Matchups, prediction for 2020 QB class bragging rights
The Los Angeles Chargers vs the Cincinnati Bengals is a Sunday game between two of the NFL’s youngest contenders. We have the overall top pick of 2020 in the fight of Joe Burrow who many believe is the best quarterback in the class in Justin Herbert. But Burrow played excellent football in the sophomore year after recovering from an ACL tear a season ago. Both teams experienced a midseason lull after hot starts, each losing two of their last four games.
Los Angeles Chargers offensive against Cincinnati Bengals defense
Much has been said about Joe Lombardi’s offensive in Los Angeles. We saw how he used or sterilized Matthew Stafford in Detroit. It looks like the same sort of thing could happen in Los Angeles. However, I’d like to stress that they don’t have a deep threat from a speed standpoint, which is why DeSean Jackson would have been a perfect fit for the Chargers after leaving the Rams. He could even have kept his cradle!
Despite our moderate frustration with Lombardi, this offense still ranks in the top 10 Expected Added Points (EPA) per game and DVOA, Football Outsiders’ measure of effectiveness. In fact, Football Outsiders love the Chargers, ranking them second in their metric. This is probably because they have a balance. They rank 11th in EPA / play dropback and 10th in EPA / play rush.
Meanwhile, the Bengals’ defense is incredibly stingy. Statistically speaking, there are few defenses more comprehensive than Cincinnati. Overall, they are fifth in EPA / game cons and fourth in defensive success rate. But they’re just as strong against the run and the pass. They rank sixth in EPA dropback and eighth in dropback success rate defensively. Against the race, they are ninth in EPA / play and are first in success rate.
So it is difficult to do much against this defense, which is a testament to the team’s professional personnel department, which has tried and succeeded in rebuilding the defense with free agents during the offseason.
Justin Herbert against the Bengals defense
Herbert is starting to get a bit of a cheat code. Yet he must continue to be liberal in deciding when and where to step on the hoof and force the defenses to put “Respek” on his legs. Herbert is a tall man measuring 6 feet 6 inches and 230 pounds.
The Bengals’ defense is solid, but Herbert has quickly grown into one of the quarterbacks who, unless he’s fighting, is incredibly difficult to defend due to his prominent arm talent and athletic ability.
Chargers skill position players vs. secondary Bengals
We are in a strange place here. When we look at this showdown on paper, it’s easy to tell that the combination of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on its own surpasses Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple. But when we look at their measures of effectiveness, it’s clear that this secondary is way better than their name recognition demands.
However, if we get to the heart of the matter, there’s a 0% chance that those match items will be less than 5,000 words. I could only do one a week for that word count and cinematic study it would require.
Glad to see Josh Palmer getting more shots as the season progresses. Still, Mike Hilton in the slot was an upgrade for Cincinnati, and it brings their overall talent level closer to that of the Chargers. The biggest gap comes from Austin Ekeler against the Cincinnati linebacker corps. Still, Herbert should be wary of Logan Wilson, who has 4 INTs on the season.
Chargers ‘offensive line against the Bengals’ defensive front
Left guard Matt Feiler was a limited participant in practice Wednesday after missing last week with an ankle injury. If he can’t go, it hurts what the offensive line can offer as now both sides would have weak spots.
They are already struggling a bit on the right side. Storm Norton is not a sufficient NFL starter and Michael Schofield is a replacement himself. Center Corey Linsley and left tackle Rashawn Slater are bright spots, but line for line they could struggle against Cincinnati.
Honestly, the biggest standing ovation I can give is the Bengals’ decision to take Trey Hendrickson off the Saints instead of paying Carl Lawson (who is also good). I didn’t think we would see the same efficiency from Hendrickson with a full workload. I was incredibly wrong.
But he is far from the only solid player on this defensive line. DJ Reader performed wonderfully for them. Plus, Sam Hubbard is a firm defender on the edge, BJ Hill is strong on the inside and Larry Ogunjobi brings juice as a passer.
