Los Angeles Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Matchups, prediction for 2020 QB class bragging rights

The Los Angeles Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals is an outstanding matchup between two up-and-coming teams. What unit matchups turn the tides?

The Los Angeles Chargers vs. Cincinnati Bengals is an early-Sunday matchup between two of the youngest contenders in the NFL. We have the 2020 top-overall pick in Joe Burrow battling who many believe is the best quarterback in the class in Justin Herbert. But Burrow has played some excellent football in Year 2 following his recovery from an ACL tear a season ago. Both teams hit a bit of a mid-season lull after hot starts, with each losing two of their last four.

Los Angeles Chargers offense vs. Cincinnati Bengals defense

There has been much made about Joe Lombardi’s offense in Los Angeles. We saw how he utilized, or neutered, Matthew Stafford in Detroit. It appears the same sort of thing could be happening in Los Angeles. However, I’d like to point out they don’t have a deep threat from a speed perspective, which is why DeSean Jackson would have been a great fit with the Chargers after leaving the Rams. He could have even kept his crib!

Despite our tempered frustration with Lombardi, this offense still ranks in the top 10 in expected points added (EPA) per play and DVOA, Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric. In fact, Football Outsiders loves the Chargers, ranking them second in their metric. That’s probably because they have balance. They rank 11th in dropback EPA/play and 10th in rush EPA/play.

Meanwhile, the Bengals’ defense is incredibly stingy. Statistically speaking, there are few defenses more well-rounded than Cincinnati. Overall, they’re fifth in EPA/play against and fourth in defensive success rate. But they’re equally strong against the run and pass, too. They rank sixth in dropback EPA and eighth in dropback success rate defensively. Against the run, they rank ninth in EPA/play and are first in success rate.

So, it’s difficult to do much of anything against this defense, which is a testament to the team’s pro personnel department, who tried and succeeded in rebuilding the defense with free agents in the offseason.

Justin Herbert vs. Bengals defense

Herbert is beginning to become a bit of a cheat code. Still, he must continue to be liberal in deciding when and where to get on the hoof and force defenses to put some “Respek” on his legs. Herbert is a large man at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds.

The Bengals’ defense is strong, but Herbert has quickly become one of the quarterbacks that, unless he beats himself, is incredibly difficult to defend because of his top-tier arm talent and athletic ability.

Advantage: Chargers

Chargers skill position players vs. Bengals secondary

We’re in a weird spot here. When we look at this matchup on paper, it’s easy to say that the combination of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams alone outduels Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple. But when we look at their efficiency metrics, it’s clear this secondary is much better than their name recognition dictates.

However, if we get into the nitty-gritty of the scheme, there’s a 0% chance these matchup pieces could be any less than 5,000 words. I could do but one a week at that word count and the film study it would require.

I am glad to see Josh Palmer getting more snaps as the season progresses. Yet, Mike Hilton in the slot has been an upgrade for Cincinnati, and it brings their overall talent level closer to that of the Chargers. The most significant mismatch comes with Austin Ekeler against the linebacking corps of Cincinnati. Still, Herbert must be wary of Logan Wilson, who has 4 INTs on the season.

Advantage: Chargers

Chargers offensive line vs. Bengals defensive front

Left guard Matt Feiler was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday after missing last week with an ankle injury. If he cannot go, it hurts what upside the offensive line can provide because now both sides would have weak spots.

They already struggle a bit on the right side. Storm Norton is not a sufficient NFL starter, and Michael Schofield is a replacement-level player himself. Center Corey Linsley and left tackle Rashawn Slater are bright spots, but line for line, they might struggle against Cincinnati.

Honestly, the biggest ovation I can give is the Bengals’ decision to sign Trey Hendrickson away from the Saints instead of paying Carl Lawson (who is also good). I did not believe that we would see the same efficiency from Hendrickson with a full workload. I was incredibly wrong.

But he’s far from the only solid player on that defensive line. D.J. Reader has played wonderfully for them. Additionally, Sam Hubbard is a firm run defender on the edge, B.J. Hill is strong on the interior, and Larry Ogunjobi brings some juice as a pass rusher.

