NFL Preview - Detroit (2-9) at Cincinnati (8-3)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Though the Cincinnati Bengals have been impressive in several facets during a season that has seen them surprisingly rise to the top of the AFC North, a reputation for scoring tons of points has not been among the team's main characteristics.
That could change, however, when the defense-challenged Detroit Lions visit Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
The Lions have been among the worst defensive teams in the NFL, as former Titans coordinator and current Lions head coach Jim Schwartz's attempt to revamp the unit has been an uphill climb.
The Lions are last in the league in scoring defense (30.5 points per game), total defense (394.3 yards per game), passing defense (281.4 yards per game), opponents' completion percentage (70.4), touchdowns allowed (39), touchdown passes allowed (27), and are tied for last in interceptions recorded (6) and turnover margin (-11) along with the Browns.
Last week's 34-12 loss to the Green Bay Packers, a defeat that saw the team lose by double-digits in its Thanksgiving Day showcase game for the sixth consecutive season, was part of the makeup of those numbers.
Also taking a hit in the contest was the team's number of interceptions thrown which increased to a league-worst 22 as rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford followed up a short first-quarter touchdown drive by going 18-of-39 for 200 yards, no touchdowns, and four interceptions the rest of the way. The last of the picks went 38 yards the other direction for a Charles Woodson touchdown.
Stafford will be trying to bounce back from that effort on Sunday, while also seeking to snap the Lions' 17-game road losing streak. Detroit has not won away from Ford Field since Oct. 28, 2007, when it won at Chicago.
The Bengals, meanwhile, will be trying to prolong Detroit's misery while creeping closer to an AFC North title.
Cincinnati's 16-7 win over the Cleveland Browns last week, coupled with a loss for the Steelers in Baltimore, extended the Bengals' advantage in the division to two full games, and also closed out the team's division schedule with a perfect 6-0 mark,
The win was engineered without running back Cedric Benson, who missed his second straight game with a hip problem but is expected to be in the lineup this week.
Benson will be trying to breathe a bit of a life into attack that has been held under 20 points in six of its last seven games, but is 5-2 over that span.
Marvin Lewis' club has been able to remain above the fray largely due to a defense that is allowing the fewest points in the league (15.8 points per game) as Week 13 begins.
Cincinnati has a 6-3 lead in its all-time series with Detroit, and has won the last three games in the series, including a 41-17 road beat-down when the clubs last met, in 2005. The Lions will be visiting the Queen City for the first time since 1992, when they prevailed by a 19-13 count at Riverfront Stadium. The Bengals' last home win in the series took place in 1989. The road team has won five of the last six installments of the series.
Lewis is 1-0 all-time against the Lions, while Detroit's Schwartz will be meeting both Lewis and Cincinnati for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Stafford (2124 passing yards, 12 TD, 18 INT) has certainly had his moments during his rookie campaign, but has also displayed the type of inconsistency you might expect from a first-year quarterback with a suspect supporting cast. Last week's four-pick clunker came just days after Stafford looked terrific in a winning five-touchdown effort over the Browns. While trying to cut down on the mistakes Sunday, Stafford will be seeking to get the football into the hands of wideouts Calvin Johnson (41 receptions, 3 TD) and Dennis Northcutt (28 receptions, 1 TD), among others. Johnson scored the Lions' only touchdown against the Packers but finished with just two catches for 10 yards as he battled a knee problem. Tight end Casey FitzSimmons (17 receptions), who had a team-high five receptions totaling 38 yards against Green Bay, will have to play a significant role again after promising rookie TE Brandon Pettigrew was ruled out for the year with a knee injury sustained last week. The Lions are just 25th in the league rushing the football (96.2 yards per game), with Kevin Smith (603 rushing yards, 37 receptions, 4 TD) having gone over 100 yards just once all year. A thin Detroit o-line has surrendered 33 sacks on the year, including two last Thursday.
