MIKE O'HARA

FRIDAY FOCUS: Mike O'Hara predicts a Ford Field dance party vs. Bengals

Posted Oct 17, 2013

Columnist Mike O'Hara breaks down Sunday's match-up between the Lions and Bengals at Ford Field

Barry SandersPhoto: Detroit Lions Archive

Barry Sanders never stopped surprising fans and opponents with his gyroscopic runs that produced 109 touchdowns – 99 rushing, 10 on pass receptions – in 10 magical seasons with the Lions.

But the show stopped when Barry reached the end zone. He didn't dance to celebrate his scores. He was the model for following the old saying: "Act like you've been there before."

In retirement, Barry still has a surprise or two up his sleeve. One is that he enjoys watching a good end-zone celebration.

Specifically, Barry enjoys how Lions rookie tight end Joseph Fauria's dances in the end zone. Fauria has five TD catches, three of them in last week's 31-17 victory at Cleveland. Fauria's celebration dances have put him in the national spotlight.

As an undrafted free agent, Fauria has given the Lions something every team hopes for – a major contribution from an unexpected source.

At 6-7 and with strong, sticky hands, Fauria has given Matthew Stafford a target in scoring territory. Fauria's five TD catches have come on just seven catches overall.

Fauria's specialty can be put to good use with the Lions at a pivotal part of the season. They play two straight home games -- Sunday against the Bengals, and the following week against the Cowboys.

The Lions are tied with Chicago for first in the NFC North with a 4-2 record. Playing at Ford Field is an opportunity to strengthen their position.

Barry would like Fauria to keep the show going – with his touchdown catches and his dances.

"You love seeing that," he said at a Lions-sponsored event earlier this week. "It's fun. He's having a good time.

"He's excited. He should be excited, the road he traveled to get to the NFL, and then to see how he was featured in the game (at Cleveland).

"I'm sure he's bursting over with excitement. He probably has a whole allotment of dances he can bring out. I think some of them are fun. It's a fun, exciting game, especially when you make plays like that."

Things are coming together for the Lions at a good time. They played their best ball of the young season in the second half last week, outscoring the Browns, 24-0, to erase a 10-point halftime deficit.

The defense has played better than the overall stats would indicate. It's been especially strong on third down and has 13 takeaways to make the Lions plus five in turnover ratio.

The offense should get a boost with Calvin Johnson closer to full strength. He missed all of the loss at Green Bay two weeks ago and played about half the snaps against Cleveland.

Fauria has given the offense a boost with his production, and his teammates have warmed to his upbeat personality.

Fauria appreciates what Sanders said about him.

"I remember watching Barry play when I was a kid," he said. "It was awesome. I'm not doing anything that's not classy. I'm having fun. I love the sport I play. I'm sure Barry and I have different personalities, and I'm going to show off my personality. He's one of the all-time greats – the all-time great in Detroit history.

"I'm going to keep doing it my way. I going to appreciate that he actually likes how I do it. It makes me happy, actually."

Prediction:

Winning will make the Lions and their fans happy, and it won't be easy Sunday. The Bengals are as strong overall as any team the Lions have faced.

But the Lions have shown some strength, too. They should be ready to play a 60-minute game.

My prediction for Sunday – a dance party at Ford Field.

Lions 27, Bengals 20.

Bengals focus:

Their front four on defense is strong, led by tackle Geno Atkins. He made the Pro Bowl the last two years and was first-team All-Pro last year.

Cincy's starting linebacker trio of James Harrison, Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict are strong run defenders. If they have a weakness, it's a lack of pure speed that Reggie Bush could exploit as a receiver.

The secondary has held opposing quarterbacks to a 58.4 percent completion rate and a passer rating of 80.1.

"They have physical linebackers – downhill players – and all three of their linebackers love to play downhill," Stafford said. "Their front four is extremely physical. In the back end, they have some young, talented guys and some guys that have been around and have made plays in this league for a long time."

History:

The Bengals have a 7-3 series lead and a four-game winning streak.

Home-field grief:

The Lions have never beaten the Bengals in the regular season at either the Pontiac Silverdome, where they played from 1975-2001, or at Ford Field since 2002. The Lions' only home win was 38-3 at Tiger Stadium in 1970.

Stats pack:

Bengals rankings: Offense -- 16 rushing, 16 passing, 12 total; Defense -- 21 rushing, 6 passing, 9 total.

Lions rankings: Offense -- 21 rushing, 9 passing, 6 total; Defense -- 29 rush, 21 pass, 26 total.

Key Bengals' stats:

They rank in the top 10 in seven categories, including eighth in both average first downs per game (18.5) and third-down conversion percentage per game (31-86, 36.0).

Key Lions stats:

They rank second on offense in sacks allowed per play (9 total, 5 in one game vs. Packers) and second on defense in third-down conversion percentage (22-77, 28.6 percent).