SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 22: Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers looks on against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium on December 22, 2013 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
If defense wins in the playoffs, the Bengals should be in good shape. They have one of the best units in the NFL, which is interesting because they don't really have that standout, superstar, Ray Lewis, Ronnie Lott kind of guy.
They're just good everywhere. And one thing they do really, really, really, ridiculously well is take the ball away from the other team.
"That team thrives off of that defense," said Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. "That defense being able to create turnovers, get 11 hats to the football. To me, that's what stands out the most about Cincinnati, is that all 11 guys compete every single play."
That is the Calling card of a Marvin Lewis-coached defense. Over the last decade (since Lewis took over as Cincinnati's head coach) the Bengals have the fifth-best turnover ratio in the NFL, the fourth-most takeaways in the league, and the third-most points off turnovers.
"They've very disciplined," said Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. "The details matter to them, obviously, the way they play football. They have always created turnovers, very sound football team. It's been that way since Marvin's been there."
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is every bit the mastermind Lewis is. Zimmer, who has been Cincinnati's D.C. since 2008, has found a way to bottle up Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. In 4 meetings against San Diego, Zimmer's defenses have held Rivers to five touchdowns, forced five interceptions, and sacked him nine times.
"It's very clear that, the system they run, those players know it very well," said Rivers. "They have a handful of those guys that have been together now a number of years, mixed in with some additions they've made the last couple. They play together, they know what they're doing, they believe in what they're doing, and those things added with the fact they've got really good players makes a heck of a defense."
NFL teams that win the turnover battle win the game, on average, 79 percent of the time. Just a plus-1 differential gives you a 69 percent chance to win. Have we made this abundantly clear yet?
In their last meeting, a 17-10 Bengals win a month ago, the Chargers turned it over three times, two of them inside the 25 yard line. The Bolts know they can't have the same kind of sloppy performance, especially in sloppy conditions.
"I think we just shot ourselves in the foot," said Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen. "I don't think it was too much of them stopping us. We caused turnovers for ourselves. Hopefully we can turn those turnovers in to touchdowns."
That would be a great idea. Under Lewis, the Bengals are 55-13-1 in games where they win the turnover battle. When Cincinnati gives it away more than they take it away, they're 12-54.
Hold on to the ball, and the Chargers have a real good chance to hold on to their hopes of a Super Bowl trip.