Without a preseason, the Chargers’ fan base has been focused on this matchup with the Bengals for months and months. Ever since the August exhibition games were canceled, there has been nothing else to take the attention away. So understandably, this game has been analyzed, dissected, and pondered countless times.
But now, I’m putting down my final thoughts on how I think this one needs to go for the Chargers to walk out of Paul Brown Stadium victorious on Sunday afternoon.
Let’s get to it.
1.) Make Joe Burrow uncomfortable
You’ve probably seen me use this stat once or twice this week, but I’ll go ahead and say it again if you haven’t: Over the last 15 years, quarterbacks taken with the No. 1 pick, who start week one as a rookie, are 0-5-1.
That’s a great sign for the Chargers, but all of those other guys were not Burrow, who just authored the greatest passing season in college football history. Luckily, however, the Bengals got the number one pick for a reason. Their offensive line is atrocious - yes, even worse than the front five have been for the Bolts - and that could be the biggest variable in this one.
2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams is making his first career start at left tackle for Cincinnati after tearing his ACL prior to last season, but that’s as far the hope for their OL goes.
This is a prime situation for Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram to start hot in 2020. This is by far their easiest matchup of the season and they need to take full advantage of it. Burrow isn’t your average rookie QB, but he hasn’t been facing a defense like this in practice everyday.
2.) Be balanced and unpredictable on offense
Philip Rivers is no longer the quarterback for the Chargers and that means things will be different on offense, to say the least. The opponents can guess and assume all they want about what it will look like with Tyrod Taylor, but this is a chance for Shane Steichen to surprise.
While Cincy will understandably prepare for a run-first approach, the Chargers may use that to their advantage. It also helps that a change from Rivers makes the entire offense less predictable. Rivers threw it a lot and the majority of passes were from the shotgun. When they went under center, it was usually kept on the ground with their backs.
On top of all of that, the Chargers never moved the pocket. With Rivers’ lack of mobility, bootlegs and rollouts were non-existent. With Taylor, there’s a whole new frontier for this offense to explore and I believe this will be a strategic advantage through the first few games of the year before opponents are able to collect enough tape.
3.) Free agent additions must show up
Apart from the new stadium and the sleek new uniforms, the biggest theme of the Chargers’ offseason was their plethora of talent they added in free agency. On offense, they signed right tackle Bryan Bulaga and also traded for right guard Trai Turner. Defensively, they added All-Pro corner Chris Harris Jr., defensive tackle Linval Joseph, and linebacker Nick Vigil.
The Harris signing was a luxury decision. They added one of the best corners of the past decade to an already deep secondary, so their already-high expectations just became even higher for that unit. The addition of Joseph has essentially been deemed the greatest thing that could have happened to Bosa and Ingram. They now have a true nose tackle with immense size who will command double teams which, hopefully, opens things up a bit more for the edge rushers.
Both of the players and their respective units will be critical in Sunday’s game as they’ll work hand-in-hand to contain Burrow and an underrated group of skill players. Harris will draw budding slot receiver Tyler Boyd and Joseph will be looked at as the first line of defense against workhorse back Joe Mixon.
And of course the duo of Bulaga and Turner will be expected to lock down the right side of the line so Tyrod only has to worry about pressure from the left.
It’s a lot to expect from a handful of players who are new to this team, but as established veterans in this league, I’m sure they’re all up to the task.