New face on the O-Line: The Bengals front will pose challenges for this new Chargers offensive line. Yes, with Chris Hairston starting at right guard, this is a new Chargers front. Hairston had never played guard in a game before last Sunday against Detroit. In fact, Hairston hasn’t started a game in the NFL since 2012. But, he did a solid job filing in for the injured Fluker, and has since worked with the Chargers first team all week. San Diego successfully employed its no-huddle offense against the Lions, and quarterback Philip Rivers was a master at making calls and changes at the line of scrimmage. In a ruckus Paul Brown Stadium against a Bengals team that has only lost twice at home in its last 15 games, communication and quickness will be critical for the former tackle.
Bengals beatin’: Cincinnati’s defense is disciplined, experienced and physical. Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones anchors a secondary that includes Darqueze Dennard and Leon Hall, and three-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Geno Atkins holds down a front that notched 20 sacks last season. Defensive end Michael Johnson is a strong run defender and defensive end Carlos Dunlap had eight sacks in 2014 and continues to be a force in his seventh NFL season. .The Bengals had two sacks last week at Oakland.
Dalton dangerous: Okay, maybe “dangerous” is a stretch, but since it’s the regular season and not the playoffs, we can at least say Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is experienced and efficient. In the Bengals’ season opener at Oakland, Dalton completed 25-of-34 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. With offensive threats like wide receiver A.J. Green (five catches for 63 yards last week) and tight end Tyler Eifert (nine catches for 109 yards) and a strong running back duo (Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard, who each ran for 63 yards apiece against the Raiders), it’s an offense that can be both dynamic and balanced.
Change of plans on D: Against the Lions, the Chargers committed safety Eric Weddle to helping cornerback Brandon Flowers cover wide receiver Calvin Johnson. It worked, as the Chargers were able to limit Johnson to just two catches for 39 yards. They sacrificed help in the run game, though, to do it. That likely won’t be the case this week against the Bengals potent two-headed rushing attack in Hill and Bernard. Plus, as mentioned, tight end Tyler Eifert is not someone the Chargers can or will forget about.
Road warriors: This will be the first time quarterback Philip Rivers plays with the first-unit offense on the road this season, as he didn’t play in either of the two preseason road games. The veteran QB is no stranger to crowd noise or playing in enemy territory, but the Chargers have a number of young players who will be playing on the road, in a real game, for the first time with the organization. There’s an element of routine and focus that needs to be established on the road.
For the most part, there’s also less wiggle room when you’re not on home turf. The Chargers may have come back from an 18-point deficit against the Lions Sunday, but doing that on the road is a different kind of beast. They need to be careful to not fall behind early.
“The really good teams win on the road,” Rivers said Wednesday.