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Positional Breakdown: San Diego Chargers Receivers vs. Cincinnati Bengals Secondary

Breaking down the likely matchups between the San Diego Chargers receivers and tight ends against the Cincinnati Bengals cornerbacks and safeties to find which team has the advantage during next week's playoff game.

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Donald Miralle

Yesterday I did a positional breakdown between the Chargers OL vs the Bengals DL, calling it a push. Today I take a look at the guys outside the hashes, the San Diego Charger wide receivers versus the Cincinnati Bengals Secondary.

A few things have changed in these match-ups since the two teams met last time. Vincent Brown is no longer the #2 WR. He is now on the field only on 3 WR sets. That takes his playing time from playing over 90% of the snaps, to about 65% of the snaps. So basically, 25-30 fewer plays per game. Eddie Royal, who is clearly the 2nd best WR on the team, now takes his place, and has made done a good job of maximizing his opportunities.

On the other side of the ball, Terrance Newman has missed the last 3 games with an MCL injury. With no word on his return just yet, I'll treat it as if he's not playing this game. Since then, second-year player Dre Kirkpatrick has moved into the starting role. Chris Crocker is the slot CB, and the Bengals play quite a bit of Nickel, about 64% of the time, so we should be seeing at least 5 DBs on the field more often than not.

Onto the match-ups:

Keenan Allen vs. Adam Jones

The last time these two faced off, Allen caught all 5 of his targets for 71 yards. Since then, Jones has rebounded nicely. In the 4 games since, he's graded out per PFF at a +6.3, and given up only 13 catches on 27 targets. Outside of a missed tackle, he has done a great job of limiting the big play. On the other hand, Allen has graded out as a +5.0, catching 13 passes on 22 targets, with 2 drops. He's also had 5 touchdowns since then.

Both players have been playing well, but who has the advantage?

Here's one missed opportunity from the previous game


This was the play where Ladarius Green was the beneficiary of a holding call. Here, Allen caught Jones flat-footed. He's running full speed at Jones while Jones is still in his backpedal, in the midst of turning an running. If Rivers puts the ball out in front of Allen, it's a touchdown.

I've mentioned it over and over, but Allen's ability to create separation at the top of his route is why he's able to be as successful as he is. He was able to do this in the last match-up vs. Jones.


On a simple 5 yard in, he turns Jones completely around.


Jones is very good at playing the sticks, and is aggressive, so Allen will need to continue to sell his routes. This might come as a surprise to some, but I believe Allen has the advantage in this match-up.

Eddie Royal vs. Dre Kirkpatrick

The past four games haven't gone as smoothly for Kirkpatrick, whose graded out to a -7.6, and given up 17 catches in 26 targets. He did have 2 interceptions Sunday against Joe FLOLlacco. Royal has been solid all year, and in those 4 games graded out to a +4.8, catching 13 of his 19 targets to go alone with 1 score and 2 drops.

The Chargers really don't take very many deep shots, but Royal is the "big play" receiver, usually by virtue of a screen. Going against a rookie, I think this would be the time to stretch the field.

Week 16 vs. the Vikings, Kirkpatrick bit on a double move for a touchdown.



To the top of the screen, Kirkpatrick is already off balance as he bites on the initial out route.


Before Kirkpatrick can recover for the 2nd time, he's already beat easily, for a touchdown.

The Steelers had success with timing routes and even a screen(!) throwing at Kirkpatrick. Both are routes the Chargers use with Royal, as well as pick routes. His 2 catches against Denver were a good indication of how he's used on the outside.

The first one is a 12 yard out route, all timing. The corner can barely react and the ball is out.


The next is a similar comeback route, where Royal runs about 15 yards downfield, gets the CB to flip his hips, and comes back towards the QB, another timing route that Rivers has been money on all year long.


Royal isn't a very good route runner, but is a product of a great QB and a great offense. With Kirkpatrick still so green, I believe Royal has the advantage due to his ability with the ball in his hands. In the last 3 games Royal has taken a screen/end around for at least 20 yards.

