In order for the Detroit Lions to make the playoffs they’re going to have to do something they haven’t done since 1992: Beat the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have won five straight contests against the Lions despite the fact that Detroit has hosted four of those games.
The Lions will have to travel to Cincinnati this week, but the lowly Bengals are just 5-9 this year. Are they better than their record suggests or is this a game the Lions should win convincingly? Let’s check the charts and check them twice.
Lions pass offense (12th in DVOA) vs. Bengals pass defense (18th)
Matthew Stafford’s dominance after the bye continues. For whatever reason, Detroit’s pass offense remains stagnant in DVOA ranking, but it’s pretty clear from the charts that they have been consistently putting up big numbers, regardless of whether they’re facing a good defense or bad.
Non-Pro Bowler Matthew Stafford and the Lions pass offense ranks eighth in passer rating (98.0), t-sixth in yards per attempt (7.8) and fifth in completion percentage (66.2).
Earlier in the month, I declared the Lions’ pass offense to be top 10. That was premature. This could very well be a top five offense right now.
Detroit may continue to be short-handed on the offensive line again this week. T.J. Lang and Travis Swanson missed the first two practices of the week, but Detroit’s backups played admirably last week.
The Bengals pass defense started out the year phenomenally, holding four of their first five opponents well below their passer rating average. However, things have completely fallen apart as of late. They’ve only held one opponent significantly below their passer rating average since Week 5. They aren’t playing horribly, though. Only four of 14 opponents have finished with a passer rating above 100.
Injuries have been a part of the problem. Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones is on injured reserve, as is linebacker Kevin Minter. Dre Kirkpatrick, George Iloka and Darqueze Dennard have all missed time, and all are currently on the injury report.
Overall, the Bengals rank 14th in passer rating allowed (85.8), t-10th in yards per attempt allowed (6.8) and 13th in completion percentage (61.0). With a currently beat-up secondary, the strength of this defense is their pass rush. Cincy ranks t-seventh with 38 total sacks on the year.
Player to watch: Geno Atkins. Considering the Lions may be missing their starting center and right guard, Atkins could be a huge disrupter in the middle on Sunday. Atkins leads the team and is second among all defensive tackles with 9.0 sacks on the year.
Advantage: Lions +2. Detroit is rolling right now, while the Bengals are heading in the opposite direction. A lot of this matchup will depend on the availability of players like Vontaze Burfict, Kirkpatrick and Iloka. However, even the best of pass defenses haven’t been able to slow the Lions pass offense as of late. Cincy’s best hope is to get to Stafford early and often.
Lions run offense (30th) vs. Bengals run defense (20th)
HEY LOOK! ANOTHER GREEN CELL! WE DID IT!
The Lions didn’t run the ball much last week, but they absolutely did do it efficiently. Had Theo Riddick not been injured in the second half, who knows what would have happened?
Of course, the bigger picture is much more bleak. The Lions have only outgained the defense’s YPC average twice all year. This remains one of the worst (perhaps the worst running game in the league).
They rank t-last with 3.4 yards per carry and their 15.4 first down percentage ranks last in the year.
Much like Cincinnati’s pass offense, their run defense started out promisingly and has since slid to a below average unit. They’ve allowed 100+ rushing yards in eight of their last nine contests, and opponents have outgained their YPC average in five of those games. Interestingly enough, however, every opponent the Bengals have faced this year is averaging over 100 rushing yards per game.
Cincy ranks t-16th in yards per carry (4.2) and are allowing first downs on 22.4 percent of carries (22nd).
Player to watch: Joe Dahl. The Lions’ left guard earned the first start of his career last week, and he appears on track to make his second on Sunday. According to Pro Football Focus, Dahl was excellent in the running game, earning a 88.6 run blocking grade. He’ll have a tougher matchup this week against Atkins, but if he can look even half as efficient this week, the Lions could be onto something there.
Advantage: Bengals +1. The Bengals have yet to face a bottom 10 run offense this year, and that’s part of the reason their raw statistics are below average. Detroit is undoubtedly a bottom 10 unit, and even if the Bengals remain beat up on defense, there’s little hope of a huge performance on the ground.
Bengals pass offense (26th) vs. Lions pass defense (16th)
Andy Dalton hasn’t been great, but he also hasn’t been the biggest problem facing this Bengals team. At one point he had a six-game streak of outgaining the defense’s passer rating allowed average. However, after facing two solid defenses in the past two weeks, Dalton and the Bengals offense has looked downright awful.
