Detroit Lions vs. Cincinnati Bengals: A Bengals Take on Detroit
Chris is a Featured Columnist and Bengals Game Day Correspondent here at Bleacher Report. He also handles breaking news stories.
In addition to that, he is a fellow graduate of Ohio University. You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Roling.
What is one thing the Bengals do well that doesn't get enough publicity?
Cincinnati has an elite offensive line this year, especially now that left tackle Andrew Whitworth is healthy again.
While the overwhelming thought seems to be the line struggles in pass protection, in reality it's Andy Dalton's questionable pocket presence that gives him issues and creates this perception. The Bengals have the No. 2 overall pass blocking line and No. 6 run blocking per Pro Football Focus (subscription required, click on headers to sort). Dealing with Ziggy Ansah, Ndamukong Suh and Co. won't be a major issue thanks to a division that touts Haloti Ngata and others.
Whitworth's return to health has indeed played a big role in upgrading the line. He is the player who Lions fans hope Riley Reiff becomes at left tackle, a physically imposing behemoth who plays with attitude and surprising agility.
This is strength versus strength. Willie Young and Ansah will have to be at their best, and the entire defensive line must avoid getting frustrated.
What is Cincinnati's biggest matchup advantage against Detroit?
We'll paint in broad strokes here and say the running game against a Detroit defense that gives up 124.8 yards per game.
Cincinnati has a solid duo in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the electric rookie Giovani Bernard. We saw last week what Bernard can do given a bit of space. And while Green-Ellis only averages 3.3 per carry, he's coming off his best performance of the year and remains of the NFL's best in short-yardage situations.
Together, Green-Ellis and Bernard can be utilized in a way to control the game and keep Matthew Stafford and Co. off the field. Last week Cincinnati possessed the ball over 42 minutes to Buffalo's 25—expect a similar game plan.
I don't disagree with Chris that the running back duo is talented and will find some success against the Lions' inconsistent run defense. As I mentioned earlier this week, Bernard and Green-Ellis remind me more than a little of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.
Yet I think the biggest advantage Cincinnati has is wideout A.J. Green, against either Chris Houston or Rashean Mathis. Green is a physical marvel at 6'3" and 211 pounds with an outstanding catch radius. He is excellent at using his size to outreach and out-muscle defensive backs for 50/50 balls.
Houston's lack of ball recognition skills are a very real problem against Green. Mathis has struggled when trying to press against larger receivers. Defending A.J. Green is the hardest task facing the Lions.
What worries you the most about facing the Lions?
Joseph Fauria. Obviously Calvin Johnson is an issue, and the news concerning Terence Newman's iffy status is a major issue. Adam Jones has been abused all year and Leon Hall doesn't shadow No. 1 receivers.
That said, Cincinnati traditionally struggles against tight ends. Safety Taylor Mays is actually Cincinnati's best nickel linebacker this season (Emmanuel Lamur went down with a season-ending injury early and the rest of the linebackers are horrific in coverage). While he's played better in that role, it's something Detroit will be able to exploit rather easily.
I think Chris is overestimating Fauria's role, but he is right to worry about Lions tight ends as a whole. Fauria primarily plays in the red zone and specific play packages, I do think he can have some success.
Brandon Pettigrew is quietly playing very well recently. In the last three weeks, Pettigrew has caught 15 of the 16 passes thrown his way, per ESPN. He showed surprising agility with an open-field spin move that picked up extra yardage to convert a critical third down versus the Browns.
Together, the Lions tight ends figure to be a major key to the game.
Who wins the Detroit vs. Cincinnati Game?
Can the Bengals outgun the Lions in a high-scoring game?
No. At face value, Cincinnati has an offense loaded with talent that appears it can out-gun teams, but Andy Dalton has limitations as a passer.
He attempted just six passes 15 or more yards down the field last week and completed just half. He was rarely allowed to throw down the field and attempted 15 screens or flares. Of Dalton's 337 passing yards, 253 came via yards after the catch.
While this may seem like a simple game plan, we've seen what happens when Dalton is asked to execute a vertical-oriented offense this year—he completed 54 percent of his passes with 4.9 yards per completion with an interception in a loss to Cleveland as Cincinnati failed to score a touchdown.
The Bengals are much better off with the game plan employed last week and not having to play catch-up.
Running up the score is Detroit's best chance to win this game. As Chris mentions, Dalton and the Bengals offense do not stretch the field well. While in comeback situations or under pressure to keep scoring, their nickel-and-dime style of passing will struggle to keep up with the Lions.
Who wins the game, and why?
This one is a toss up, but with the Cincinnati coaching staff apparently figuring out how to utilize Dalton and give Bernard more touches each week, it looks like the Bengals will be able to control the clock and find the end zone against a struggling defense.
Cincinnati has not lost in Detroit since 1970. I'll ride with them here by a field goal via a power-running attack that dictates the pace, 27-24.
I concur that this game is a toss up. These are evenly matched teams with many similarities.
The Lions defense has done a fine job in creating takeaways, and I think that plays the primary difference in the game. Detroit's exceptional coverage units on special teams takes away one avenue for the Bengals to win, too.
As I wrote in my weekly prediction column at RealGM.com, in toss up games I defer to the team with the better quarterback. That is Matthew Stafford, and he plays for the home team. That is enough to carry the day against a strong Bengals team.
I agree with the 27-24 score, but I think Detroit comes out on top at home.
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