Cincinnati Bengals: 5 storylines to watch in Sunday’s game vs. Chargers

The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t figured out how to turn things around while facing teams with losing records the past three weeks. Now they’ll try against one of the top teams in the AFC West.

Cincinnati (5-7) carries a four-game losing streak into Sunday’s game with the Los Angeles Chargers (9-3) at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.

»RELATED: What Chargers coach said about Sunday’s matchup

The Chargers are second in the AFC West and have won two straight to match last year’s nine-win total with four games to play. The Bengals, who had two clashes on their own sideline last week because of mounting frustration, have lost six of their last seven and need to win their final four games to finish above .500.

Here are five storylines to watch in Sunday’s game:

1. Better performance for Driskel

Quarterback Jeff Driskel’s first NFL start was met with some variables he hopes won’t be factors this week.

He lost his biggest weapon in A.J. Green mid-game and had to adjust on the fly for a second straight game since Driskel came off the bench in Week 12 to replace Andy Dalton. With a week to prepare without Green, it will be interesting to see how the Bengals decide to try to jump-start the offense in other ways.

»RELATED: Loss of A.J. Green ‘takes a toll’ on Bengals

This also likely will be Clint Boling’s second start at left tackle, where he played last week with Cordy Glenn out with a back injury and Jake Fisher on injured reserve. Trey Hopkins moved to left guard, so another week of preparation for the line should theoretically help as well, especially in cutting down penalties like false starts as the unit continues to adjust to Driskel.

“Any time you get more game reps you’re going to be more comfortable, and that just comes with it,” Driskel said. “At the end of the day, we just have to stick to the plan. We got away from the plan a little bit, especially in the first half with getting behind the sticks. That made it tough, especially for the play-callers. We just have to clean some things up, whether it’s mentally or technique stuff, to stay on track and really give ourselves a better chance.”

2. Mixing Mixon in

Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said the plan last week was to run the ball more but penalties and falling behind forced them to rely on the pass.

Mixon is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, so he’s being productive when he does get carries, and he has the ability to help take some of the pressure off Driskel and the receivers. Mixon was limited early this week with a foot injury but appears ready to go Sunday after a full day of participation Frida

»RELATED: Bengals center talks Urban Meyer

“We’ve got to stop playing behind the sticks,” Mixon said. “Other than that, we are going to continue running the football, doing whatever we can to get the ball in me and Gio’s hands and Mark (Walton) when one of us can’t go. Coach Lazor is going to keep dialing it up, whatever he gotta do, but I just know we can’t play behind the chains because we play behind the chains, of course it’s going to be a pass every play.”

3. Shutting down Allen

Phillip Rivers threw to Keenan Allen a total of 19 times last week and likely will be getting most of the targets today, too, especially with running back Melvin Gordon out with a knee injury.

»RELATED: A closer look at the Chargers

Bengals cornerback Will Jackson hasn’t had the season he was expecting after a strong first year on the field in 2017, but he views a matchup with Allen as a chance to prove he’s still got what it takes to be a shutdown corner in the NFL.

“He just knows how to get away from leverage,” Jackson said of Allen. “He’s just running away from the defender, whether that’s a linebacker or corner. He’s just getting open and Rivers is throwing some great passes.”

Cincinnati also needs to find ways to disrupt Rivers, who two weeks ago completed 28 of 29 passes and is playing some of the best football of his career. Linebacker Nick Vigil said the front seven need to “get some pressure on him and get him to move his feet a little bit.”

4. Containing the pressure

Los Angeles’ defense has been underrated this season with all the attention the Rivers-led offense has received, and Driskel faces a big challenge in trying to get the offense moving against the Chargers.

For the second week in a row, Driskel will be facing a team with two premier guys coming off the edge. The Chargers will be sending defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa at him, and that’s no easy task after trying to shake off Von Miller and Bradley Chubb last week.

“They have good players,” Driskel said. “It starts with those two guys off the edge in (Melvin) Ingram and (Joey) Bosa. They’ve made a lot of plays this year. They’re not a very complicated defense, but they’re good at what they do. We have some stuff to attack what they do. I just have to take what the defense gives you. They’re kind of a ‘bend but don’t break’ defense. We just have to approach each snap that way.”

5. Eliminating special teams mistakes

Penalties were a big problem for the offense last week, but they’ve also been an issue on special teams all season. That’s one area Cincinnati can clean up to help the team in the other two phases.

The Bengals have had 14 penalties on teams for 120 yards, and they’ve only benefited from 12 on the opponents for 97 yards. Twelve teams have more special teams penalties against them this season.

“The special teams penalties particularly hurt us when we’re returning a punt,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We don’t ever need that. We think those should be let go. Let the returner make them miss. They’re giving us the ball. We don’t need to get set back.”


Bengals at Chargers, 4:05 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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