Rushing offense: B+
The 164 rushing yards were one shy of the team’s season high. BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ total of 92 was his top mark of the year, and his 4.6-yard average was his second-highest total of 2013. Rookie Giovani Bernard also was solid, carrying 14 times for 57 yards and a 4.1 average. Thirteen of the Bengals’ 19 first downs came via the rush, and it was the ground attack that put the game away. The Chargers got within seven with 4:35 to go, but the Bengals took over at their own 34 and never led San Diego touch the ball again. Following a first-down pass, Cincinnati ran it 10 straight times with great success even though everyone in the stadium knew what was coming. The only negative was a Green-Ellis fumble on the previous possession. The Bengals had a chance to put the game away but instead left the door cracked open for the Chargers.
Passing offense: C-
Yes, the Bengals scored the game-winning touchdown on a 21-yard pass from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green, but there were few other highlights. And truthfully, pretty much any practice squad QB could have connected on that play after San Diego inexplicably sent two defenders after Jermaine Gresham and left Green wide open. Dalton finished 14 of 23 for 190 yards with the TD and one truly awful interception when he threw up an ugly wobbler that had no chance on a first-down play. Dalton’s best throw was on a short crossing route to Andrew Hawkins. The perfect ball placement let Hawkins catch the ball in stride and turn it into a 50-yard gain to set up a Mike Nugent field goal that made it a two-possession game early in the fourth quarter. Dalton only completed 14 passes, one shy of the season low he posted in the previous game against Cleveland.
Rushing defense: B+
The Bengals held the Chargers to 91 rushing yards and a 3.8-yard average. San Diego tailback Ryan Mathews had one decent run of 13 yards, but there wasn’t much to be had on his other 13 carries. A good indication of how well the Bengals were defending the run was the Chargers’ play calling. Five times they faced third and 3 or shorter, and four times they called pass plays. The only time they ran it was on a third and 1, and fullback Le’Ron McClain got the 1 yard he needed and nothing more. The Bengals haven’t allowed an opposing running back to rush for a touchdown since the Packers’ Jonathan Franklin in Week 3.
Passing defense: B
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was averaging 307 yards per game, but the Bengals held him to 252 and intercepted him once. There were a few times when coverage broke down and Rivers exploited it, such as the 30-yard touchdown pass to Ladarius Green, but a quarterback of Rivers’ caliber is going to make plays here and there when he throws it 37 times. The pass rush wasn’t great with only two sacks, but it was effective in squeezing the pocket as the game went on. And in addition to Dre Kirkpatrick’s first career interception, which came when he ripped the ball away from tight end Antonio Gates, the Bengals also forced and recovered a pair of fumbles against San Diego receivers.
Special teams: B
Kevin Huber tied Kyle Larson’s franchise record with a 75-yard punt that pinned San Diego at the 4-yard line. Huber also dropped another punt inside the 20 and finished with a 55.5-yard average on his four attempts. Mike Nugent drilled a 46-yard field goal, making him successful on nine of his last 10 field goal tries. Nugent also had two touchbacks on four kickoffs. The coverage units were solid, holding the Chargers to 1 punt return for 0 yards and two kick returns for an average of 18 yards. But the Bengals’ returns were lacking. Adam Jones had a 3-yard punt return on his lone try, and Brandon Tate had a 2-yarder. Tate also managed just 22.7 yards on three kick returns.
For whatever the reason, Marvin Lewis’ teams have struggled coming off byes, going 3-6-1 in his tenure. But Lewis had the Bengals ready to go in this one. And what more can be said about defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer? His gameplans are masterpieces week after week. The Bengals entered the game 10th in scoring defense, seventh in total defense, 10th in rushing defense and sixth in passing defense, and all of those numbers could be improving after that performance. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden seemed a bit slow to react to the team’s running success, but he dialed up the ground-and-pound after halftime and rode it to victory.