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NFL Preview - Washington (1-1) at Detroit (0-2)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Last week, the Washington Redskins put forth a lethargic performance that triggered more than its share of boos from the home crowd. Fans of the Detroit Lions would likely be ecstatic beyond belief with such a result.
Owners of a painful 19-game losing streak, the Lions will be back at Ford Field this Sunday to take on a Washington team coming off an uninspiring win over another of the league's doormats.
Detroit's latest setback, a 27-13 home defeat to Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday, matched the 1940's Chicago Cardinals and the 1961-62 Oakland Raiders for the second-longest slide in the history of American professional football. The Lions haven't claimed a victory since a 25-20 decision over Kansas City in the Motor City on December 23, 2007.
The Lions did provide their long-suffering supporters a few pleasurable moments against Minnesota, roaring out to a 10-0 second-quarter lead before the defending NFC North champion Vikings scored 27 straight points to assume control. Fourteen of those came after a pair of Detroit turnovers, including a costly fumble by running back Kevin Smith in the third quarter that was quickly converted into a 27-yard touchdown run by Vikes All-Pro Adrian Peterson that snapped a 10-10 tie.
Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford did complete his first career touchdown pass during the game, but the No. 1 overall pick of last April's draft also threw a pair of interceptions after being picked off three times in his NFL debut during Detroit's 45-27 Week 1 loss at New Orleans.
The Redskins would love to produce a touchdown of any kind right about now, considering the way their offense sputtered in last Sunday's 9-7 ousting of a rebuilding St. Louis squad that went 2-14 a year ago. Washington had four possessions land in the Rams' 10-yard line over the course of the game, but managed only three field goals from kicker Shaun Suisham on the afternoon.
Washington, which has mustered a measly 12.6 points per game over its last 10 outings dating back to last season, will attempt to break out of its funk against a Detroit defense that has surrendered a league-high 72 points through the first two weeks and will probably be without one of its top players in outside linebacker Ernie Sims, who injured his shoulder in the Minnesota game and is doubtful to suit up on Sunday. The Lions have already given up eight passing touchdowns, including six to Saints star Drew Brees in the opener.
Washington has a 27-10 advantage in the all-time regular season series, which dates back to 1932, and was a 25-17 road winner when the teams last met, in Week 5 of last season. The Redskins have won three straight over the Lions, and are 2-0 in Detroit since dropping a 15-10 decision there in 2000.
In addition to the regular season series, the clubs have met three times in the postseason, with Washington winning all three. The Redskins prevailed in NFC First-Round Playoff games in 1982 and 1999, and also defeated the Lions for the 1991 NFC Championship.
Washington's Jim Zorn is 1-0 against the Lions as a head coach, while Detroit's Jim Schwartz will be meeting both Zorn and Washington for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
The Redskins sported one of the NFL's most productive rushing attacks during the first half of last season, but the team has had trouble getting workhorse running back Clinton Portis (141 rushing yards, 3 receptions) untracked in recent games, and the offense has sputtered as a result. The two-time Pro Bowler has failed to top 80 rushing yards in seven straight tests going back to last year, and Washington has won just once in that time period. It won't help matters that the Redskins lost their best run blocker, right guard Randy Thomas, to a season-ending torn triceps in last week's narrow win. Much- maligned quarterback Jason Campbell (453 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) has taken plenty of blame for his team's scoring struggles, but the former Auburn standout hasn't gotten a whole lot of help from an aging and shaky offensive line or a mediocre wide receiver corps in which speedy veteran Santana Moss (5 receptions) looms as the only big-play threat. The Redskins' best weapon on offense in the early going has been trusty tight end Chris Cooley (14 receptions, 151 yards, 1 TD), who had 83 yards on seven grabs against the Rams.
