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Cincinnati Bengals: All Hands Needed on Defense to Handle Detroit Lions

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COMMENTARY | The Cincinnati Bengals emerged from their overtime Week 6 win against the Buffalo Bills healthy. Some bumps and bruises may surface during the practice week, but the early expectation is that the Bengals will be full force to face the Detroit Lions on the road in Week 7. The overall health of the defense will be especially important given the Lions' offensive attack behind quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush.

Defensive Ends

The Bengals will have to collapse the pocket from the edges and have a trio of defensive ends who are versed at that skill. Franchise-tagged DE Michael Johnson returned from a concussion last week after missing one game. His return to action won't remove him from the Frontline: League of Denial concussion watch list, but it sure did prove that Johnson is committed to perform at his high standard regardless of his concussion or franchise tag status.

Rotation DE Wallace Gilberry sustained a forearm injury in Week 6 but returned to action during the game without further problems. As Johnson's primary backup against the left tackle of the other team's offense. Gilberry is a key component for the healthy pass rush the Bengals will need to harass Stafford.

Both Johnson and Gilberry had some trouble with contain when Bills' RB C.J. Spiller ran off tackle left, and undoubtedly a primary concern for defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will be how to keep Bush from doing the same.

Secondary

Bengals' primary slot corner Leon Hall returned from a hamstring injury in Week 6 and showed no signs of lingering issues. A healthy Hall combined with veteran corner backs Adam Jones and Terence Newman give the Bengals an edge against the Lions' passing attack overall if the group can find a collective way to limit both Johnson and Bush with help from safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka.

Newman missed a series early in the fourth quarter against the Bills due to a hip injury but returned to action, only to be eventually burned in man coverage or the game tying TD by the Bills that forced overtime.

Nelson missed Week 4 with a hamstring injury but has shown no signs of continuing problems over the past two games. Bengals backup CB Dre Kirkpatrick returned to action in Week 6 after missing two games in a row with a hamstring injury. Kirkpatrick replaced Newman for a series before he also got hurt and was replaced by Chris Crocker, who remained on defense until Newman was able to return. Kirkpatrick was able to return to action in OT and threw a key block to help extend Brandon Tate's 29-yard punt return that led to the game-winning field goal.

Offense

Bengals right tackle Andre Smith showed up early on the injury report last week with a shoulder issue but showed no signs of strain against the Bills. The Bengals offense has remained healthy overall for the past five weeks, and any concern over the knee procedures that Andrew Whitworth underwent during the offseason have been muted by his resumption of Pro Bowl caliber play.

The repertoire of weapons at the disposal of third-year QB Andy Dalton also have avoided injuries on the whole. Should the defense run into problems stopping the Lions, that arsenal might have to be opened up in full force by Dalton to keep the Bengals ahead in a potential shootout.

Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for more than five years. He posts his NFL draft predictions each year at footballnostradamus.com.

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