For additional predictions and expertise heading into the Bengals vs Chargers game, I exchanged emails with my close personal friend and football expert, Patrick “Kramer” Earley. Kramer boasts a twelve year football career at Our Lady of Visitation and St. Xavier High School before ultimately hanging up the cleats for a life of flag football, competitive kickball, and men’s rec softball at St. Louis University.
In addition, he took home the regular season scoring title and championship in the 2013 Dipset Fantasy League. Point being, the guy knows his stuff.
Let’s jump right in:
RedsBengals513: A little less than 24 hours until the Bengals-Chargers AFC Wild Card game, what is your gut feeling heading into Sunday?
Kramer: Thanks for having me on the show! Great to be here.
Even with the long list of key injuries, I think the Bengals get their first postseason win in twenty-five years. I’ve seen more talented Bengals teams in years past, but I’ve never seen a Marvin Lewis team play with this much toughness and heart. This team seems to want it more than any Bengals team in recent memory. The amount of injuries they’ve faced this season would cause most teams to give up on the year. These guys seem to have gotten better with each back-up that fills in to play. With the weather looking dismal, there’s a strong possibility we’ll have a defensive struggle on our hands. That gives the Bengals a tremendous advantage. The Bengals defense has been absolutely superb this year. They’ll dominate the field position and throw Rivers off his game. It won’t be a pretty one, but my gut tells me the Bengals get the win.
RedsBengals: Yeah I tend to agree. Seems like they’re a much more mature team than the previous years which ended in Houston in round 1 of the playoffs. The defense has overcome numerous injuries and Vontaze Burfict has established himself as a premier linebacker in the NFL. He gives the defense an identity and I think will show up big time on Sunday. In addition, I think the playmaking ability of guys like Giovani Bernard and Marvin jones give this years team a huge boost over years past. I just think this team is finally mature enough to win in the playoffs.
What scares you about the chargers in this game?
Kramer: Two things scare me about the Chargers: Momentum and offensive balance. There’s no denying the impact momentum can have on a team in the playoffs. Teams that can string together a few wins heading into the playoffs can be very dangerous, regardless of their play earlier in the season. With that said, the Chargers won their last four games-including a win in Denver and against Kansas City. Those wins have given them confidence and the mindset that they can beat anybody. They’re going to come into Cincinnati expecting to win. They really seem to be hitting their stride offensively and have averaged 29.25 PPG over that span…which brings me to my next point. While their offense might not jump out at you, it’s very good. They use a balanced attack that can really wear a team down and be difficult to stop. They have two very solid running backs. Ryan Matthews is strong between the tackles and is deceptively fast. Danny Woodhead is lightning quick, and calling him a threat out of the backfield is an understatement. Keenan Allen and Eddie Royal can be dangerous on the outside and Antonio Gates will cause matchup problems for the Bengals linebackers. Tying it all together is Philip Rivers, a very underappreciated quarterback who happened to finish fourth this year in QBR. It’s tough to prepare for a team that can attack you in so many ways. While there is no doubt Zimmer will have the boys prepared, they will most certainly have their hands full.
Aside from the obvious “Dalton needs to play well for us to win”, what are some keys to the game the Bengals?
RedsBengals: Excellent points on the Chargers. It will be key for the Bengals to set a tone early in the game. The first thing the Bengals need to do is pressure Philip Rivers. When these team met in early December, Rivers passed for 252 yards. However, he only threw one touchdown and was intercepted once. The Bengals had five hits on Rivers and sacked him twice. Zimmer needs to continue using his talented defensive front to pressure Rivers and not let him settle into a groove. It looks like Terrance Newman will be OUT on Sunday which means Rivers will most certainly pick on Dre Kirkpatrick. The best way to help a somewhat vulnerable secondary is to pressure Philip Rivers early and often. Ryan Mathews has been playing very well lately, but I would make stopping Rivers the number one priority on Sunday. Offensively, the Bengals need to utilize a balanced attack. Jay Gruden occasionally falls in love with the pass and becomes too predictable. The Chargers defense is porous, and the Bengals offensive line proved they can manhandle the Chargers in the run game. I would like to see a 60-40 split in favor of running the ball on Sunday. Let Giovani Bernard get into space and then bring in the Law Firm to bang out those tough yards towards the end of the game. Long and time consuming drives that end in points will keep Rivers off the field and allow the Bengals to control the game.
Who do you expect to have a big game for the Bengals and why?
