Bengals at Lions: 5 storylines to watch in today’s game

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor can relate to what the Detroit Lions are going through right now during their winless start. It wasn’t that long ago Taylor experienced a start like that as a first-year head coach, suffering through 11 losses before getting his first victory in 2019.

While Taylor and the Bengals (3-2) can empathize with the Lions (0-5), they won’t be taking any pity on them today when the teams meet at Ford Field.

The Bengals see Detroit as a team still battling in games, and it’s clear the Lions are buying into first-year coach Dan Campbell’s messaging. Campbell, who Taylor coached with for four seasons in Miami, was brought to tears after his team’s tough loss last week against Minnesota because he felt so badly for his players.

“I can understand,” Taylor said of Campbell’s reaction. “There’s so much work that’s put in, and when you just see the guys that are working for you and doing the things that you are asking them to do and you’re just coming up that short, you hurt for those guys. Very relatable experience. It’s why those guys will play hard for him, because he means it. I’ve been in meetings where he has spoken to teams and been in locker rooms he’s given speeches in and I’d follow that guy in a heartbeat. I have, and the guys in that locker room will as well.”

Here are five storylines to watch going into the game:

1. Don’t let down

Much has been said about how motivated the Lions are after scoring 10 points in the final two and a half minutes to take a lead against the Vikings with 37 seconds left only to lose 19-17 on a 54-yard field goal as time expired. However, the Bengals should be equally frustrated after missing opportunities to beat the Packers last week, and no one wants to be the team to lose to a winless opponent.

The Lions have lost three games by eight points or less.

“… We’re going against the Lions team who -- they don’t play like their record,” Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “They really don’t. The games that they’ve been in have been relatively close and you know certain times late in the game they’ve maybe shot themselves in the foot a little bit, but we know that they’re gonna come. They’re a physical team. They get after it, but we know what we did and what we left on the field on Sunday and we’re using that as motivation to go into Detroit and come away with a victory. They’re frustrated and angry. We’re motivated right now to get this win on the road, and we know that we have a few games here that are on the road, and we’re gonna have to put a little run together.”

The Bengals and Lions only play every four years, but Cincinnati leads the series 9-3 and its .750 winning percentage against Detroit is the team’s best against any NFL foe. The Bengals have won nine of the last 10, including six straight, and haven’t lost in Detroit since 1970.

2. Joe Burrow’s throat

Burrow was on “voice rest” this week per doctor’s orders after suffering a throat contusion that caused him to be taken to the hospital as a precaution after the Week 5 loss to Green Bay. He did not do any interviews with media this week as a result, but players said he seemed normal in the huddle and it’s not expected to impact his play today.

The second-year quarterback wasn’t listed on the injury report Friday.

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said the voice rest came at a time when the team was going to practice silent cadences and nonverbal communication anyway because of the road-game environment.

“Everything’s been good so far,” Callahan said. “We’ve been in the silent cadence mode for this week, because we’re on the road and particularly in an indoor stadium that, having been there before, spent a lot of games there, it does get loud at times in that stadium, so it’s all silent count anyway. Communication has been fine in the huddle, everything’s tracking like we should have no problems on Sunday.”

The Bengals need Burrow to be back on top of his game. After his three first-half sacks and a hit that knocked him down for a long moment in the second quarter, Burrow wasn’t as consistent as he could have been. He threw two interceptions and already has more interceptions (six) than he did in twice as many games last year when he was picked off five times in 10 games.

3. Missing pieces

The Bengals have questions about their running game and who their right guard will be with injuries and absences playing a factor in both areas.

Running back Joe Mixon was still limited in practice this week after coming back from his ankle injury to play against the Packers, and Samaje Perine went on the COVID list Monday and hadn’t been cleared by Friday. Taylor had said this week the team would still be managing Mixon’s practice time to allow him more time off his ankle but that he should have a full work load Sunday. Chris Evans will be the No. 2 back and Trayveon Williams was expected to be bumped up from the practice squad for the game.

At right guard, Jackson Carman just got back from the COVID list Friday and D’Ante Smith going is on injured reserve, needing surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Xavier Su’a-Filo (knee) has been on IR as well, so Taylor said there will be a decision between Carman and rookie sixth-round pick Trey Hill.

4. Opportunity for the defense

The Lions’ offense could be impacted by injuries this week as well, as three main weapons are listed as questionable on the last injury report ahead of the game. Tight end T.J. Hockenson (knee) and running backs D’Andre Swift (groin) and Jamaal Williams (hip/illness) were all limited in practice Friday. Hockenson didn’t practice Wednesday, Williams didn’t practice Thursday and Swift has been limited in practices since Week 2 but still playing.

Williams leads the Lions with 244 yards rushing, Swift is the team’s leading receiver with 252 yards to go, along with 190 yards rushing, and Hockenson is right behind him with 237 yards receiving. The Bengals were still preparing like Detroit would have all of its players, especially Hockenson as tight ends have given them problems in the past, but they will need to take advantage if players aren’t at full strength or the Lions have to rely on backups.

Cincinnati also sees opportunities to impact Detroit quarterback Jared Goff, who Taylor coached for two years with the L.A. Rams before taking the Bengals job. Goff is in his first season in Detroit and has struggled at times, taking 14 sacks. Cincinnati’s defense has 13 sacks and has been applying much more pressure to quarterbacks this year.

“I think what Goff is special at is with the “JET” motions and stuff like that, play-actions, he knows where the ball needs to be,” safety Jessie Bates said. “I think that’s what makes Goff really special. But he does hold onto the ball a lot and I think our D-line will be able to get after him a little bit.”

5. Draft pick decisions play out

The pre-draft debate between wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and offensive tackle Penei Sewell will be back in focus Sunday.

The Bengals have been pleased with how their first-round draft pick has performed through five games, as Chase has proven the league’s best deep threat with more 40-yard receptions than anyone else and a touchdown in every game. On the other side of the field, Sewell will be on display as the player the Bengals passed up despite thoughts they would take him to improve Burrow’s protection.

The Lions took Sewell two picks later at No. 7 overall, and Sewell was thrust into the starting left tackle spot when Taylor Decker underwent surgery Sept. 10 on his finger. Decker returned to practice this week and there is a spot open on the roster for him with kick returner Corey Ballentine going on injured reserve Friday, but it’s unclear if Decker is ready for his debut. If he does play, Sewell is expected to move to right tackle.

Sewell has been through some ups and downs as a rookie so far, allowing four sacks. Meanwhile, the Bengals are hoping Chase, who already has been named a Rookie of the Week twice, can continue on the pace he’s at with 456 yards receiving.


Bengals at Lions, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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