Overall, the Bengals rank 19th in passer rating (86.3), t-17th in yards per attempt (6.9) and 25th in completion percentage (59.8). They are a bit vulnerable to the occasional sack, too, as they’ve allowed 36 on the season (13th-most).
They may be even more vulnerable now that both of their starting offensive tackles are likely out. Andre Smith was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week and Cedric Ogbuehi has yet to practice this week.
After a rough November, the Lions pass defense seems to have finally rebounded again. Though they are still ceding a lot of yards, Detroit’s playmaking secondary has woken up and picked off five passes in the past two games.
According to the raw statistics, the Lions rank 15th in passer rating allowed (85.8), but just 25th in completion percentage (64.2) and t-24th in yards per attempt (7.4). Their pass rush remains impotent, totalling just 28 sacks all year (t-22nd).
Player to watch: Darius Slay vs. A.J. Green. The Bengals receiving options begin and end with A.J. Green, so we may see Pro Bowler Darius Slay go back to his shadowing ways on Sunday. Recently, the Lions have gone away from that strategy, but considering the struggles of Nevin Lawson and DJ Hayden, it may be wise to go back to that well.
Advantage: Lions +1. The Bengals have had an efficient pass offense at times this year, but they are trending in the wrong direction. The Lions seem to always give up a lot of yardage but pounce on every mistake the opposing quarterback makes. Dalton is not immune to mistakes. His 11 interceptions ranks t-eighth in the league.
Bengals run offense (21st) vs. Lions run defense (25th)
If there’s a run offense that could challenge the Lions for worst in the league, this may be it. Though the Bengals have been more successful as of late, there are some truly horrible statistics in here. They ran for fewer than 60 yards in five of 14 games this year and under 3.0 yards per carry in six contests.
That being said, they’ve been better as of late, and with the likely return of Joe Mixon this week, they could have a repeat performance. In Mixon’s last two games, he has 30 rushes for 148 yards (4.9 YPC) and one touchdown.
Overall, however, it’s hard to ignore how bad this running game has been all season. They rank t-last in YPC (3.4) and 25th in percentage of rushes that earn first downs (18.8). They also average even fewer rushing yards per game (77.0) than the Lions (77.4).
Don’t look now, but the Lions have actually held three of their past four opponents significantly below their YPC average. Is it really possible that Teryl Austin has fixed their run defense problems? Has the Lions defense actually made... adjustments?
It’s hard to know, but there is still a lot of room for improvement in their raw statistics. Detroit is still allowing 4.2 YPC (t-16th) and giving up first downs on 26.4 percent of carries (31st).
Player to watch: Jarrad Davis. The Lions’ rookie linebacker had a breakout performance last week. His six tackles helped Detroit completely stymie the Bears’ formidable rushing attack. If Davis can build on his performance from last week, the Bengals don’t stand a chance.
Advantage: Lions +1. I never thought I’d give Detroit an advantage here after their back-to-back awful performances against the Browns and Bears, but there is reason to believe the Lions have finally figured things out. I’m still skeptical enough to not give a huge advantage here—especially considering the Bengals’ more recent success and the potential return of Mixon—but if Detroit is truly improved here, it could be huge for this team.
Last week’s prediction:
Whenever you acknowledge a winning streak, it’s bound to end immediately. That’s what happened last week when I pointed out this column had correctly predicted seven in a row.
I could not have been more wrong about the Bears game, as my bold 31-27 Bears predictions was proven to be way wrong.
You all offered much better predictions in the comment section, but no one was closer than Kejeka Smith. They nearly nailed the prediction with their 24-7 pick, only their second comment ever on Pride of Detroit. Beginner’s luck!
Your prize this week, Kejeka, is the hottest new children’s toy, just in time for the Holidays! Meet the TeleSNUBies!
You get the full set of TelesSNUBies, the merriest group of Pro Bowl snubs across the land! There’s Staffy, Matty-Praty, Mal-Mal and Glo.
This week’s prediction:
Detroit comes out with a +3 advantage. The Lions have the advantage in three of four matchups above, but their lead is pretty small in each. At full strength, this matchup could be a lot closer than the records suggest.
However, considering how beat up the Bengals are on the offensive line and in their back seven on defense, it’s hard to see how the Lions drop this game. The road to a Bengals victory, much like all Lions opponents, is to run the ball successfully and get to Matthew Stafford. Cincy could certainly give Stafford a tough time, and who knows what run defense we’ll see from Detroit this week?
Still, this feels like a game in which everything has to go wrong for Detroit in order for the Bengals to come out on top. Lions 26, Bengals 17.