Advantage: Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals offense vs. Los Angeles Chargers defense

This is where things get really interesting. The team with the offensive head coach is flourishing defensively, and the team boasting the defensive wizard is finding great offensive success. Neither can say the same for their respective sides of the ball.

The Bengals rank 14th in EPA/play but are top 10 in success rate. Curiously though, they rank 21st in DVOA. That must be a product of Joe Burrow’s 12 interceptions because the offense ranks fifth in passing yards per play, fourth in the red zone, and sixth in points per game. My opinion from watching them is that this is an offense that beats themselves more than their opponents do. Between sacks and interceptions, they shoot themselves in the foot consistently. They’re 29th in sack and interception rate.

Meanwhile, the Chargers’ defense is just not sufficient. They rank 27th in EPA/play against and are 30th in success rate. No team in the league is worse against the run from a success rate perspective than the Chargers, which is a risk they take playing with two safeties outside of the box so often.

They aren’t awful against the pass, but the Chargers haven’t been so good that it allows them to overcome their problems elsewhere. I can’t say I’m surprised, given the roster they’re working with, though.

Joe Burrow vs. Chargers defense

Although I’m a firm believer in Burrow, I admit he’s been a bit turnover-prone in his return. Still, it’s difficult for an offense to be explosive without the quarterback taking risks.

The Chargers’ defense isn’t incredibly opportunistic, ranking 20th in interceptions and 19th in sack rates. This feels like a stalemate.

Advantage: Push

Bengals skill position players  vs. Chargers secondary

This is one of the easier positional previews of this overall matchup. There is no shortage of offensive firepower for the Bengals. We know Ja’Marr Chase is a bonafide stud, Tee Higgins has played to his draft position, and Tyler Boyd has been a consistent “glue guy” for years now.

Add in a dash of Joe Mixon and C.J. Uzomah in the passing attack, and that’s five legitimate pass catchers.

There’s no denying the Chargers have an incredibly talented safety duo. Nasir Adderley and Derwin James are an outstanding combination for Brandon Staley’s defense. The cornerbacks, on the other hand, are a struggle. But having great safeties can be a great equalizer, which makes it all the more curious that the NFL at large doesn’t care about the position.

Chris Harris Jr. is still excellent, but he’s certainly not the future at his age. Michael Davis and Tevaughn Campbell shouldn’t be considered the future either unless it’s as depth pieces.

Advantage: Bengals

Bengals offensive line vs. Chargers defensive front

The Bengals OL isn’t nearly as bad as we believed it might be heading into the season, but they still struggle mightily on the interior. The right guard position isn’t settled, and Trey Hopkins should be replaced this offseason if Cincinnati can swing it. Riley Reiff is surviving, but he has a challenging assignment in 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 has been surprisingly good, and Williams has just been himself while remaining healthy. In no world should the Bengals’ offensive line appear favorable against most teams. But the Chargers aren’t most teams, as you could gather from their general defensive overview.

Bosa is their only plus defender against the run. I think that Drue Tranquill is pretty good, and Kyzir White was one of the first safety-to-linebacker converts, which is fun. But most linebackers couldn’t overcome just how poor the rest of that defensive line is against the run.

“Where’s the beef?” was a campaign Wendy’s used in the mid-1980s, and we should repurpose it for the Chargers’ defensive front. They are wildly undersized up front, and they get bullied at the point of attack.

Advantage: Bengals (although Bosa could be a game-wrecker)

Betting odds and game prediction

  • Spread: Bengals -3 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Bengals -150, Chargers +130
  • Total: 49.5

I think that all makes sense, but that’s also alarming, considering the Chargers are 2-1 against the spread (ATS) as road underdogs, and the NFL as a whole is 64-41-1 ATS as road dogs.

This is one of my favorite matchups of the season because it’s a peek into the future. Furthermore, it’s one of my favorites because we’ve seen 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 more well-rounded team overall.

And, at the end of the day, we can, unfortunately, usually count on the Chargers “Chargering.”

Prediction: Bengals 27, Chargers 24


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