Kent Lee Platte, DLD Writer
Most of the Lions matched up favorably against their first AFC North foe of the season, despite the Browns’ defense coming on strong this season. The Lions are taking on the AFC North again, only it’s Bengals flavored this time. There’s a lot of chemistry between these two teams. The Head Coaches are good friends, you may have seen some articles outlining how the two affected each others’ careers. Also closer than most opponents, AJ Green (Who was called “The Next Calvin Johnson” during his draft) spends time in the offseason training with the best receiver in the league, Calvin Johnson. It’s no sunshine and rainbows on the football field, and these friendships should be put on the back burner come game time. The Bengals, much like the Browns, bring a strong defense, but it’s their offense that is a bit more potent and presents the bigger threat. Now, I don’t make predictions, that’s not my bag. So why is it I have a feeling this is going to turn into a stomping one way or the other? Well, there are some pretty severe over-matches in this game on both sides of the ball, and I have enough confidence in the Lions Coaching Staff after last week to believe they might actually take advantage of some of them. To the same, there are some glaring problems with the Lions that I am not sure they will mask well enough to keep the Bengals from breaking the game open.
Reggie Bush vs. Vontaze Burfict
Burfict received a lot of press last season during the draft process when he tanked hard and fast from a 1st round fringe prospect to Undrafted status. The latter is where he would ultimately fall, but he would grab headlines again when he would come on the year strong and end with 127 tackles. This is easily the biggest mismatch in this game, as much of Burfict’s numbers come from teams simply targeting him in both the rushing and passing game. He’s a target, and a player like Bush (and Joique Bell if he’s healthy enough) have the kind of moves to keep Burfict in his dust. I’ve seen many articles touting Burfict as a strength of the Bengals defense, and a player to monitor (as in worry about). I see it a little different. Burfict is an opportunist, more like a janitor of that defense cleaning up for other people’s work. If the Lions can get enough push to get their RBs to the second level, I expect to see this LB grabbing air.
The Slot and Inline vs. The Entire Bengals Interior
Hey, look at that. Two matches in and I’ve already mentioned Burfict twice. Burfict is a nightmare (for the Bengals) in coverage. He lacks the speed and instincts to be much of a factor in pass defense. Normally, this can be masked if there is another OLB that can cover (The Lions have that in Levy). So who’s on the other side? Why, former 2nd round pick and Lions fans’ hindsight favorite Rey Maualuga. Is Maualuga good enough in coverage to make up for Burfict’s shortcomings? Why no, dear reader, he is not. In fact, it is easily his weakest area. Mike Zimmer, the Bengals Defensive Coordinator, isn’t stupid enough to clear his Safeties to help cover the middle with Calvin Johnson looming, so I expect them to simply allow the middle and hope for the best. This is a perfect storm for players like Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria, Ryan Broyles, Kevin Ogletree, and underneath routes to the RBs. I could see 90% of the Lions passing yards coming from between the hash marks.
Ziggy Ansah vs. Andrew Whitworth
The Lions first round pick has already faced off against Joe Thomas and Matt Kalil. This is the matchup I’ve been waiting all year for, however, as I feel Whitworth is one of the most underrated Offensive Tackles in the NFL today. Sure, Bengals fans know he’s good, but he’s not one of the bigger names like I feel he should be. Ansah has a limited repertoire of moves and counter-moves as a pass rusher, while Whitworth is technically sound. Getting by as an athlete playing a lot of college football at a pro level, this is big boy time and Ansah will need to step up his game considerably to have any hope of beating Whitworth today.
Marvin Jones vs. Bill Bentley
If you take the penalties out of his game, Bill Bentley has been the Lions best Cornerback this season. Will I get some flak for saying that, probably, but with Houston’s struggles, Mathis’ considerable inconsistency and health, and Slay taking longer to develop than expected, it falls on Bentley in the slot to make the best impression and I feel he’s more than delivered. The Bengals are going to be using Phenom AJ Green on one side and a rising Sanu on the other, leaving the under the radar Jones in the slot. Jones is sitting at a slim 11 receptions this season, but a scary 183 yards and 2 TDs. Keeping the ball out of his hands will be paramount, and this is a good test since I feel Bentley matches up well to a player like Marvin Jones. If our 2012 3rd round pick can keep it clean on the penalty sheet, this is a matchup that can swing the game one way or the other, and is one to watch.
Bengals Tight Ends vs. Stephen Tulloch
The Lions were able to effectively neutralize Jordan Cameron against the Browns with some creative usage of DeAndre Levy. The Bengals? They have two talented pass catchers in the middle. It wasn’t so long ago that Tulloch was actually one of the better cover backers in the league, but it seems so far away right now. The Lions should be able to take one of these guys out the same way they did Cameron, but that leaves the other one. It’s possible they use the Safeties to assist here, but I have a hard time seeing that with AJ Green and Marvin Jones on the field (Safeties should be back a lot). That leaves Tulloch, who has always battled the ‘undersized’ stigma. He might just be better off playing hardnosed and taking some hits, but is it really better to accept a penalty or two instead of swinging coverage? Both Eifert and Gresham can catch and run, so it’s possible the Bengals take the same tact as the Lions and just throw a barrage over the middle.
Ndamukong Suh vs. Merton Hanks
It isn’t often an NFL staffer comes out and admits to specifically targeting one player, so we’re in a unique position with this one. Looking at highlights from this past week’s games, I saw no less than TWO DOZEN similar hits to the one Suh put on Weeden, and none of them were fined. The lack of a fine for Quentin Groves, who made the same hit (and was flagged) in the very same game, put the nail in the coffin of anyone trying to pretend it isn’t intentional from the league. Now, I could sit here and cry about how unfair that is, but that wouldn’t be very productive. Suh is likely to take a fine for any hit he makes this week; the question is just whether he changes his game or finally loses it and snaps someone in half. This is a tricky match up. If Suh becomes noticeably apprehensive against the Bengals, it could change the entire attitude of the Lions defense, who rely on his aggression to fuel the team. If Suh loses it, it could send the team into a tailspin, potentially setting records for penalties (Which would be an achievement for a Lions team, considering their reputation). It’s interesting how Suh’s situation plays out, but I feel no matter which way it goes it ends poorly for Lions fans.