Detroit and quarterback Matthew Stafford enter the showdown after a win last week over Cleveland behind Stafford's four touchdowns. Cincinnati and Andy Dalton were able to fend off the Buffalo Bills in overtime on the road for a major victory as well.
While Cincinnati holds an all-time advantage in the series at 7-3 and has won the last four matchups, this is the most competitive both these teams have been in over a decade.
Here is how the Bengals can win a second consecutive road game, extend the series streak to five and take a commanding lead in the AFC North.
The Competitive Edge
|QB||DET||Andy Dalton is solid when utilized properly, but Matthew Stafford is on a different level.|
|RB||CIN||Reggie Bush is an elite weapon, but the picture-perfect combo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard wins out. We haven't even seen Bernard's best.|
|WR||CIN||A.J. Green and Calvin Johnson cancel out. The rest of Detroit's receiving corps. is a mess. Cincinnati has sound contributors in Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.|
|TE||CIN||Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria have potential, but the combo of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert is best in the NFL.|
|OL||CIN||PFF ranks Cincinnati top six in run and pass blocking. Detroit is sound, but Cincinnati is playing at a very high level.|
|DL||Even||Tie. Two quality defensive tackles on each side. Vastly underrated Detroit defensive ends; well known and costly Cincinnati defensive ends.|
|LB||DET||Tough, but Cincinnati rarely uses three linebackers. DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch are both elite. Rey Maualuga is better than last year, but brings the unit down.|
|DB||CIN||Detroit struggles in all areas. Cincinnati has a weak spot at strong safety, but Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall and Co. rank with the best.|
|ST||CIN||David Akers or Mike Nugent. This comes down to returners, and Adam Jones and Ben Tate are a great combo.|
The Competitive Edge
Get Giovani Bernard the Football in Space
Good things happen for the Bengals when rookie running back Giovani Bernard is given the football with room to operate. Fortunately for Cincinnati, Detroit ranks No. 29 in the NFL against the run. It surrenders 124.8 rushing yards per game.
Cincinnati used a variety of quick methods last week such as screens, flares and even tosses en route to Bernard racking up 100 total yards and a touchdown.
To counter an elite Detroit defensive line that gets up the field quickly, Cincinnati must employ a similar quick-twitch approach. A good example would be Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte and his 53-yard run for a score in Week 4 against Detroit.
Things start off simply enough, with two receivers and a traditional fullback (which Cincinnati lacks) for Chicago:
Detroit blitzes one linebacker, but note that two massive receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are left at the top of the screen to pave the way for Forte, who feigns following his lead blocker and receives a pitch with plenty of room to operate:
Forte easily gets around the corner while both Jeffery and Marshall execute their respective blocking assignments:
From there, Forte goes another 40 yards to the end zone unscathed:
While Jeffery and Marshall are massive, remember that the Bengals have two huge tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert who consistently line up outside and could easily execute a similar assignment. Not only that, as Fox Sports Ohio's Kevin Goheen points out, Bengals wide receivers were excellent blocking down the field last week:
#Bengals WRs blocking well today. Marvin Jones gets one to allow Sanu to convert 3rd/8.— Kevin Goheen (@FSOhio_KGoheen) October 13, 2013
Spread Detroit out, Quick Release to Nullify Pass Rush
The Lions have a great pass rush led by Ndamukong Suh and rookie Ezekiel Ansah. Not only that, the unit relies on turnovers to win. The Lions were good in that regard with 13 forced so far this year, which ranks them in the top five.
To nullify both the chances of a costly turnover and Dalton taking unnecessary hits, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden must employ a strategy very similar to the one used last week, which relied on short screens and quick-hitting passes.
One such example occurred in the second quarter with Cincinnati running the ball well.
Cincinnati lined up in a basic set and faked to the back after A.J. Green motioned across the formation to set himself up to catch the screen. Receiver Mohamed Sanu will engage his man after the snap while left tackle Andrew Whitworth kicks out to act as lead blocker:
Whitworth disengages while Sanu tracks his man as the rest of the defense is sucked into the play fake:
The blocks perfectly align as Green explodes through the gaping hole crafted by Whitworth and Sanu:
Green eventually out-runs his own blockers and is cut off by a defender for a 54-yard gain, but the damage was done. Against an opportunistic and aggressive Detroit defense, plays such as these are safe and easily established with a balanced dose of rush and pass.
Account for Joseph Fauria
Outside of the painfully obvious, which is to account for Calvin Johnson at all costs, the Bengals must be wary of Joseph Fauria, Detroit's rising star at tight end, who has five touchdowns on the year—on seven receptions.
Cincinnati struggles with opposing tight ends. While the Bengals' best defender, Leon Hall, will be glued on Megatron with possible safety help over the top, the Bengals' weakness in coverage, safeties and linebackers, will be responsible for dealing with the 6'7", 255-pound Fauria.
That was the case for Cleveland last week, with corner Joe Haden stuck on Johnson's hip all day. In the fourth quarter, Detroit spread out the Browns' defense while Cleveland brought five rushers.
A simple pre-snap read tells Matthew Stafford that Craig Robertson will be solely responsible for Fauria:
The single deep safety plays the correct part of the field, but both he and the corner to that side of the hash make their breaks too late as Fauria blows past Robertson, elevates and proceeds to overpower the defenders on his way into the end zone:
Detroit knows to go Fauria's way against Cincinnati. Safety Taylor Mays functions as the team's best coverage linebacker and is a weak point nonetheless. With attention devoted to Johnson and the next man detailed below, Cincinnati must also account for Fauria with proper coverages.
Contain Reggie Bush
It sounds so simple, but one of the NFL's most dynamic weapons could give Cincinnati a boatload of issues Sunday.
The hardest part of defending the Lions' offense is accounting for all its weapons. The best the Bengals can hope to do is contain Bush when he is given a handoff, splits out wide, or slips out of the backfield as receiver.
The latter is the case against Minnesota in Week 1. Bush is aligned as the lone back in a three-receiver look with Johnson in the slot:
Bush immediately splits out for the reception. The defender here tasked with handling Bush is linebacker Chad Greenway, but he is late to react and has to shed a block before getting to Bush:
With the rest of the defense spread thin and occupied in coverage, Greenway is eliminated from the play, and Bush has an entourage paving the way deep downfield:
Of course, Bush being Bush, he outruns his own blockers with a few defenders to beat as he enters the final level of the defense:
Bush angles to the pylon, and not many NFL players will catch him in an open sprint at this point. He goes on to score:
Much like dealing with Ray Rice or C.J. Spiller, Cincinnati must avoid the pitfalls of allowing Bush to have the ball in space through proper matchups and alignments, not to mention discipline. The Bengals are better defensively than Minnesota, but they encounter the same issues in Bush, a home run threat no matter where he gets his hands on the ball.
Wednesday Injury Report
This Week's Game Stats and Facts
- Marvin Lewis is 8-2 against the NFC North.
- The longest run in Bengals history came via a 96-yard touchdown run by Corey Dillon against Detroit in 2001.
- Cincinnati is on pace to become only the second team in NFL history to have six receivers with 500 or more yards.
- Through six games, Cincinnati has nine touchdown drives of 80 or more yards.
- Cincinnati has the fourth-best overtime record in NFL history at 16-11-1.
- Cincinnati has not lost in Detroit since 1970. The Bengals' last two wins against the Lions occurred in seasons when Cincinnati went on to win the AFC North.
All statistics are courtesy of ESPN Stats, unless specified otherwise. All advanced rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required). In-game screen grabs are provided by NFL.com Game Rewind. Stats and Facts courtesy of Bengals’ communications department.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling