Lions in Bengals' den

Posted Dec 4, 2009


DECEMBER 6, 2009

The last time the Lions won a road game, on Oct. 28, 2007 in Chicago, the Bengals lost to Pittsburgh at home that day with a lineup that had five starters who will be in the lineup Sunday in the same spot against Detroit.

The way the roundtable sees it, these aren’t the same old Lions because they possess an offense with potential firepower that is far more dangerous than what Cleveland brought in last week. But they believe that Cincinnati has reinvented itself over those 17 road games so effectively that the Bengals should put up a win in the 10-14-point vicinity.

“In about a year and half Detroit is going to be a good team,” says The Eye, an NFL scout familiar with the AFC North. “But right now they’re paying the price with a rookie quarterback and their secondary has been devastated with injury.”

“They are really struggling in all areas on defense,” says Big Bird, a former NFL player with double-digit seasons. “They’re last in pass defense and last in scoring defense and they have trouble stopping anybody. I think their secondary’s problem is the pass rush. (The Lions are fourth worst in the NFL in generating sacks per pass.) They don’t get any.

“If the Bengals aren’t having problems with their passing game, they better show it Sunday. Carson Palmer has to have a big day. This better be a tuneup for the next week in Minnesota, where they’re going to have to score. Call this one Bengals, 24-10.”

“Matthew Stafford is a good quarterback and he’s going to be a good quarterback, but he’s a rookie and they’re taking their lumps with him,” says The Sage, another former double-digit NFL vet. “I just think at this point the Bengals have too much talent and cohesion to lose a game like this. Yeah, I’ve got concerns about their inability to score a lot of points, but they’re at home and Marvin has a tremendous record (6-0) against the NFC. That counts for something. I'm saying Bengals, 24-14.

QB C. Palmer vs. Lions SS Marvin White

Palmer has been a combination of Montana and Favre against the NFC North, throwing at least three touchdown passes in all six games against NFC North teams while racking up a 115.8 passer rating. But since his five TD-effort against the Bears four games ago, he’s thrown two touchdown passes. His four-yard touchdown pass to tight end J.P. Foschi last Sunday broke a skein of 12 straight quarters without a scoring pass, the longest of his career. He hasn’t hit a receiver for a TD in 15 quarters as the debate rages.

When you’re the seventh best rushing team in the NFL and in those four games you beat all three of your division foes by running the ball 113 times compared to 87 throws, you don’t have a lot of chances to throw TDs.

“I’ll let you know what I think about the passing game after this game,” says Bird. “There is nothing wrong with game-planning against an opponent. New England does that all the time. If you can run for over 200 yards on the ground, why not? But they really should be able to throw the ball on these guys.”

White is a familiar, good face. A fourth-round pick of the Bengals in ’07, he’s a tough guy who plays hurt and is a big-time hitter. One of the reasons the Bengals cut him before this season is because they thought he struggled in coverage and that’s where the Lions have had to play him since he came off the waiver wire from Dallas in October.

Detroit has five DBs on IR, rolled through 16 players in the secondary and added nine DBs since Sept. 4, which has made for chaos and a No. 32 ranking against the pass.

“(White) got beat in Cover 2 for a 60-yard TD on Thanksgiving against the Packers,” The Eye says. “Aaron Rodgers scrambled out of the pocket and he just stopped and the receiver just kept going. It’s a new system for him and he’s probably playing tentative.”


RB C. Benson vs. Lions MLB Larry Foote

Benson is back after missing the last two games and while the Bengals barely missed a beat with Bernard Scott and Larry Johnson each chipping in with a 100-yard game, don’t forget that when Benson went down with a pulled hip muscle he was averaging nearly 95 yards per game and on record Bengals pace. Plus, Scott (toe) is out so Benson is going to be in bell-cow mode.

Foote, the former Steeler, is 29 and an eight-year vet that draws praise from The Table for his physicality and presence. And the Lions are hanging in on the ground at 19th against the rush. But they also think he’s lost a step.

“He knows what is coming because he played the Bengals so much in Pittsburgh,” The Bird says. “He’ll know what the Bengals are trying to accomplish. But I give the edge to Cedric with the fresh legs.”

The Bengals figure to give Benson the ball more than he got it the last time the Lions won on the road, when Benson had 50 yards on 13 carries playing for the Bears. 


WR C. Ochocinco vs. Lions CB Phillip Buchanon

Remember when the Bengals were supposed to draft Buchanon instead of Levi Jones? Buchanon became a good player, but a journeyman who is now 29 and on his fourth team. Big Bird saw The Ocho and Buchanon at a camp back in the day and “Chad beat him then and he’ll beat him now.”

