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NFL Preview - Cincinnati (4-2) at Detroit (4-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions both have elite wide receivers that demand attention and can alter the course of a game at any given moment.
But the two clubs also saw their supporting cast step up last weekend and will need all hands on deck this Sunday at Ford Field, where the Lions look to knock off the Bengals in Detroit for the first time in over 43 years.
The Lions and Bengals are both coming off Week 6 victories that have the clubs at the top of their respective divisions. Cincinnati has sole possession of the top spot in the AFC North with a 4-2 record for the first time since the end of the 2009 campaign, while Detroit has posted the same record to sit in a tie with Chicago atop the NFC North.
Detroit overcame a slow start last Sunday in Cleveland, where it outscored the Browns 24-0 in the second half to roll to a 31-17 victory. Matthew Stafford threw four touchdown passes, three of them to undrafted rookie tight end Joseph Fauria.
Stafford threw for 248 yards on 25-of-43 passing while also getting picked off once. Wide receiver Kris Durham led the Lions with eight catches for 83 yards, while Reggie Bush ran for 78 yards on 17 attempts and added another five receptions for 57 yards and a score.
Calvin Johnson, who sat out the previous weekend's 22-9 loss to Green Bay with a knee injury, was held to three catches on 25 yards and targeted eight times while playing fewer snaps than usual.
Fauria stepped up as all three of his catches went for scores and totaled 34 yards. He scored twice in the fourth quarter.
"There were some things we just didn't do well today in that first half," said Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz, whose club trailed 17-7 at the half. "The players knew it and knew that we just needed to make a stop and get a score to start the first half and we were right back into it."
Safety Louis Delmas credited linebacker Stephen Tulloch with rallying the team at halftime.
"I can definitely say that it was very emotional and very high. We came out with a chip on our shoulders in the second half and we knew that we didn't want to let our leader down and that was Stephen Tulloch," he said.
After playing four of their first six on the road, the Lions will host the Bengals and Dallas Cowboys before going on the bye. Detroit has won its previous two home games this season, 34-24 over Minnesota in Week 1 and a 40-32 decision against Chicago in Week 4.
"It is great to be at home. We have two in a row at home and we are going to have to play our best to come out with two wins. We have two good football teams coming in starting with the Bengals next week," said Schwartz.
History will be against the Lions, who are 3-7 all-time versus the Bengals and have lost each of the previous four meetings.
Detroit hasn't beaten the Bengals since Nov. 22, 1992 in Cincinnati and not at home since the first ever meeting between the clubs on Sept. 27, 1970.
The Bengals are 4-1 all-time in Detroit and won the most recent encounter between the clubs 23-13 at home on Dec. 6, 2009.
Cincinnati has strung together back-to-back wins since a 17-6 loss in Cleveland, besting the New England Patriots ahead of last weekend's 27-24 victory in Buffalo.
The Bengals allowed the Bills to score a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to force overtime, but Mike Nugent won it for the road team with a 43-yard field goal with 6:44 left in the bonus frame.
Nugent did miss a field goal late in the third quarter that would have given his club a 17-point lead and it proved costly when Buffalo quarterback Thad Lewis hit on touchdown passes of 22 and 40 yards. The first score came on a 4th-and-8 play.
"Obviously, we've got an opportunity to put the game out of reach and we kind of failed to capitalize on that," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "And then defensively, we gave up the big plays there; two big plays. We've got a fourth chance to stop them on fourth down and we don't."
Andy Dalton threw for 337 yards with three touchdown passes, including a first-quarter, 18-yard pass to No. 1 wideout A.J. Green.
Rookie running back Giovani Bernard caught a 20-yard scoring throw and totaled six catches for 72 yards, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a season-high 86 yards on 18 carries.
The victory was Cincinnati's first in three road games this season and the meeting with the Bills marked a stretch of four of five as the visiting club for the Bengals.
"For us we've got to take some of these games on the road," noted Dalton. "It's big for us to come in -- we have to bring our own energy to a place rooting against us and it is tough to play on the road."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
With Johnson coming off an injury and questionable for last week's game before ultimately playing, the Lions were going to need help in the passing game and it came from the 6-foot-7 Fauria.
Fauria leads the Lions with five touchdown receptions despite making just seven catches all season. His three scoring grabs this past Sunday were a franchise single-game record by a tight end and he is already the seventh tight end in club history to have at least five TD catches in a season.
The 23-year-old UCLA product saw an expanded role this past weekend because Tony Scheffler was out with a concussion, but he certainly earned the trust of Stafford going forward.
"Being a rookie, being young, you got to work your way up and earn that trust," Fauria said. "I just talked to the quarterbacks this past week and they are finally getting use to how I run routes because you know I am a little longer guy, not choppy, I stride out a little bit. Earning that trust with Matthew is tremendous and that's the reason why it happened today."
Both the Lions and Bengals have playmaking receivers in Johnson and Green, offseason workout partners, but also count on a player in the backfield to help the passing game. Detroit got that when it signed Bush this past offseason, while the Bengals made Bernard a second-round pick this past draft out of North Carolina.
Bush leads Detroit with 376 yards rushing on 78 attempts, a 4.8 average per carry, and is second on the club with 261 receiving yards. He has found the end zone a total of three times.
Bernard, meanwhile, has four total touchdowns and leads all rookies with 438 yards from scrimmage. Like Bush, he has shown an ability to turn a short catch into a big gain.
Dalton certainly runs a more safer offense than Stafford as his 337 yards passing marked his first 300-yard game since Oct. 14 of last season.
Getting Green on track helped. The playmaker had been limited to just one touchdown catch the four previous games and went over 100 yards receiving for the first time since his 162-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 1.
Seven other Bengal players also had a catch and Cincinnati's 318 net passing yards were its most since its sixth game of last season. Wideout Marvin Jones had three catches for 71 yards, including a 10-yard score.
"We've got people who can respond when opportunities are created with extra attention being paid to A.J. It really doesn't matter who we do it with, and A.J. understands that as well as anyone," said Lewis. "The goal is to win the game and it's a team game."
Stafford, meanwhile, set a franchise record with his 13th game of three-or- more touchdown passes and Sunday marked the seventh time in his career he had thrown at least four TD passes in a game.
Dalton's short game will need to keep an eye on Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy, who had a pair of interceptions against the Browns. He is the first Detroit linebacker to have two picks in a game since Mike Johnson on Dec. 10, 1995 and Levy's four interceptions this year are a career high.
"He just studies the game," Tulloch said of what makes Levy successful. "He studies the game very well. He is good in pass coverage and he makes plays. If you see him on a day-to-day basis, he is in the film room, he is putting in that work and I am glad that he is succeeding the way he is because he puts in that work."
Sparked by Levy, the Lions are tied for first in the NFL with 10 interceptions.
Cincinnati's defense was boosted in Buffalo by the return of cornerback Leon Hall (hamstring) and defensive end Michael Johnson (concussion). Hall hurt his hamstring in Week 3, while Johnson missed one game.
The Bengals are tied for seventh in the NFL with 18 sacks, four each from Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Dunlap had one of the club's five sacks versus the Bills.
However, the Lions are tied for second in the NFL with just nine sacks allowed.
The spotlight will be on Johnson and Green and the two should have some extra motivation given their offseason relationship. Johnson is still working his way back from injury and was a limited practice participant on Wednesday.
Bush and Bernard can both break off big plays, but will be going against defenses that will have inside information on stopping those kinds of plays. That will put the game on the arms of Stafford and Dalton, with the former better equipped to win a downfield game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 27, Bengals 20
10/17 15:35:57 ET