Washington may have found the perfect remedy to its offensive ills in a porous Lions stop unit that allowed Brees and Favre to complete over 80 percent of their throws combined and has hardly been a stone wall versus the run either, having yielded 134.5 rushing yards per game through two weeks. The loss of the athletic Sims (14 tackles), who'll be replaced on the weak side by either rookie DeAndre Levy (2 tackles) or untested sophomore Jordon Dizon (5 tackles), will test a linebacking corps that does have two proven veterans in middle man Larry Foote (19 tackles, 1 sack) and former Seahawks sack artist Julian Peterson (5 tackles). The defense could also be minus one of its better pass rushers for a second straight week, as starting end Cliff Avril (1 tackle) is considered questionable to return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him against the Vikings. Fill-in Jason Hunter (7 tackles) did have one of Detroit's three sacks on Favre, however.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
The Lions knew there would be growing pains that came with the team's decision to throw Stafford (357 passing yards, 1 TD, 5 INT) immediately into the fray as the starting quarterback, and the 21-year-old's high interception total and low completion percentage (50.7) are evidence that he's learning on the job. He is beginning to develop a necessary rapport with dynamic wide receiver Calvin Johnson (8 receptions, 141 yards, 1 TD), the offense's most dangerous member, while Smith (103 rushing yards, 1 TD, 9 receptions) has shown the skills to be a reliable option out of the backfield as well. Detroit still sorely needs to establish a capable running game to help ease the burden on the young signal-caller, and did take some steps in that direction last weekend, when Smith put up a hard-earned 83 yards on 24 carries against Minnesota's stout front seven. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew, the team's other first-round selection in last April's draft, made a good initial impression by hauling in four Stafford throws for 40 yards versus the Vikings in his first career start.
Moving the ball on the ground could be a challenge against a Washington defense that permitted only 95.4 rushing yards per game last season, and that was before the organization paid big bucks to lure All-Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth (7 tackles) away from Schwartz's old stomping grounds in Tennessee through offseason free agency. The massive interior plugger heads up a strong up-the-middle corps that also includes uber-active middle linebacker London Fletcher (27 tackles) and second-year strong safety Chris Horton (17 tackles, 2 PD), who made one of the biggest plays in last week's win with a fourth- quarter forced fumble of Rams receiver Donnie Avery near the goal line that killed a potential go-ahead drive. The Redskins did allow St. Louis back Steven Jackson to run for 104 yards on 17 carries in Week 2, but over half of that total came on a 58-yard burst on the Rams' only scoring series. St. Louis mustered only 119 net passing yards on the day, with quarterback Marc Bulger under consistent duress from a pass rush led by veteran end Andre Carter (9 tackles, 1 sack).
As last week's snoozer proved, games that involve the Redskins usually don't feature a wealth of fantasy options on the offensive side. Sunday's test should provide a good barometer of Portis' long-term value, though, and if the possibly-declining back can't deliver a productive day against Detroit's submissive defense, his owners may want to pursue other alternatives at the running back position. Cooley should make an excellent choice at the tight end spot, while Moss figures to have a great opportunity to atone for his slow start to the season in a matchup with a shaky Lions secondary. Johnson and Smith are starter-worthy for Detroit, but steer clear of Stafford and any other Lions player this week. Campbell certainly has some upside versus a team that's allowed touchdown passes in bushels so far this year, but Washington's scoring problems present some risk in using the steady quarterback. Any defense going up against the Lions will be a good play during the early portion of Stafford's rookie year, and the Redskins' is no exception.
Could this finally be the week the Lions break out and put an end to nearly a season-and-a-half's worth of futility and frustration? It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility, considering the Redskins' struggles to put up points and inability to put teams away. Still, Washington has a clear talent edge on defense and a quarterback who's far less likely to make a crucial mistake than his inexperienced counterpart. For a second straight week, the Redskins will do enough to scratch out a victory over a determined but less- skilled opponent and give the more cynical backers of the Burgundy and Gold nation a little extra to grumble about.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 20, Lions 16
09/24 16:16:12 ET