By Michael Ferro
When the Washington Redskins faced the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6, they proved two things above all others: they can dominate even the best defenses and they don’t give up. Unfortunately for the Detroit Lions, a team with a less-than-stellar defense chocked with injuries, it could spell trouble. Detroit can sometimes fall flat as a team late in games if things start to go against them and it might be a recipe for disaster when they meet Washington this Sunday at Ford Field in the Motor City.
Washington and Detroit don’t have a long history or much tying them together as franchises, but many Lions fans might fondly remember the QB for the Redskins, Kirk Cousins, who had an amazing career at Michigan State. Cousins has proven to be a key element of a Redskins offense (alongside three impressive running backs) that will give the Lions defense its first true taste of talent this year.
Redskins Season Record 4-2
Washington began the first two games this season set to “sleep mode,” losing both games handily as if they were looking to depress their fan base. Since then, the Redskins have been on a tear and have their best record through six games since 2008. Washington put up nearly 500 yards of total offense against the Eagles and it seemed like whatever the defense was lacking, Cousins and the Redskins offense was able to make up for (except, of course, for Cousins’ still tossing a few interceptions).
Redskins on Offense
Not only do the Redskins have a talented QB under center calling the plays in Kirk Cousins, but the three-headed beast trio of Matt Jones, Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson at the running back position combined for 231 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles during their matchup last season. For a Lions team that struggles against the run, that right there could prove to be all it takes to topple Detroit.
The Eagles have one of the best defenses in the NFL, yet the Redskins made short work of their secondary and defensive line to catapult to a 27-20 victory with 493 offensive yards. For the Lions, one aspect to watch is who is in and out with injuries heading into the game. Detroit has struggled mightily with injuries so far this season, so if the Lions defense is going to have any real chance to stop Cousins and the running backs, they’ll need to be at full strength or close to it. One item to note: Cousins can have trouble with interceptions and did throw an awful pick six against the Eagles; the Lions’ Darius Slay and Rafael Bush have ended both of the last two games with an interception to shut down an offensive comeback, so perhaps Detroit could be capable of generating a turnover or two in the match up.
Redskins on Defense
If the Lions have a chance to walk away with a win at home against the Redskins, it’s through Washington’s defense. While Detroit has been decent enough on offense to win games, especially within the recent smattering of Matthew Stafford to Golden Tate passes (Tate had a career day against Los Angeles), they’ll have to shake things up in the third and fourth quarters to keep the Redskins guessing. Detroit finally broke their second-half woes against Los Angeles and put up more points in the third after a good first half, but as stated earlier, Washington is rolling as a whole.
The Redskins defense was able to sack rookie Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz five times, notably shaking the young QB’s confidence. While Stafford is no rookie and has shown ability to scramble and make plays, the Lions offensive line has struggled so far this season to give him ample protection on a regular basis. This could pose an issue for Stafford if he gets hit every few plays and grows frustrated.
Players to Watch: RBs Matt Jones, Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson
The triple threat of running backs Matt Jones, Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson should give the Lions a major headache right from the start. Against the Eagles the trio combined for 231 yards and a touchdown… and the Eagles had the second-best defense in the league in Week 6. Detroit’s defense has missed tackles on so many key plays that this should be a major concern. If the Lions cannot find a way to plug the line and stop the run before any of of these three break loose for big gains, it could be a long day for Detroit.
Like Detroit, Washington doesn’t always win decisively. While the numbers they put up are often impressive, they can give off the impression at any moment that things can go either way. This is something the Redskins have in common with Detroit, who also often find themselves with the clock ticking down and fans biting their nails down to a nub. If both teams are healthy, you have a pretty even matchup, but if the Lions have to keep plugging leaks as they have been all season, they might find themselves spread thin and the Redskins could take advantage of that.
Detroit playing at home will likely give them a small, but much-needed edge. Still, containing Cousins and the trio of running backs in Jones, Kelley, and Thompson will be the key to a Lions victory.
Born and bred in Metro Detroit, Michael A. Ferro was awarded the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award and received a degree in Creative Writing from Michigan State University. He now resides in rural Ann Arbor. Additional writing can be found at AXS.com and on twitter @MichaelFerro.