Chargers Deliver Bengals Beatdown: By the Numbers
In a game with major playoff implications, the Chargers needed a full team effort to outlast the Cincinnati Bengals. Los Angeles stormed into Paul Brown Stadium and used an early 24-0 lead to sap the energy from their opponents. The Bengals managed to stage a third-quarter surge, but the Chargers relied on their opportunistic, ball-hungry defense to quell the momentum.
Stingy run defense and an aggressive pass rush coupled with an explosive offensive game plan helped carry Los Angeles to its most impressive win of the season. In the first matchup between superstar quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow, both made some amazing plays, both tossed for over 300 yards, and both proved that this will be a battle to monitor for years to come.
The victory solidifies the Chargers in the thick of the playoff race, holding a 7-5 record with five weeks left in the regular season. Let’s break down some of the major factors that helped carry the Bolts to a victory over Cincinnati.
The Chargers’ struggles against the run this season are well-known but they may have had their best team performance to date against the Bengals. Running back Joe Mixon entered the weekend on an absolute tear, amassing eight touchdowns in a five-game span. He also was fresh off two consecutive games with 120+ rushing yards including a career-high 165-yard performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
Despite having all this momentum, Mixon hit a brick wall on Sunday in the form of the Los Angeles defense. For the first time all year, the Chargers’ defensive line managed to get in the Cincinnati backfield consistently. By firing off the line and creating constant pressure, Mixon couldn’t build up a head of steam before reaching the pile. Mixon, the NFL’s second-leading rusher, was bottled up for just FIFTY-FOUR rushing yards on 19 attempts.
The Chargers’ ability to explode off the line of scrimmage played a crucial part in this game. However, the energy they played with, especially in pursuit defense, served to be equally as important. The Bolts have been plagued with some poor tackling performances the past couple of weeks. Against the Bengals, the Chargers missed nine tackles total, but they weren’t that costly because of the defense’s energy when rallying to the football. When Cincinnati did manage to break a tackle the result was only an extra yard or two instead of an explosive play.
The Bengals only managed 96 rushing yards as a squad, only the third team this year to be held under the century mark by the Los Angeles defense. Linebackers Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill both had phenomenal games, supplying a surplus of effort and energy. White has been a sparkplug for this defense all season long. On Sunday he recorded ten total tackles, including a game-high seven solos and a TFL. Tranquill could be found making plays all over the field and turned in one of his best showings as a pro. He totaled ten tackles while also recording a sack, a quarterback hit, a TFL, and a pass breakup.
While the Chargers’ run stuffers were busy having themselves a day, the Los Angeles pass rush fed off that energy as well. Burrow dropped back to pass 50 times on Sunday and was harassed nearly every play. He finished 24-for-40 passing and did so with multiple Los Angeles defenders in his face. The Bolts tallied a season-high TWENTY-SEVEN pressures against the Bengals including seven sacks and five quarterback hits.
The most impressive part about this feat is that the Chargers accomplished this while missing their most capable pass rusher. Defensive end Joey Bosa left the game early in the first quarter while being evaluated for a concussion. He was cleared to return to play, but Head Coach Brandon Staley decided to keep him sidelined due to Bosa’s history with concussions. Bosa logged only nine snaps the entire game which opened the door for the rest of the Chargers pass rush.
Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu has spent much of his four-year career in the shadows of Bosa, being utilized mostly as a rotational piece. This season was supposed to be Nwosu’s breakout season as he entered the starting lineup. So far, his performance has been a little underwhelming, but he absolutely came through clutch against Cincinnati. Nwosu led the team with seven pressures, recorded his first multi-sack game (two), and forced a fumble that he recovered. The Chargers might have finally uncovered their Robin to Bosa’s Batman.
The Los Angeles defense forced the Bengals into FOUR turnovers, and they all proved to be extremely important. On the fifth play of Cincinnati’s opening drive, Nwosu had a tremendous strip-sack on Burrow. While still being blocked, Nwosu punched the ball out of Burrow’s hands and still had the awareness to secure the ball. The Chargers settled for a field goal in the ensuing possession, but that turnover really set the tone for this defense.
The second should have honestly been a touchdown to receiver Ja’Marr Chase, but the NFL is a result-based business. Even with a beautiful throw from Burrow, Chase bobbled the ball and conveniently lateralled to cornerback Michael Davis. Davis showed tremendous effort to not give up and was rewarded with a game-changing interception despite being beat on the play.
The third turnover was easily the most important because it completely halted Cincinnati’s comeback efforts. After getting out to an early lead, the Chargers allowed the Bengals to storm all the way back into the game. From the end of the second quarter through the entire third, Los Angeles managed only 54 yards of offense over the course of five offensive drives. During that time, Cincinnati rattled off 22 unanswered points. The crowd was starting to wake up for the first time and it appeared like Cincinnati had all the momentum. It wasn’t until Mixon fumbled and set up the scoop and score from Tevaughn Campbell that the Chargers retook control.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. iced the game completely when he picked off a Burrow pass in the endzone, his first interception of the year. Los Angeles needed all four turnovers to keep their playoff hopes alive and they converted the Bengals’ takeaways into 17 points and a crucial victory.