By Larry Lage, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) – The Detroit Lions are focused on the little picture, going into their game with the Cincinnati Bengals in a matchup of 4-2 teams at least tied atop their divisions.
Lions safety Louis Delmas insisted he didn’t even know earlier in the week that Detroit shared the NFC North lead with the Chicago Bears.
“I just found out, actually,” Delmas said Wednesday. “A fan mentioned it on Instagram.”
The Lions turned a 4-4 mark into a 4-12 flop last season, Delmas believes, because they spent too much time looking back at their 2011 postseason appearance and ahead to trying to get back in the playoffs.
“The reason we’re 4-2 is because we focus on each day,” he said. “Last year, everybody’s focus was somewhere else. This year, everybody is really stable.”
The Bengals, meanwhile, are in sole possession of first place in the AFC North for the first time since winning the division in 2009.
In a matchup of top 10 teams in The Associated Press NFL power rankings, here are five things to watch when Cincinnati (No. 9 in the AP Pro32) plays at Detroit (No. 10, AP Pro32) on Sunday at Ford Field.
ROAD WARRIORS: If Cincinnati can have some success in its current five-game stretch that includes four road games, the franchise will likely be in the playoffs for a third straight year and fifth time under coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals, more times than not, have found a way to win away from home with quarterback Andy Dalton. He is 12-7 on the road as a starter, and acknowledged that record is a source of pride. “It seems like everything is against you when you’re on the road, but you’ve got to find a way to make enough plays to win games,” Dalton said.
DOMINANT DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh and Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins are among the NFL’s best defensive tackles. Both were drafted in 2010 — Suh was selected No. 2 overall, Atkins late in the fourth round — and weigh a little more than 300 pounds. Lions center Dominic Raiola knows keeping Atkins off quarterback Matthew Stafford and away from running back Reggie Bush will be tough. “Explosive, powerful, really strong, disruptive,” Raiola said when asked what makes Atkins so good. “He can dominate a game just like the guy we have. They’re both elite players, meaning they’re All-Pro, Pro Bowl, game-changers.”
COACHING CONNECTION: Lions coach Jim Schwartz counts Lewis as a mentor after working alongside him as one of his assistants when he was the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator. And, when Schwartz needed a job, Lewis recommended then-Titans coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams at least interview him. “Later they thanked me,” Lewis recalled. “He’s top-shelf. I think he’s done a great job and obviously with me, he was tremendous.” Schwartz, likewise, heaped praise on Lewis’ consistency, even-keel demeanor and work ethic. “He’s been a friend for a long time,” Schwartz said. “Nobody’s friends on Sunday, you know the way that goes.”
STRIKING A BALANCE: The Bengals rank 16th in the league in both rushing and passing. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is sharing carries with rookie Giovani Bernard and Dalton is averaging at least two passes per game to six teammates. Lewis, most of all, is pleased his team has figured out a way to be physical on offense. “We are not cute and pretty,” he said. “We have to keep doing it that way.” Delmas said the key is limiting receiver A.J. Green’s ability to make big plays. “If you look on film, there has not been one corner he plays the same,” Delmas said. “He takes different steps, so he can trick you on his routes because he doesn’t run the same routes.”
DYNAMIC DECOY: Lions star wideout Calvin Johnson, limited by ailing right knee, was held to 25 yards receiving last week, his lowest total since 2010. Detroit didn’t complain, though, because just having him on the field in last week’s win against the Browns after missing during the previous week’s loss at Green Bay opened up opportunities for teammates. Stafford took advantage, throwing three of his four touchdowns in the second half when the Lions pulled away to beat the Browns 31-17.
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