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San Diego Chargers At Cincinnati Bengals Preview: Chargers Can Upset Bengals With Bunch Formations And The Blitz

By James Dudko - Posted: 01/03/14 09:19AM EST
San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals AFC playoffs

The San Diego Chargers can upset the Cincinnati Bengals on the road in the AFC Wild Card playoffs. (Photo: Reuters / James Dudko)

The San Diego Chargers can upset the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card playoffs. They must rely on bunch formations and the blitz.

The Chargers are obvious underdogs on the road. They backed into the postseason after an overtime victory in Week 17, while the Bengals are currently one of the NFL's form teams.

Cincy's success has been built on a turnover-binging defense that is the third highest ranked unit in football. That fearsome group is complemented by the league's seventh most prolific scoring offense.

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But the Chargers can find ways to attack the Bengals on both sides of the ball. The San Diego offense can threaten coordinator Mike Zimmer's swarming, pressure-based defense with bunch formations.

The Bengals like to play a lot of man coverage. But bunch sets, with three receivers stacked together, are great man coverage beaters.

The Chargers have become one of the best teams in the league at setting up deadly bunch formations. Against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17, a bunch look led to their opening touchdown.

Near the red zone, the Chargers showed the Kansas City defense a bunch set featuring wide receivers Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown paired behind tight end Ladarius Green.

At the snap, Green ran a vertical post pattern to the end zone, while Allen and Brown ran shallow crossing routes underneath. They drew the attention of safety Kendrick Lewis and rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper over the middle.

That left Green matched up in single coverage. Quarterback Philip Rivers lofted an accurate strike that reached Green before deep safety Quintin Demps could work over the top. The result was a 22-yard touchdown.

The Chargers can use route combinations and multiple-receiver sets like this to exploit Bengals' safeties Reggie Nelson and Georg Iloka.

San Diego head coach Mike McCoy will be confident his fifth-ranked offense can score in Cincinnati. But he will need a struggling defense to slow down the Bengals attack.

The key will be bringing the blitz to stifle young passer Andy Dalton. The Chargers don't do a lot of things well defensively, but they can be effective on the blitz.

Defensive coordinator John Pagano uses inside linebackers Manti Te'o and Donald Butler and safety Eric Weddle in a variety of ways to create pressure.

Pagano's blitz schemes inspired the Chargers to beat Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on the road in Week 15. The Chargers swarmed on Manning all game to earn the victory that prompted their late push to the playoffs.

Pagano will need to devise some more creative blitzes to threaten Dalton in the pocket. The third-year quarterback can struggle against pressure and be forced into mistakes.

The Bengals may have won their last three games against the Chargers. But head coach Marvin Lewis' team will be feeling the pressure after losing at this stage of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

If the Chargers rattle Dalton early and attack the Bengals man coverage concepts, they can produce the upset.

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