Cincinnati Bengals offense against Los Angeles Chargers defense
This is where things get really interesting. The team with the offensive head coach is thriving defensively, and the team with the defensive magician is enjoying great offensive success. Neither can say the same for their respective sides of the ball.
The Bengals rank 14th in EPA / play but are in the top 10 in terms of success rate. Oddly enough, they rank 21st in DVOA. This must be the product of Joe Burrow’s 12 interceptions, as the offense ranks fifth in passing yards per game, fourth in the red zone and sixth in points per game. My opinion looking at them is that this is an offense that fights more than their opponents. Between sacks and interceptions, they regularly shoot each other in the foot. They are 29th in sack and interception rate.
Meanwhile, the Chargers’ defense just isn’t enough. They rank 27th in EPA / game against and 30th in success rate. No team in the league is worse against the run in terms of success rate than the Chargers, which is a risk they take so often playing with two safeties outside the box.
They’re not great against the pass, but the Chargers haven’t been so good that it allows them to get over their issues elsewhere. I can’t say I’m surprised, given the list they’re working with, though.
Joe Burrow vs. Chargers Defense
While I firmly believe in Burrow, I admit he was a bit prone to rollover upon his return. Still, it’s hard for an offense to be explosive without the quarterback taking risks.
The Chargers’ defense isn’t incredibly opportunistic, ranking 20th for interceptions and 19th for sack rates. It looks like a dead end.
Advantage: To push
Bengals’ Skill Position Players vs. Secondary Chargers
It’s one of the easiest positional glimpses of this overall match. There is no shortage of offensive firepower for the Bengals. We know Ja’Marr Chase is a bona fide stallion, Tee Higgins has played his draft position and Tyler Boyd has been a consistent “glue guy” for years now.
Add a hint of Joe Mixon and CJ Uzomah in the passing attack, and that makes five legitimate receivers.
There’s no denying that the Chargers have an incredibly talented safety duo. Nasir Adderley and Derwin James make an exceptional combination for Brandon Staley’s defense. Cornerbacks, on the other hand, are a struggle. But having great securities can be a great equalizer, which makes it all the more curious that the NFL as a whole doesn’t care about position.
Chris Harris Jr. is still excellent, but he’s definitely not the future at his age. Michael Davis and Tevaughn Campbell shouldn’t be seen as the future either, unless it’s depth plays.
Bengals offensive line against Chargers’ defensive front
The Bengals’ OL are not as bad as they thought heading into the season, but they are still struggling hard inside. Right guard position isn’t set, and Trey Hopkins should be replaced this offseason if Cincinnati can swing it. Riley Reiff survives, but he has a tough assignment with Joey Bosa this week.
Meanwhile, Quinton Spain and Jonah Williams have been a great duo on the left side of the Bengals’ offensive line in 2021. Spain have been surprisingly good, and Williams has just been himself while still being healthy. . In no world should the Bengals’ offensive line appear favorable against most teams. But the Chargers aren’t most teams, as you can see from their overall defensive overview.
Bosa is their only more defender against the run. I think that Drue Tranquill is pretty good, and Kyzir White was one of the early converts from safety to linebacker, which is fun. But most linebackers couldn’t get over how poor the rest of that defensive line is against the run.
“Where’s the beef?” was a campaign used by Wendy’s in the mid-1980s, and we should reuse it for the Chargers’ defensive front. They are grossly undersized up front and they are intimidated at the time of the attack.
Advantage: Bengals (although Bosa could be a convenience store)
Betting odds and game prediction
- Broadcast: Bengals -3 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
- Moneyline: Bengals -150, Chargers +130
- Total: 49.5
I think it all makes sense, but it’s also alarming, given that the Chargers are 2-1 ATS (ATS) as road underdogs, and the NFL as a whole is 64-41-1 ATS as road dogs.
It’s one of my favorite games of the season because it’s a glimpse into the future. Plus this is one of my favorites as we saw some wild swings from both teams. There are bragging rights at stake for these 2020 NFL Draft class quarterbacks, and I think the Bengals are the most complete team overall.
And, at the end of the day, you can unfortunately count on Chargering Chargers.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Chargers 24