Stafford will be under center for the first time since Week 1 in Chicago
The Lions start the second leg of their season with the Washington Redskins at home in a game the Lions are favored in. Matthew Stafford is expected to start, DeAndre Levy is expected to play and Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best are expected to be as close to 100% as players get during the season. Despite the optimism, the game is blacked out locally.
The Redskins are coming off of a lackluster performance against the fast fading Bears. Lost in the headlines of DeAngelo Hall’s record setting day were the teams multiple turnovers, stagnant offense and struggling defense. The Redskins are winning ugly while the Lions are losing pretty, the Lions look to change that on Sunday.
* There’s no ignoring the fact that Jay Cutler was being a punk when he made the following post game quotes in reference to DeAngelo Hall last week:
…there’s no reason to shy away from him. That’s hard to say after throwing four picks at a guy, but if we had to play him tomorrow, I’d go at him every time.
There is also no ignoring the fact that he’s right. DeAngelo Hall can make some great plays, but he is generally regarded as an overrated player in league circles. LaRon Landry is playing the best football of his career and might be on the cusp of being an elite player. All things considered though, the Redskins’ pass defense is awful this season and the Lions definitely have the ability to take advantage of that weakness. Stafford may be a little rusty on Sunday, but he doesn’t have to be the next Marino to move the ball on the Skins. The biggest concern for the Lions passing attack should be taking care of the ball.
* The Lions’ secondary had one of their best performances against a loaded New York Giants receiving corps, this week their task is far less daunting. The Redskins’ only true downfield receiving threat is Santana Moss and their only short threat is Chris Cooley. Joey Galloway can still get deep, but he’s not nearly the threat he once was. The Skins don’t have a dynamic receiving group that can beat the Lions, but they do have a dynamic quarterback that makes his receivers better. Donovan McNabb does struggle with his accuracy on the short routes and he’s still getting accustomed to an offense that heavily utilizes the tight end. McNabb is still finding himself in the new offense and his talent hasn’t taken over yet. The Lions can focus on taking away the deep throws that McNabb favors and force him to beat them underneath.
* The Lions will have opportunities to run the ball against the Redskins on Sunday. The Skins are allowing opposing offenses to rush for 4.7 yards per carry and they are giving up 113 yards per game. They are still getting accustomed to the 3-4 defense which requires a vastly different approach to stopping the run than the 4-3. In addition to the growing pains of the 3-4, the Skins have a $100 pain in Albert Haynesworth. Since Washington wasn’t able to unload him, they’ve been trying to work him into the game plan, but also keep him happy. The defensive line’s focus in the 3-4 is to tie up blockers in the running game and allow the linebackers to flow to the football. As one of the team’s appeasements, they are allowing him to abandon the traditional 3-4 run responsibilities and focus on blowing plays up in the backfield. This can be disruptive to the offense, but it also can leave gaping holes in the defense. All these factors should give the Lions an edge on the ground.
* The Redskins are incorporating the zone blocking scheme that Mike Shanahan perfected in Denver, and they brought in a former Bronco to do it. Ryan Torain is a big physical running back that excels in the zone scheme, and he could cause the Lions problems on Sunday. As I’ve said for weeks, the Lions’ defensive line has been dominant against the run, but the linebackers have been awful. The zone scheme preys on poor linebacker play because it forces linebackers to play tentatively and leaves them in open space. The running back gets the carry and there isn’t a designated hole to run through. The line blocks the guy in their area, and the back finds the open space to run to. If the play side isn’t open, the lineman on the backside of the play cut block the defense to open up cutback lanes for the back. If the linebackers are too aggressive in their pursuit, the runner can cut back and have a lot of room. If the linebackers flow to the play side too conservatively they can’t fill their gaps in time to make the tackle. Compounding this issue is the offensive lineman diving at the defensive linemen’s knees trying to get them on the ground. The linemen are slow to pursue because they are protecting their knees or they are on the ground. This leaves the linebackers in space to make tackles one on one and the Lions have not excelled in those situations.
* I discussed the weaknesses that Albert Haynesworth creates for his defense, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the strengths. Haynesworth is a rare player that can dominate a game almost single handedly. He caused major issues for the Bears last week, but part of his success was due to Mike Martz being too stubborn to change his gameplan. Haynesworth is almost unblockable when he wants to be, so the Lions need to get him to mentally check out of the game. If they run away from his side, or run a lot of screens and use his aggressiveness against him they can prevent him from having the impact he is capable of. If not, they will have a tough time keeping him out of the backfield on passing and rushing plays.
* As I said earlier, Donovan McNabb throws a great deep ball, and Santana Moss is a heck of a deep threat. Just because you know the deep ball is coming and you gameplan for it doesn’t mean you can stop it. Moss killed the Lions in 2008 and 2009, so you know he’s capable of doing it again. The Lions’ were burned by Moss in the past because his quarterback had all day to throw which allowed Moss time to run deep routes. The Lions’ pass rush will be their best weapon against Moss and McNabb on Sunday.
Matthew Stafford is the wild card in this game. Is he rusty? Has he been shell shocked by the number of big injuries suffered in such a short amount of time? Is he back to the form he showed in preseason when he looked like a Pro Bowler? If Stafford is 100% mentally and physically he gives the offense a whole new dimension with his arm strength and improvisation. If not, the turnovers can pile up and the Lions have to rely on their underachieving running game and young defense to stay in the game.
I believe the Lions will come out of the bye week on an emotional high after getting healthy and playing well against a very tough schedule. They played a lot of good teams, mostly on the road and missing some key players. The team is excited and they have a huge chip on their shoulders to prove they are far better than their 1-5 record. The Skins are banged up on the offensive line and they are still trying to establish an identity. The Skins have played a tough schedule too, but they’ve been the beneficiary of teams like Green Bay and Chicago shooting themselves in the foot. I like the Lions in this game, as they have an opportunity to make a statement after coming up short so often in the first few weeks.