushing the passer for a long time now. Some guys can win with just athleticism at first and the technical aspects come later. Bosa’s had expert hand usage and timing down since his days at Ohio State. Even as a 25-year old developed pro, he’s nothing too special athletically; he’s just that good of a technician.
In a way, that makes Jonah Williams’ debut at left tackle that much more challenging. Any small misstep or hand placement can be deadly against someone who wins as much as any edge rusher in the league. Yes, Bobby Hart will have to face Bosa in this game as well, and Melvin Ingram III surely can’t be forgotten either since he and Bosa play on both sides, but Williams is the unknown in the equation. Plenty of eyes will be on him when he squares up with the highest-paid edge rusher in the world.
Tyler Boyd vs. Chris Harris Jr.
Three times have the Bengals played the Broncos when Chris Harris Jr. was a part of that team. What’s interesting is that Tyler Boyd hasn’t really faced off against Harris in any of those contests. Harris was playing on the boundary during their 2016 game, Boyd played less than half of the offense’s snaps during their 2017 game, and Harris Jr. suffered an injury early on in their 2018 game.
Now with Harris Jr. on a different AFC West squad, the best slot cornerback of the 2010s is set to go snap for snap with one of the game’s rising stars in the slot. Boyd is expected to be Burrow’s pro-version of Justin Jefferson, but when LA’s defense is in nickel, he’ll be tasked with creating separation against the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback. This should be a back-and-forth battle through and through.
D.J. Reader vs. Dan Feeney
Atkins’ absence will surely be felt Sunday afternoon, but even with him sidelined, D.J. Reader is more than capable of creating havoc. Remember, he wasn’t only a nose tackle with the Houston Texans; he actually played more of Atkins’ position last year when his pass-rushing production reached career-high levels.
Reader’s positional versatility will come in handy. When he’s plugging the A-gaps as a 1-technique or a 2i, he’ll be going up against Dan Feeney because starting center Mike Pouncey will be out with a hip injury. Feeney’s set to move over to center; a position he’s played just 124 career snaps at in three years. Taking Feeney’s spot at left guard will be Forrest Lamp, who’s logged just 174 snaps in his career, and no one even knows if right guard Trai Turner, who’s questionable with a knee injury, will play.
So yeah, Reader won’t have Atkins right out of the gate, but he and the rest of the defensive line have got to like their chances.
Germaine Pratt vs. Austin Ekeler
Yards are mostly and overrated statistic in the year 2020, but that doesn’t mean a running back having 993 of them in the passing game isn’t impressive.
Austin Ekeler was about 20 feet shy of crossing the 1,000 yard receiving mark last year. We know that they were largely quality yards because Pro Football Focus graded him as the best receiving back in the league last year.
Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, and maybe Mike Williams are taking the field Sunday as well, but it’d be foolish to outright dismiss Ekeler as a threat when the Bengals have been notoriously awful at containing running backs in the passing game.
We know that Pratt is set to start next to Josh Bynes at linebacker, and we can assume Chargers’ quarterback Tyrod Taylor will want to test Pratt in coverage due to Pratt’s inexperience and unproven ability there. Don’t be surprised to see a healthy amount of rookie Logan Wilson out there to help Pratt and Bynes out.