BENGALS LG CLINT BOLING AND RG KEVIN ZEITLER VS. CHARGERS ILB TAKEO SPIKES
His second Bengals 100-yard running game wasn't even cold when running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis walked out of Paul Brown Stadium last Sunday hoping the Chargers defense would be on his iPad playbook by the time he got home.
"They go from 3-4 fronts to 4-3 fronts; we have our hands full," Green-Ellis said after he finally got a peek at the NFL's fifth-ranked rush defense.
It's the kind of game that makes Bengaldom uneasy. A stout, versatile defense stingy against the run that has echoes of the AFC North. The Chargers don't have AFC North pass rushers, but with the Bengals getting their running game on track against rush defenses ranked 16th (Giants), 24th (Chiefs), and 28th (Raiders) they've got a test against a defense that could get them in unfavorable down-and-distance if they can't move them.
And San Diego did manage to sack Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco five times last Sunday in sunny San Diego in a 16-13 overtime slugfest worthy of a grey November Sunday in Pittsburgh or Cleveland.
The Chargers began November holding Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin to 3.6 yards per carry and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles to 3.3, but Baltimore's Ray Rice nicked them for 4.4 last week and was a carry away from 100 yards as some key defenders went down, such as strong safety Atari Bigby, San Diego's best player on defense, and inside backer Donald Butler, its best three-down linebacker.
The 6-2, 242-pound Spikes is an old friend and Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham still remembers the Spikes he covered during his first five seasons in the league in Cincinnati.
"He looks like he swallowed a bowling ball. He has no neck. I'm sure he's not as quick as he was, but he's seen everything," Lapham said. "He's so experienced. He'll call out plays before they're run. He's a Norman Rockwell portrait of a downhill, run-stuffing linebacker. Takeo's a load in the running game. He's been a factor in shutting down the running game like they have."
Green-Ellis is also wary of Spikes's football IQ.
"You get these guys that play a long time in the league and they know every play of mankind so you have to do kind of a good job offsetting their toughness and smarts and his ability to make plays on the ball," BJGE said. "You never know what it's going to take. It may be pressing a little bit longer. It may be hitting it faster. Whatever it takes."
"(Spikes) sees things," he said. "On cutback runs, he may play on the front side and then he hops inside the back."
Lapham, who played all five spots during 10 seasons on the Bengals offensive line, thinks Boling and Zeitler are going to be OK Sunday.
"The more reps they get, the more confident they'll be playing together," Lapham said. "They seem to be getting a comfort level. I think they're powerful. That's what Zeitler does and Boling has some thump to him. They played in conferences (the SEC and Big Ten) where they try to take the run away, so run blocking isn't foreign to them."
Heading into their 12th game at these spots, Zeitler and Boling have drawn high praise from the Web site profootballfocus.com. Overall for guards it ranks Zeitler sixth and Boling eighth, and 15th and 17th, respectively, on the run, and says last week Boling shoved around Raiders tackle Desmond Bryant all day in the run game.
Boling and Zeitler will also at times be dealing with tackle Aubrayo Franklin, a guy that PFF ranks as the top run-stop percentage player among tackles with 14 stops out of 114 running snaps.
"I think those young guys up front have come to work every day and worked hard and we've progressed," Green-Ellis. "We're not making those repeat mistakes."
It's an AFC North game on the Pacific with an old friend from the AFC Central in Spikes on other side.
"No question," Lapham said. "He'll be jacked up."