The Detroit Lions (8-6) put their two-game winning streak on the line when they play the Cincinnati Bengals (5-9) on the road Sunday. Detroit has no margin for error as they hope to snag one of two NFC wild-card playoff seeds. They still need some help to get in, however, all they can control is what’s in front of them, and right now it’s the Bengals.
It may seem like an easy win, but the Bengals are coming off of two dreadful performances and will certainly be looking to prove that they are a better team than the one that got blown out by the Bears and Vikings. For the Lions to get their ninth victory and stay alive in the playoff hunt, here are four things they must do.
1. Stop the run
The Lions were pretty stout against the run earlier in the season but have hit some struggles over the past month. Last week, they did a great job with Jordan Howard and it helped keep the Bears out of reach for most of the game. The Lions haven’t done a good job of putting teams away this season. With a good defensive performance against the run, Detroit can control the game the way they did in Week 15.
2. Fast Start
Something that’s hurt the Lions this season has been an inability to stop teams in the first half. They’ve consistently dug themselves into early holes and haven’t come back as efficiently as they did last season. If the Browns can get up double-digits against the Lions, the Bengals — who are much more talented — are certainly capable of doing the same. Coach Caldwell needs to get this team ready to play from the opening kickoff. The offense can help by getting on the board early.
3. Get pressure on Andy Dalton
As much criticism as Andy Dalton gets, he’s still thrown for 21 touchdown passes to just 11 interceptions. He is completing just over 60% of his passes but is always capable of getting hot. Detroit hasn’t done a great job of getting after opposing quarterbacks this season. Allowing 251.2 yards per game through the air (28th in the league) shows just how much trouble the Lions have had with even average quarterbacks this season. They need to make Dalton feel their presence or he could have a big day.
4. Utilize Theo Riddick
Riddick got the start last week and rushed eight times for 49 yards. The Lions don’t typically stick to the run or with one running back most of the time, but Riddick has an elite ability to catch balls out of the backfield. The Bengals have the worst-rated run defense yet are ranked eighth against the pass. As much as Matthew Stafford has carried this team, they may need to stick with Riddick to stay ahead of the Bengals.