Ndamukong Suh leads a resurgent Detroit Lions defensive line that has been labeled "The Detroit Disassembly Line." The Lions have paired Suh with this year's first round draft choice, Nick Fairly out of Auburn along with all-pro end Kyle VandenBosch to form one of the most daunting defensive lines in the league. Head coach Jim Schwartz, the architect of several fine defenses in Tennessee, hopes that this young crew will lead them to actually playing a meaningful football game on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since the Barry Sanders era.
The Lions are the Bengals first test on Friday as the two young teams hook up at Ford Field in Detroit. In some ways, Detroit mirrors the Bengals: a struggling franchise with promising young players on both sides of the ball trying to unseat a division rival who made it to the Super Bowl last year.
Detroit hopes that third year quarterback Matthew Stafford returns completely healed from a shoulder injury that cost him much of 2010. While backups Sean Hill and Drew Stanton filled in admirably, Stafford is the Lions offensive leader and gives them the best chance at unseating the Packers in the NFC North. Like with his Bengal counterpart, it will be interesting to see how many snaps Stafford takes in the opener.
Jahvid Best leads the Lions running game, but behind him, it's gotten pretty thin. Draft pick Mikel Leshoure is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles. The Lions brought in veterans Mike Bell and Jerome Harrison to compete for the spot behind Best. Bengal fans might remember Harrison from his time as a starter for the Cleveland Browns.
At receiver, Calvin Johnson is an all-pro. His matchup with Leon Hall should be fun to watch. The Lions are deep at tight end, with second year starter Brandon Pettigrew and two other players, Tony Scheffler and Will Heller, who have started in the NFL.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals' challenge will be to keep Suh and the defensive line at bay. If they can, the Lions' linebacking corps is suspect and could be exploited with Jay Gruden's West Coast offensive scheme. The defensive backs are nothing special either, especially with returning starter Alphonso Smith likely to miss Friday's game with a broken foot. The Lions brought in veterans Nathan Vasher and Eric Wright to try to shore up their corners. They'll have their hands full with Jerome Simpson and AJ Green who have been lights out at camp thus far.
On special teams, the ageless wonder Jason Hanson returns at age 41 to compete with former Bengal and Michigan State grad Dave Rayner, who completed the season with the Lions after Hanson's injury. Another former Bengal, Nick Harris handles the punting duties for Detroit.
The key matchup will be the Bengals offensive line against the strong defensive line of Detroit. If the Bengals can neutralize Suh and company, Andy Dalton and the offense will have some time to do some disassembling of their own.
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