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Key Matchups: Breaking Down Lions vs Bengals in Detroit

Cincinnati is hoping to improve to 4-2 for the first time since 2018.

The Bengals are looking to rebound from a narrow overtime loss to the Packers in Week 5 on Sunday in the Motor City.

Cincinnati is an understandable favorite against a winless Lions team. 

Detroit has taken a beating with 14 players currently on injured reserve, including a number of key starters.

The Lions became the first team in NFL history to lose twice in a season on 50+ yard field goals at the end of regulation after Vikings’ kicker Greg Joseph drilled a 54-yard game-winner last week. Justin Tucker kicked a 66-yard field goal in the final seconds of Week 3 to give Baltimore the win.

Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase could be in for another big day as the duo continues to prove that the Bengals made the right decision with the fifth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Let’s take a look at the Week 6 matchups between the two teams.

Joe Burrow vs. Lions Defense

Cincinnati took precaution with Burrow this week after he was taken to the hospital to be examined for a throat contusion following last week’s game.

The quarterback did not speak to the media, but he practiced all week and will start at Ford Field

Sunday will be a good opportunity for Burrow to unlock the next level of the Bengals' offense.

Detroit’s secondary is depleted. Jeff Okudah and Ifeatu Melifonwu have been on injured reserve since the beginning of the season. Corey Ballentine joined Okudah and Melifonwu on injured reserve this week. Amani Oruwarlye has been dealing with a hip injury, but is expected to play.

Opposing offenses have attacked the Lions brittled unit. They have allowed a league-worst average depth of target per pass (12.0) and fourth-most air yards (840). 

Burrow’s deep ball is much improved, but his accuracy has been even better.

He's completing 71.1% of his passes and 82.4% of Burrow’s throws have been on target.

After losing Okudah and Melifonwu the first two weeks of the season, Detroit has held opposing quarterbacks in check, allowing an 87.0 quarterback rating against the Ravens, Bears, and Vikings. The league average has been 99.7 in that timeframe. 

Advantage: Bengals

Bengals Offensive Line vs. Lions Defense

The Bengals received good news Friday when Jackson Carman was activated from the NFL’s COVID-19/Reserve List. 

If Carman would not have been able to go Sunday, Cincinnati would have been down to Fred Johnson or Trey Hill filling in with D’Ante Smith and Xavier Su’a-Filo on injured reserve

Jonah Williams continues to post his best numbers of his career. The tackle has been a safe haven for Burrow’s blind side. Williams is tied for a league-best of four pressures allowed among tackles this season.

Detroit is 23rd in the league in pressure percentage. A majority of their pressure has been created by Charles Harris and Trey Flowers on the edge. Harris has four sacks, six quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, and 12 total tackles.

Flowers has added 14 total tackles (11 solo, 3 assisted), 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits, and one tackle for loss. However, Flowers is listed as questionable (knee) for Sunday's game. 

Advantage: Bengals

Bengals Skill Players vs. Lions Defense

Chase is on track for 78 receptions, 1,550 yards, and 17 touchdowns.

Those numbers would not only shatter the Bengals rookie record in yards (1,057) and receptions (67), but that would also break Chad Johnson’s franchise record of 1,440 receiving yards in a season.

The rookie has taken advantage of single coverage. Chase leads the league with 405 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 1-on-1 situations. 

Detroit is allowing a league-worst 16.2 yards per reception. Chase (19.8), Tyler Boyd (10.5), and Tee Higgins (10.0) are all averaging double digits in yards per reception this season.

Joe Mixon is questionable heading into the contest. He's been dealing with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 4 and was limited last week against the Packers. 

Establishing a run game could be the difference for Cincinnati. The Lions are giving up 130.2 yards on the ground per game and 4.4 yards per carry. They've also given up six touchdowns to opposing running backs this season.

Advantage: Bengals

Jared Goff vs. Bengals Defense

The transition from Los Angeles to Detroit hasn’t been smooth for Goff. He is 0-12 as a starter under head coaches not named Sean McVay.

Goff has completed 66.8% of his passes for 1,303 yards and 7 touchdowns. Nearly 19% (18.6) of his throws have been considered poor. 