But the worry isn’t The Ocho. It’s that his supporting cast, Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell are having trouble getting open consistently.

“I’m not sure why, but they’re not getting any separation,” The Sage says. “And you can tell from Carson’s reaction that sometimes they aren’t where he thinks they’re going to be. Yeah, I think it probably has been an adjustment for them not to have T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) and Chris (Henry).”


RT D. Roland vs. Lions OLB Julian Peterson

Peterson comes off the edge at times and The Eye says that he is Detroit's most “dynamic” pass rusher with 4.5 sacks, but this isn’t the same guy that came out in the first round in 2000.

For the first time in the last two weeks Roland has struggled a bit on the edge and given up some pressure. He’s not the only one, but in this outing left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s strength ought to trump right end Dewayne White’s strength, which is strength, and the Lions figure to try and go after Roland.

“I think Roland is a good player and is having a good year,” The Sage says of the 6-9, 350-pounder who has been massive and good on the run. “He just has to get back on point. Teams are studying him and they’re getting underneath his pads with his height, so he has just has to get that leverage back.”

The Sage also warns that Lions head coach Jim Schwartz had success blitzing up the middle when he was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee and that third-down back Brian Leonard is going to have to be ready to pick up some big bodies.

“I don’t think there’s any question they’ll blitz Carson,” The Bird says. “What do they have to lose?”


QB Matthew Stafford vs. Bengals FS C. Crocker

Crocker and his secondary did a nice job of disguising their looks to befuddle Browns quarterback Brady Quinn last week on a brutal 15-for-34 day, and they better do that now because Stafford has a lot better poise and arm than Quinn. (By the way, if Wrongway Quinn had 300 yards vs. the Lions….)

But he’s also a rookie.

“He’s got a real good arm, excellent,” The Eye says. “But he’s trying to make too many plays. He’s trying to fit it into every place and he’s getting picked off (with 18 interceptions to 12 TDs). He does what rookies do. He throws it up for grabs at times instead of tucking and running. You’ll see him with his back foot moving when he gets pressure. He’s learning. One thing is, you can’t let him sit back there.”


WR Calvin Johnson vs. Bengals CBs L. Hall and J. Joseph

This is why the Bengals can’t let Stafford sit back there. Johnson is an absolute monster at 6-5, 240 pounds who can jump and run.

“If he had a veteran quarterback who could throw it,” Bird says, ”his name would be a verb, like he just Randy Mossed you. He’ll be the best receiver on the field and that rarely happens when Chad is on the field.”

And this marquee matchup is why it is a great thing the game is not blacked out. The Bird says Joseph and Hall (Hall and Joseph?) make up the best corner tandem in the NFL.

“They don’t give up big plays. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. They don’t get beat deep,” Big Bird says.

In only three games this year has the opposing go-to guy been his team’s leading receiver against the Bengals. Can they keep it at three?

“Johnson is very good,” The Eye says. “He’s smoother and bigger than Chris Henry.”


RB Kevin Smith vs. Bengals SAM R. Maualuga

The Lions are just 25th running the ball  and it is a bit of a mystery because Smith had such a good rookie year last year, but The Eye says he doesn’t seem to be nearly as explosive and he wonders if it is because the Lions have had a spate of injuries at guard. Smith has one run longer than 20 yards and already the buzz in Detroit is the Lions may have to use that first-round pick on a back if it’s not a pass rusher.

“They’ve been trying to get the ball in the hands of some of their other backs on the perimeter in the screen game,” The Eye says.

That gave the Bengals fits in their loss to the Texans when they missed a bunch of tackles in space. Coming off two games in which they’ve only had one sack, The Sage sees Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer dialing up the blitz early and often on the kid QB, and he sees them being very aggressive tackling.

And Zimmer is probably still steamed he didn’t blitz Bruce Gradkowski on fourth-and-10 in Oakland two weeks ago. Stafford may pay that price.


Gs Manny Ramirez and Dylan Gandy vs. Bengals DTs F. Rucker, T. Johnson, J. Fanene

The Lions are really struggling here. Ramirez got benched on Thanksgiving and Gandy, the backup center, is making his first start at guard as a Lion with the two guys in front of him down.

“Tank doesn’t have the great numbers, but he’s been doing pretty well causing disruption,” Bird says. “They need big games from these guys to get some pressure on Stafford and they ought to be able to take advantage of the injuries.”

Tackle Domata Peko talked earlier in the week how Zimmer wanted the Bengals D-linemen to go back to basics on the pass rush with their hands. Peko is out with a knee injury, but Bird says they should be able to survive that against the dinged Lions and they need these inside nickel rushers to show up on third down.



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