The keys to Chargers vs. Bengals

Scouting thoughts on San Diego and Cincinnati ahead of their matchup

Updated: January 2, 2014, 10:59 AM ET
By Gary Horton | ESPN Insider

Andy DaltonAP Photo/Tom UhlmanCan Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals take the next step this postseason?

To preview the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, we tasked ESPN Insider's Gary Horton with reviewing the film on the teams involved. In this edition, he provides his keys to the game between the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 5, including one big play that could change the game.

Previews: PHI-NO | SF-GBSD-CINKC-IND

In recent weeks, the Bengals have looked like the talented group that is finally playing up to expectations. They are undefeated at home, have good playmakers on both sides of the ball, are full of confidence and finally have a QB in Andy Dalton who seems capable of producing in key situations.

San Diego may be a team that barely sneaked into the playoffs, but they have an elite QB and a newly found run game that can keep them competitive in any situation. Plus, they seem to thrive in the underdog role.

Does San Diego have enough to pull off the upset?


San Diego offense

Philip Rivers is having an excellent season, and he has really embraced this new Mike McCoy offense. The biggest change is a much shorter passing game instead of those slow-developing deep routes they used to run that led to a lot of sacks and hits.

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsRookie Keenan Allen already has proved to be a dangerous weapon for Philip Rivers.

Regular screens, bubble screens and crossing routes protect an offensive line that really struggles to hold its blocks in pass protection. They can zone or man block for the run game and with a huge improvement by RB Ryan Mathews, this offense now has some balance and an actual play-action package.

Gary Horton spent 10 years in the NFL as a scout and another 10 years at the college level as an assistant coach and recruiter. He is the founder and most seasoned member of the Scouts Inc. staff, and his extensive experience at all levels of football make him an excellent talent evaluator.