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San Diego Chargers' commitment to run game pays off

Flexible organizations with an ability to adapt down the stretch are often the teams that overachieve in January. Right now, that's the San Diego Chargers.

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NFL Replay
will re-air the San Diego Chargers' 27-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals from Wild Card Weekend on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 3 p.m. ET.

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Sunday's 27-10 wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals was a carbon copy of the approach that helped the Chargers dial up four straight regular-season wins to close the season.

After running the ball 27 times per game over its first 12 outings, San Diego has averaged 39 carries since. They kept that pace Sunday with 40 totes for 196 yards and two scores on the ground. It's not a strategy we expect the Chargers to abandon next week in Denver.

San Diego's offense established itself early Sunday, controlling the Bengals along the line of scrimmage and carrying the rock 20 times against a Cincinnati defense that consistently dropped six and seven men into coverage. Over the first two quarters, quarterback Philip Rivers attempted just six throws to finish 12-of-16 passing on the day for a mundane 128 yards.

Nobody's trying to take the ball out of Rivers' hands, but his 25.2 attempts over the past five games are down from the 37 throws per outing he attempted over his first 12 starts. The game-plan shift speaks more to a strategy tweak by coach Mike McCoy, who has used his stable of running backs -- led by Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead -- to control the clock and play to his roster's strengths.

San Diego has specialized in hurting opponents with clock-chewing drives this season. It swallowed half of the first quarter against Cincy with a 12-play, 86-yard touchdown march, giving the Chargers a league-leading 40 drives of 10 plays or more on the year. Seventeen of those have resulted in touchdowns, tying them with Denver.

Speaking of the Broncos, don't look for San Diego to shift gears next Sunday. The Chargers pulled off one of the season's biggest upsets back in Week 15 by running the ball 44 times for 177 yards on Denver's defense, controlling the clock for a whopping 38-plus minutes.

If you hope to topple the Broncos, keeping Peyton Manning off the field is your best bet. It's almost as if San Diego has used the past five games as a laboratory for what comes next.

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