Turnovers have plagued the quarterback. Goff has thrown three interceptions and coughed up six fumbles (lost four). Week 3 against the Ravens has been the only game of the season Goff didn’t commit a turnover.

The long ball continues to be another issue. Goff is averaging 6.6 yards per attempt with just five passes for 20 or more yards. Nearly 17% of his passes are thrown behind the line of scrimmage per Next Gen Stats.

Regardless, Goff has the highest passer rating (91.0) of any quarterback who started a season 0-5 in the last 35 years. 

The Bengals' defense is 7th in points per game, 11th in yards allowed, 7th in sacks per game, and they've forced a turnover in four of their five games. 

They are holding their opponents to 6.9 yards per pass attempt and only allowed 6 touchdowns through the air.

Trae Waynes was placed on injured reserve (hamstring) this week. Eli Apple will be asked to step up again. Apple has been a sore in the secondary. The ball has been thrown in Apple’s direction 32 times for 21 catches, 196 yards, and one touchdown.

Advantage: Bengals

Lions Offensive Line vs. Bengals Defense

Star center Frank Ragnow underwent toe surgery this week. Tyrell Crosby has been on injured reserve as well.

Taylor Decker returned to practice Wednesday after spending time on injured reserve. Detroit has not elevated him to the active roster yet.

The Lions’ pass blocking falls towards the bottom of the league

Goff has been sacked 14 times, taken 22 hits, and pressured on over a quarter of his dropbacks.

Cincinnati had 17 sacks last season. Through five games, they have 13. The investments and health in the defensive trenches are paying off for Cincinnati.

D.J. Reader is Pro Football Focus’ sixth-highest interior lineman and holds the fourth-highest run defense grade.

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Ragnow’s absence will allow Reader to bully Detroit’s line. His ability to clog the running lanes and push the pocket backwards has been huge for the Bengals' defense this season. 

Edge rusher Trey Hendrickson has also made his presence felt this year. He should see Penei Sewell early and often on Sunday. The Bengals opted to take Chase over Sewell with the fifth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

Advantage: Bengals

Lions Skill Players vs. Bengals Defense

D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams share time out of the back field. Both have been dealing with lingering injuries that have kept them limited in practice in recent weeks, but hasn’t kept them from missing game time.

Between the two, Goff has targeted the running backs 51 times for 44 receptions for 353 yards, and one touchdown. Swift’s 29 receptions leads the team.

The run game has lacked its spark. They only have two rushes of 20 or more yards and one of those came from Goff.

T.J. Hockenson is the best player on the Lions’ offense. The tight end has 24 catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns. However, Hockenson only has 13 targets and eight catches combined in Weeks 3 to 5.

Hockenson is questionable (knee) after being limited in practice this week.

Jessie Bates’ reaction time is unparalleled. In four games, Bates has 32 total tackles (24 solo, 8 assisted). He has the ability to read the play from the top of the defense to hold a run from reaching the next level or keep an explosive pass in front of him. 

Chidobe Awuzie has stepped up against opposing top wide receivers with Waynes dealing with lingering injuries. Awuzie held Davante Adams to six receptions (10 targets) for 88 yards, 29 yards after the catch, zero touchdowns, and one interception. Adams had 11 receptions, 206 yards, and a touchdown against Cincinnati. 

Awuzie has allowed just 60% of the passes targeted towards him to be completed and one touchdown in four games.

Advantage: Bengals

Evan McPherson vs. Austin Seibert

McPherson is facing adversity early in his career. The kicker has missed three of his last four field goal attempts. Despite the early miscues, panic remains tucked away.

Mason Crosby assured the young kicker his future was bright in a postgame exchange after the crazy ending between the Packers and Bengals. 

Austin Seibert was three-for-three on field goal attempts in his return last week after spending two weeks on the COVID-19/Reserve list.

Seibert will be looking to find revenge against Cincinnati, who ultimately chose McPherson over him after a preseason battle between the pair.

Advantage: Bengals

The Bengals hold the advantage in every matchup. Cincinnati needs to continue to prove why they are a contender and not fall flat in a trap game.

No win is easy in the NFL, but it would bode well to fine tune any discrepancies in any phase of the game before their AFC North showdown in Baltimore in Week 7.

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