Though the Bengals defense lacks the big-name players that the team features on the other side of the ball, it is Mike Zimmer's unit - which is third in the league against the run (81.9 yards per game) and 16th against the pass (215.7 yards per game) - that has truly ruled the day in Cincinnati. Defensive linemen Domata Peko (23 tackles) and Tank Johnson (18 tackles, 1 sack) have been especially hard for opposing offenses to move, and sure-tackling linebackers Dhani Jones (72 tackles, 2 sacks) and Rey Maualuga (46 tackles, 1 sack) have made a number of plays behind them. The team could also get linebacker Keith Rivers (43 tackles) back this week, after the former first- rounder missed the last three games with a calf problem. On the back end, cornerbacks Leon Hall (49 tackles, 4 INT) and Johnathan Joseph (43 tackles, 5 INT) have been steady, and safeties Chris Crocker (49 tackles, 2 INT) and Chinedum Ndukwe (50 tackles, 1.5 sacks) have proved their worth against both the run and pass. The pass rush has taken a hit since end Antwan Odom was lost for the year in Week 6, but ends Jonathan Fanene (24 tackles, 5 sacks) and Robert Geathers (26 tackles, 2.5 sacks) are both capable of getting to the quarterback.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
You can call it a critical week for the Cincinnati offense. First, with Benson (859 rushing yards, 6 TD) set to return, all eyes will be on how the team balances carries between him and new addition Larry Johnson (112 rushing yards), who went over 100 yards in just his second game as a Bengal last week. With nominal No. 2 back Bernard Scott (301 rushing yards) unlikely to play due to a toe problem, Johnson is almost certain to be Benson's primary backup. Meanwhile, brash wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (53 receptions, 5 TD) has publicly expressed his desire for the team to put the ball in the air more against Detroit's suspect pass defense, and it will be interesting to see whether Lewis and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski follow that directive. Despite possessing former Pro Bowlers in quarterback Carson Palmer (2327 passing yards, 15 TD, 8 INT), Ochocinco, and fellow wideout Laveranues Coles (31 receptions, 3 TD), the Bengals rank just 21st in league passing offense (197.6 yards per game), while coming in at seventh in rushing (135.3). Palmer was 13-of-24 for 110 yards with a touchdown against the Browns last week, with his lone TD pass of the day going to tight end J.P. Foschi (17 receptions, 2 TD). Ochocinco has gone four straight games without eclipsing 70 yards receiving or scoring a touchdown. An overachieving Cincinnati o-line has surrendered just 20 sacks on the year.
As mentioned, a Lions defense that has often been helpless this season has its work cut out for it this week. Despite Ochocinco's headlines, the Lions will likely be most concerned with stopping Benson and the Bengals run game, and if the Lions have a strength on defense, this is it. The team is 19th in NFL rushing defense (112.9 yards per game), with massive veteran nose tackle Grady Jackson (22 tackles) setting the tone up front, and linebackers Larry Foote (78 tackles, 2 sacks) and DeAndre Levy (55 tackles, 1 INT) doing a credible job behind them. Levy and Foote combined for 15 tackles last week, helping to hold the Packers' Ryan Grant to 61 yards on 20 carries. The pass defense has largely been a disaster, apart from promising rookie safety Louis Delmas (61 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), although the presence of ex-Bengal Marvin White (16 tackles) at the other safety spot could give Detroit something of a leg up. White, who played in 27 games as a Bengal in 2007-08, had six tackles and a pass deflection against the Packers, but also struggled in coverage. Top cornerback William James (48 tackles, 1 INT) is likely to get the primary assignment on Ochocinco. The Lions pass rush has been largely non-existent, with outside linebacker Julian Peterson (51 tackles, 4.5 sacks) one of the few Detroit players who can be counted on to provide pressure.
Against a good Bengals defense, there is really only one Lion who should be in fantasy lineups, and that is Calvin Johnson, who generally finds some way to make an impact when healthy. Kevin Smith might be worth considering as a flex option based on the number of touches he usually gets, but don't count on him finding the end zone or getting anywhere near a 100-yard game.
The options are more plentiful on the Cincinnati side, though using Benson might be risky based on the presence of Larry Johnson on the roster. If you've benched Ochocinco, it might he time to restore his status, because the Bengals should indeed take some chances down the field on a horrendous Lions secondary. Think about Palmer only if you're desperate. The Bengals defense has not been a must-play of late because it hasn't been making a ton of big plays, though that figures to change against the mistake-prone Stafford. Kicker Shayne Graham might also be worth a place in your lineup.
It was pretty clear, when the Bengals followed up gigantic back-to-back wins over the Ravens and Steelers, that Cincinnati would be battling itself as much as its opponents in consecutive games against the hapless Raiders, Browns, and Lions. To that end, there's no doubt that the Bengals have played uninspired football the last two weeks, but Cincinnati knows it needs to put its best foot forward here in order to quiet the growing throng of doubters. Also, the Lions simply don't have the defensive personnel to stay in the game as the Raiders and Browns did, meaning a big day should indeed be in store for Palmer, Ochocinco, and the Bengals offense. Look for Cincinnati to run away and hide here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bengals 34, Lions 10
12/03 16:33:59 ET