Vincent Brown vs. Chris Crocker

Just when fans thought Brown was showing life, Brown reverted back to his early 2013 form, by not being able to get open. Yesterday he was targeted just once, and I wouldn't really call it much of a target. He's had 1 good game in the last 4, and that's just not good enough.

Crocker is a veteran, that plays the slot and also can play both safety positions. He's pretty good, and every time I watch him, he's doing a good job of limiting not only the yards after the catch, but the catch itself. He's blitzed 24 times this year, so the Chargers need to be aware of him coming off the edge. He's also aggressive at coming up in run support, he blew a couple of the Vikings screen plays up. The one place the Chargers have an advantage? Quick outs.


The only area that seemed to be exposed in Crockers game. Some deeper out routes he was able to recover and break up the ball. Because of this Crocker has the advantage in the slot.

Safeties vs. Tight Ends

This match-up will consist of Reggie Nelson and George Iloka against Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. Nelson has been a favorite of mine for sometime, I really like the way he plays the game. He's undersized, but will come up and hit you, and is great in the centerfield FS role. Nelson has blitzed 10 times in the past 4 games, and been effective in doing so. Iloka is solid, but not spectacular. He is prone to missing tackles, and has a tendency to sag off in man coverage. He was beat for a TD vs. the Vikings, if there was a competent QB throwing the ball.


Instead Matt Cassel under throws the ball, and Iloka is rewarded for an interception. He also missed 2 tackles that game on Cordarrelle Patterson.

Tight Ends seemed to have success against Iloka on out routes.Iloka2_medium


I think this is a very good match-up for Ladarius Green. Iloka is a big speedy safety, but Green is actually faster and should be able to stretch the field vs. Iloka.

In the first match-up, Green was targeted 5 times, 3 of them against Nelson, all down the field. Green was able to get in between the hole between the CB & S in Cover 2 for one catch. On his touchdown, he was able to split both safeties right down the middle of the field.

The last time Gates played the Bengals was a rough one. He fumbled, had an interception that was totally his fault, and just didn't look very good. For the most part, Gates is restricted to routes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, so he's not a great match-up for this Bengals secondary that is very athletic and can run.

I believe this match-up is a push. Ladarius Green has proven to be a match-up nightmare, and it showed the last time these two teams played, as he got the best of Nelson. Also, as I've highlighted, if he's matched up against Iloka, that's advantage Green. Unfortunately for Charger fans, Gates is a shadow of his former self as of late, and this just isn't a good match-up for him. The Bengals are the kind of team that can sit on all of his routes and play Gates aggressively.

Who is Better overall?

This is another match-up that is incredibly close. Let's look at Football Outsiders DVOA to help paint a clearer picture. The Bengals rating will be, in order, how they are against #1 WRs, #2 WRs, "other WRs", and TEs.``

Player DVOA Rank Cin Secondary DVOA Rank
Keenan Allen 5th 3rd
Eddie Royal 2nd 3rd
Vincent Brown 61st 5th
Antonio Gates 29th 8th
Ladarius Green 1st 8th

The Bengals secondary per DVOA has been incredible this year, against #1 WR's they're the 3rd best team in football, which is even more impressive when you factor in they lost a legit top 5 CB in Leon Hall. You counter that with how well Keenan Allen has been, he's 5th in DVOA.

As for the Bengals against #2 WRs, there's not drop off, they're still the 3rd best team per DVOA. Eddie Royal has proven to be as valuable as anyone when the ball is in his hands, and he's the 2nd best WR in that regard per DVOA.

After that, is where the Bengals would have a big advantage. Their secondary is 5th in DVOA against "other WRs" while Vincent Brown is, no surprise, is near the bottom of the league. Lastly, the tight ends, again the Bengals are above average. Where as Green has been as good as it gets, Gates has been below average.

Individually, the Chargers have 3 favorable match-ups. Because this is a team game, the Bengals as a whole have the better unit.