The Detroit Lions are still looking for that elusive first victory of the season as they host the Cincinnati Bengals today at Ford Field.
Here are five things I'll be looking out for today in this interconference matchup:
1. TAKE CARE OF THE BALL
In losses to Chicago and Minnesota the last two weeks, the Lions have turned the ball over in plus territory four times. If you add the two failed fourth-and-goal situations in Chicago, that's six opportunities to come away with points deep in opponent territory that Detroit got nothing from. Those are killers in close games.
The Lions have seven giveaways on the season and six takeaways for a minus-one differential. Cincinnati has some big-time weapons on offense and they can score points quick. The Lions can't give away scoring opportunities with turnovers again today.
2. LIMIT CHASE
Cincinnati rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase is off to a stellar start to his NFL career.
He's got 23 catches for 456 yards and five touchdowns through Cincinnati's first five contests. He leads all rookies with five receiving touchdowns and is just the third rookie since 1990 with five-plus receiving touchdowns in a team's first five games of the season. Chase leads the NFL in receptions of 40 or more yards (4), and is tied for seventh in receptions of at least 20 yards (7).
The Lions enter today's contest having allowed a 100-yard receiver in every game this season. Detroit's defense has given up a 40-plus-yard pass in four of its five games this season, and has allowed 22 pass completions of 20-plus yards, which is tied for the fifth most in the NFL.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow will take shots, and when he does, Chase is usually the receiver. The Lions will have to have a good plan for Chase today because he can wreck a game if allowed to.
3. START STRONG
Lions running backs coach and assistant head coach Duce Staley talked this week about wanting more from Detroit's run game. The Lions have done well running the ball through five games. They're averaging better than 100 yards on the ground per contest and averaging 4.3 yards per carry, but Staley made a good point that they haven't been able to use their run game as a weapon in the second half of games because of circumstance.
Detroit's trailed by double digits in the second half of every game this year. When that happens, it's hurry-up mode for the offense and the passing game becomes featured with the ground game an afterthought. Detroit's been outscored in the first half this season 82-33. Head coach Dan Campbell and co. will be looking for a better start today against the Bengals. Start fast, play with a lead and use the run game in the second half as a weapon. That's a good recipe for success today at Ford Field.
4. WHO STEPS UP
Running back D’Andre Swift leads the Lions in receptions (29) through five games. While that's not entirely surprising, given Swift's ability to make plays in the passing game, the Lions need another weapon or two to emerge.
Rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has provided a spark the last two games with 13 catches for 135 yards, but with no Tyrell Williams (concussion) or Quintez Cephus (collar bone) today, who else will step up?
Campbell said this week getting tight end T.J. Hockenson going again has been a priority. After catching eight passes and a touchdown in each of Detroit's first two contests, Hockenson has just eight combined catches and no touchdowns the last three weeks. He's been battling a knee injury, but he's got to be more productive.
Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp joked this week that teams have the 11th worst made field goal percentage against the Lions this season, but nobody would guess that given the way Detroit lost vs. Baltimore and in Minnesota to game-winning 66 and 54-yard field goals, respectively.
Give Detroit a lot of credit for battling back in both contests, but now it's about finishing. Campbell said young teams like the Lions have to learn how to win close games. After two devastating defeats late, you'd like to think this squad has learned something about what it takes to finish and get themselves on the other side of the scoreboard.
If it's close late today, have the Lions learned from the first five contests, and can they be the ones to find a way to make the winning play?