Kramer: Defensively I think Vontaze “King Tez” Burfict will have an incredible game. He’s been the heart and soul of the defense all year long and he’ll be dominant on Sunday. He knows how heavily his defense relies on him to perform and he rises to the occasion every game. As long as he doesn’t commit any stupid personal fouls, he’ll have a flawless game. I also think Adam Jones will quietly have a great game, as he’s done all season. He’s had seven passes defensed in the past four games and need to have another stellar performance to keep Rivers and the Chargers’ offense at bay. Offensively, I expect Dalton to have a great game. He’s well aware of all the criticism of his play, especially in big games. He hasn’t forgotten his last two playoff performances. This is his third playoff game and he’ll finally rise to the occasion. The weather won’t be ideal, but he’ll overcome the elements and give Cincinnati fans confidence in his ability to lead a team deep into the playoffs. Finally, I expect the offensive line to play well. Very well. In the last meeting, the Bengals rushed for 164 yards and the line allowed for zero QB hits. Establishing the ground game early will be crucial for the Bengals, and that all starts up front with Whitworth and crew. If the Bengals can successfully run the ball and give Dalton time to throw, the Chargers have no chance to win.
We’ve assessed the game from the Bengals standpoint, but if you’re Mike McCoy, what are you telling your team?
RedsBengals: If I’m Mike McCoy, I’m telling my team to continue battling the way they have over their last five games of the season. The Chargers won 4 of their last 5 with wins on the road in Denver and Kansas City. As 7 point underdogs, the Chargers should be playing like they have nothing to lose. The case could be made that the Bengals are under more pressure than any team in the playoffs. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1990 and need to get the monkey off their back. If I’m Mike McCoy, I’m reminding the Chargers how they made it this far and feeding them reminders of why nobody believes in them. Encourage the Chargers to play loose and assure them the pressure is on the bengals.
You mentioned the stellar play of Vontaze Burfict, if you were starting a team, would you rather have Vontaze burfict or former St. Xavier Bomber Luke Kuechly to build around?
Kramer: Well, I’m obviously biased, but I would take Kuechly. While Tez might have made more tackles this year, Kuechly’s game is more complete. First, his pass coverage is phenomenal, which is evident with his four picks this year. Secondly, he’s a much smarter player. He’s the defensive quarterback for the Panthers, who happened to finish second in total defense this year. While I LOVE Tez’s passion, he has had WAY too many personal fouls this year-which was the primary reason he went undrafted. He has put his defense in tough spots too many times this year because of his undisciplined play. That doesn’t happen with Kuechly, he plays hard until the whistle, then lines up for the next play. In Carolina’s biggest game of the year, week 16 against the Saints, Kuechly recorded 24 tackles and an interception. He’s a franchise linebacker and will be the centerpiece of the Panthers defense for the next ten years. I think Burfict has that potential, but he needs to become more mature and work on some other aspects of his game. Kuechly just does so many things well that’s it’s impossible not to take him.
If the Bengals lose this one and Dalton plays poorly, is that it for the Red Rifle? Or do they stick with him for another season?
RedsBengals: Very interesting question. Dalton has one more year left on his rookie contract, but this postseason will certainly factor into the long term decision making of the Bengals front office. I think they will stick with Dalton for next season regardless of what happens on Sunday. With that being said, if the Bengals get bounced this weekend and Dalton plays poorly, I would suspect the Bengals take a QB in the later rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. Maybe a guy like Zach Mettenberger in rounds 2 or 3, or perhaps someone like Aaron Murray in rounds 4 or 5. Not necessarily a superstar, but somebody who can push Dalton a little bit and potentially develop into a starter. Dalton has proven he can win in the NFL, but at some point he needs to show up in the playoffs. I’m a little more lenient with Dalton than a lot of fans when it comes to his production. It’s very difficult to find a franchise quarterback in the NFL. All you have to do is look at the Cleveland Browns for what happens when you draft a quarterback every other year. Dalton is consistent enough to win games and compete at this level. He certainly has limitations, but the only question should be whether or not the Bengals can win a Superbowl with him under center. I say yes, they can. Only time will tell, but I believe Andy Dalton will be the Bengals quarterback for the next 10+ years and that’s something fans need to get used to.
I really appreciate your time. Before we let you go, give us your final prediction for Sunday.
Kramer: Of all the potential first round opponents the Bengals had, the Chargers were the team I wanted to play the most. We’ve beaten them on their home field already-and on the west coast where we are notoriously bad. I think the Bengals are better offensively and defensively. And as much as the Chargers say they’re comfortable in any weather, they’re not. The cold temperature, snow and rain will be a problem for Philip Rivers, and the Bengals defense will capitalize on it. The Bengals defense dominates and the offense has a steady game. The Bengals will dominate field position and time of possession and move on to play the Patriots after winning 24-13.
Thanks for having me, let’s do it again soon.
RedsBengals: I think this Bengals team is different than years past. They play together and they’re due for a breakout performance in the playoffs. Regardless of the weather, I expect the Bengals to set the tone early and really get after Philip Rivers. I do think the Chargers will pick on Dre Kirkpatrick and a beatable secondary, but the front seven for Cincinnati will be the difference.
Bengals 27, Chargers 17