As we detailed earlier this week, the red zone production that Lions tight end Joseph Fauria brings to the table is bonafide threat. Of his seven receptions this year, five have gone for touchdowns; all but one have been scored from within the red zone with two from the one-yard line and another from the five.
What Detroit is doing with Fauria isn't anything special. Using his size as an advantage against smaller defensive backs and speed against slower linebacker, Matthew Stafford is floating the football for Fauria to out-perform the competition.
"He's gotten an opportunity and he's made plays, he's made good, physical plays," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "He's a guy with height and stature, so, he's gone up and made good, physical plays, and he’s able to run down the seam, and if you don't get him covered, he's made plays. You've got to be conscious of things, and you've got to stay sound in what you do defensively."
"What separates Joe," said coach Jim Schwartz via Monday Morning QB, "and has allowed him to make those plays is he’s really strong and has really strong hands." And he’s ridiculously tall. On Sunday in Cleveland, he had five inches on two of the linebackers covering him in space, and with the accuracy of Stafford, Fauria was able to pluck balls down and not get them stripped—because, as Schwartz said, he has such a strong grip on the ball."
On the other hand, you can't favor Fauria, or else be burnt by wide receiver Calvin Johnson; which might be the most obvious statement in the history of obvious statements; but not completely without its merit. After missing week five and playing a little over than half of the team's offensive snaps last week, Johnson figures to have one of his more active games this month. The question this week was how his knee responded after playing the Browns last Sunday.
"He was sore after the game, but he’s been sore after practice and stuff like that," Schwartz said on Monday, via the Detroit Free Press. "It’s too soon to really know if it was any worse or any better than it’s been. But I said it was encouraging that he was able to get on the field for us, and even though he didn't make a lot of plays, he made a couple big first-down catches for us and he affected the game."
It's debatable if he'll be used as much as he was prior to his injury, considering that the Lions have bigger conference opponents coming up. Reports suggest that he looked good during practice this week, even hangin' with Kid Rock during the Detroit Tigers game Thursday night (not that that really matters). So expect a far greater contribution than what his role was against the Cleveland Browns last week.
Cincinnati's defense is at least at full-strength. Terence Newman is expected to play. Leon Hall, returning last week after dealing with a hamstring, knows the challenges ahead against Johnson.
"You have to be careful what you do with him because he's physical, too," said Hall via Bengals.com. You have to pick and choose what you want to do. A specific technique. You have to be smart. You definitely don't want to be physical the whole game because sometimes it will counteract you."
"They don’t just line up at one spot," said Marvin Lewis earlier this week. "Calvin Johnson, when they have three wide receivers, will be at any of the three receiver spots, just like A.J. will be for us. Guys that have that intellect and smarts about them understand they can be shut down if they are pigeon-holed in one spot, but it takes me a little bit more time to adjust coverage to you if you can end up in all three spots. It makes the other team do a little more coaching."
Now with the attention on Calvin Johnson and Joseph Fauria, Reggie Bush slips out from the shadows to make perhaps the greatest impact. Currently ranked third with 127.4 yards from scrimmage per game,
"They're also using him as a wide receiver, so he's not only carrying the football from the conventional running back spot," said Lewis. "He’s also lining up outside as a receiver and getting the ball on screens and things like that, things that play well to the special ability that he has. You have to be really conscious of where he is at all times. He'll be in there with the other halfback, (Joique) Bell, and they'll be in there at the same time, and either one will be deployed, so you have to understand that. They do a good job of really using the field and utilizing the personnel they have."
"You can't get intimidated by his speed or the moves he makes," Mays said of his former teammate at Southern California. "You have to attack him. I'll have to use my skills against him. My size. I'm not going to beat him in an agility race, so I'll have to attack him and press him and be smart. "
Would it be too cliche to suggest Cincinnati's pass rush is key this week? We say that knowing it's a key every week. It helped the Bengals beat the Patriots, Packers, and even the Bills in overtime. However, the Bengals secondary and linebackers need to find a way to give the defensive line time to create an effective rush, who can't be sucked into misdirection and screens, which take advantage of an aggressive defense.
Because the Lions have such a quick passing game out of the spread, it neutralizes the opposing pass rush while also reduces the amount of time in which defenders in zone coverage can step in front routes. Aggressively attack the receivers off the line of scrimmage upsets the timing of those routes and allows players like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry extra time to get to Matthew Stafford, whose quarterback rating drops to 78.3 when under pressure.