CINCINNATI -- John Pagano knew what was coming, and his defense still couldn’t stop it.
“At times, the same rush that we held to a minus rush or a 1-yard gain, ended up in the second half being a six or an 8-yard gain,” Pagano said. “And you can’t have those things. The biggest thing is we’ve got to tackle. We have to go out and finish, tackle, and get them on the ground.”
Powerful Cincinnati running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the charge, finishing with 92 yards on 20 carries for a robust, 4.6 per carry average, and rookie scat back Giovani Bernard totaled 57 yards on 14 carries.
The two combined for 57 yards after contact, as San Diego defenders failed to get either back down at the line of scrimmage.
“We definitely know we have to gang tackle,” Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget said. “They have two excellent running backs, and we know, defensively, that can’t happen again. We just have to be sound with our tackling.”
And it showed up in the stat book, with San Diego holding its next three opponents to an average of 56 yards a contest, including a season-low 18 rushing yards allowed at Denver.
But all of those good feelings melted away during the final game of the season, when a Kansas City offense led by mostly reserves bulled through San Diego’s defense for 143 rushing yards.
The Chargers had just a week to try and figure things out before facing the Bengals’ talented rushing attack again.
While Cincinnati has several playmakers on offense, the run game makes that team go. The Bengals are 7-2 this season when they rush for more than 100 yards. Running the ball takes pressure off quarterback Andy Dalton to make too many plays in the passing game, and it also helps keep Cincinnati’s defense fresh by keeping it off the field.
And with snow in the forecast for Sunday, the Chargers likely will see a lot of Green-Ellis and Bernard.
“Any time your offense can control the ball and keep Philip Rivers off the field, that’s a good day for your defense,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’s such an outstanding quarterback, so it’s important that we do a good job offensively.”
Chargers rookie linebacker Manti Te'o said the defense obviously watched film from the first Cincinnati game, but that doesn’t mean San Diego will see the same running scheme on Sunday.
“It definitely helps a lot,” Te’o said. “But you’ve got to also understand they're watching the same things. And it’s all about knowing yourself. Knowing what you have to work on. Knowing how they’re going to attack you. They could come out on Sunday and run something totally different. Like I’ve always said, it’s all about us in this locker room knowing what we’ve got to do, knowing where we’ve got to be and executing.”
Ultimately, Johnson said his unit has to rely on being assignment-correct.
“We have to be gap-sound,” Johnson said. “They have two very different backs, but they’re both very effective in their own way. Their screen game to the backs is another thing they do really well. So if we’re going to win this game, we have to be effective stopping their backs.”