Bengals-Chargers Preview

The surging Cincinnati Bengals have climbed back into playoff
contention behind impressive efforts on both sides of the ball.

Very little, in contrast, has gone right for the injury-plagued
San Diego Chargers, who appear to be falling apart.

The visiting Bengals try for a fourth consecutive win Sunday
against a Chargers team hoping to avoid a seventh loss in eight
games.

Cincinnati (6-5) closed September with three straight wins only
to lose its next four but has since gotten back on track. The
Bengals, who’ve outscored opponents by an average of 21.3 points
during their current run, sit in seventh place in the AFC – just
outside the playoff picture.

“The anticipation comes down to these last five (games) now and
what they mean and how important they are,” coach Marvin Lewis
said. “We’re in OK position. We’re not in great position, but we’re
in OK position. And we’ve got to improve upon it each and every
week.”

While Andy Dalton has thrown nine touchdowns and no
interceptions over the last three weeks, the Bengals’ running game
is also finally coming around. After rushing for 189 yards in a
28-6 win at Kansas City on Nov. 18, Cincinnati compiled 221 during
last Sunday’s 34-10 victory over Oakland.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a season-high 129 yards and a
score while Cedric Peerman added 61 on eight carries for the
Bengals, who had been limited to an average of 93.7 rushing yards
over their first nine games. Cincinnati is 7-0 when rushing for at
least 130 yards since the start of last season.

“We’ve got to keep this going,” Dalton said. “The running game
has done a great job the last two weeks. We’ve got to keep the
balance.”

Cincinnati’s defense also continues to come up big. The Bengals
limited the Chiefs and Raiders to a combined 502 yards and have
forced seven turnovers during their winning streak.

“What’s really cool is that our offense is clicking now, and our
defense is clicking and special teams have been playing great,”
defensive tackle Domata Peko said. “So when you get us rolling on
all cylinders, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

Cincinnati now looks to keep things going against San Diego
(4-7), which doesn’t carry much momentum into Sunday’s showdown.
The Chargers opened 3-1 but have since dropped six of seven – with
their only victory coming over the one-win Chiefs on Nov. 1.

San Diego appeared to be in good shape to get back in the win
column Sunday, leading Baltimore 13-10 and forcing the Ravens into
a fourth-and-29 with 1:59 left. The Chargers, however, couldn’t
bring Ray Rice down until he gained 30 yards on a short pass, and
they eventually lost 16-13 in overtime.

“I guess for you guys, you can say that, and it’s easy to say,”
coach Norv Turner replied when asked if that play summed up the
team’s season. “It’s a play we had guys in position to make the
play and we didn’t handle it very well.”

Philip Rivers threw for 228 yards and a touchdown against the
Ravens but San Diego was outgained 443-280 in total offense.

Things aren’t about to get any easier for the Chargers, who lost
strong safety Atari Bigby to a season-ending groin injury last
Sunday. Leading tackler Donald Butler (groin) is also expected to
miss time while safety Darrell Stuckey (hamstring) is uncertain to
play.

Pro Bowler safety Eric Weddle, meanwhile, suffered a concussion
last Sunday but is expected to be ready for this game.

“We’ve lost a lot of guys throughout on offense and on defense,
and we have guys that just keep coming in,” Turner, who placed left
tackle Jared Gaither on injured reserve last Friday, told the
team’s official website. “Obviously, it affects you in certain
situations.”

San Diego’s banged-up secondary could have its hands full with
A.J. Green, who’s tied for the league lead with 10 receiving TDs
and ranks fourth with 1,022 yards. The star wideout hauled in three
receptions for 111 yards against the Raiders but saw his nine-game
TD streak come to an end.

Cincinnati pulled out a 34-20 home win in the last matchup in
this series in 2010, but has dropped five of six in San Diego since
1992.