The Detroit Lions (0-1) host the Washington Commanders (1-0) to the not-so-friendly confines of Ford Field for a Week 2 game. The Commanders are looking to continue their winning streak and remain undefeated under the new franchise name, while the Lions hope to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start to the season.
Let’s take a closer look at the main things the Lions need to do against Washington to earn their first win of the season.
Key Match: IOL Lions vs. Jonathan Allen/Daron Payne
The greatest strength of the team of commanders is their defensive line. Frankly, it should be after spending four first-round pick on this unit in consecutive seasons (2017-20). Unfortunately for Washington, they will be without point carrier Chase Young against Detroit but will remain strong in the other three spots.
“They’ve got some really good guys, especially up front,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said in his Thursday press conference. “I think it starts there with them, (EDGE Montez Sweat) 90, (DT Jonathan Allen) 93 and (DT Daron Payne) 94. These guys are about as good as they come, and they have great complementary people right off the bat like well, so we’ll have our challenge controlling these guys… the pressure is something we focus on.
Sweat against the Lions offensive tackles (Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell) is a balanced game, but for the Lions to succeed they will need their inside offensive line to take on the combination of Allen and Payne.
The biggest question mark right now is: who will be inside the Lions?
All-Pro center Frank Ragnow (groin/foot) has already been ruled out and he will be replaced by Evan Brown, who started 12 games at center last season when Ragnow was out. The Lions are already working with a reserve at right guard in Logan Stenberg after Halapoulivaati Vaitai was placed on injured reserve. Stenberg was solid in the Week 1 running game, but his pass blocking was an issue he’ll need to address quickly against the Commanders’ interior combo.
“He handled his own,” Lions offensive line coach Hank Fraley said of Stenberg’s performance in Week 1. “There’s a lot to learn when you’re in there. It’s the real thing. It’s (a) different pace from pre-season now. It’s different with the front line, the first (team) defense in front of you, and guys like Fletcher Cox and all those guys, they’re good players. He was a great player in this league for a long time. And he has his challenge with (Daron) Payne this week and those guys, (Jonathan) Allen on the inside. We have our own challenges now, not just Logan; at all levels.
And there’s still a big question mark hanging over Pro Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson (finger), who hasn’t practiced since leaving the field on Wednesday, and carries a questionable designation in this match. The Lions haven’t ruled out Jackson yet, and having him available would be a huge plus. But if he can’t go, the Lions will go back to their reserve.
Will they push Matt Nelson – arguably their next best offensive lineman – inside? Or will they look to newcomers Drew Forbes or Kayode Awosika, who have been on the team for less than 10 days? Or maybe bring up Dan Skipper or Darrin Paulo from the practice squad, since they were with the squad for most of training camp?
Whatever player combinations they land on, the first step to succeeding against Washington is weathering the storm in the middle of the offensive line.
D’Andre Swift will be money in the passing game
If you want to slow Washington’s pass rush, beyond good offensive blocking, the Lions need to make quick decisions on the field and rely on plays that get the ball out fast.
Running back D’Andre Swift is coming off a career game as a rusher, but he could very well have a career game as a wide receiver in this game.
Washington’s 4-3 defense relies on its linebackers and safeties — often a third safety — to cover the backfield throwback. In Week 1, linebacker Jamin Davis threw six times and allowed four receptions for 62 yards, earning a 29.3 coverage rating from PFF. Washington’s third safety, rookie Percy Butler, gave up catches both times he was targeted. While Butler only gave up six total yards, one of the catches resulted in a touchdown.
Swift, of course, is also working through an injury, but he returned to the training ground on Friday and said several times this week that he would play on Sunday, despite being listed as questionable.
Feeding Amon-Ra St. Brown
In keeping with Washington’s slowing aggressiveness theme, Amon-Ra St. Brown should be the other player the Lions rely on.
Based on what we saw in Week 1, COs will rely on Davis, a third safety, and slot corner Benjamin St. Just to cover the slot receiver. Collectively, Washington’s defense allowed Jaguars receiver Christian Kirk to amass 117 yards on six receptions. Most notably, Kirk was very good at attacking in midfield, catching three passes on five targets for 91 yards.
Feed the Sun God.
Force Carson Wentz to fight you
Statistically, Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz had a great outing against the Jaguars, throwing for 313 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. But those two interceptions paint a very clear picture of the type of quarterback Wentz is.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Commanders led 14-12, but Wentz threw interceptions on the first two drives of the quarter (on back-to-back plays) and they quickly fell 22-14. Now, you have to give credit to Wentz for reclaiming Washington’s lead (and eventual victory), but as we’ve seen in the past, Wentz often struggles in these situations.
Like most quarterbacks, Wentz’s success dwindles dramatically when he’s under pressure. In Week 1, PFF rated him 71.9 when passing a clean pocket, but that number dropped to 51.5 under pressure.
“I have complete faith in Charles (Harris),” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Thursday. “I have complete confidence in Aidan (Hutchinson). I have complete faith in Alim (McNeill), that these guys are going to wreak havoc and make plays, so every week I go in with the mentality that our guys are going to make plays. We just have to know exactly who we are playing against. And if you look at what happened with (Eagles QB) Jalen (Hurts), we got him circled, we just ain’t done. And I think these guys are going to come out and finish this week.
Get physical with their talented players
Washington’s talented players are a bit of an underrated group. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin has been on the mainstream radar for a few years, but he’s rarely had others around who can catch the attention of the defense. That changed during the offseason. Commanders added Jahan Dotson in the first round to play against McLaurin, and slot/gadget player Curtis Samuel returned from injury after missing most of last season. Then in the backfield, former wide receiver turned running back Antonio Gibson is one of the most underrated fullbacks in the NFL.
“So there’s a number of things that I know coach (commanders’ offensive coordinator) (Scott) Turner likes to do, and he’s got a lot of weapons there,” Campbell said earlier this week. . “He’s got gadgets, he’s got slots, he’s – McLaurin can play inside, outside, Dotson can do a bit of both. So these guys are explosive athletes and they have speed. They’re not the biggest players, but it gives them a lot of versatility offensively. And then with Gibson in the backfield, I mean this guy is a big man who can run, and so we can’t not let him go.
While very talented, as Campbell mentions, the receivers are also all undersized, which is something the Lions should try to exploit. Last week, the Jaguars allowed Washington receivers off the line for free and struggled to stay with them in space. This put the defensive linemen at a disadvantage as they needed to get home quickly. The Lions secondary is a physical group (especially if they have to rely on Will Harris to start if the also-questionable Amani Oruwariye can’t play), and they would benefit from using that physicality on the line of scrimmage. to redirect and change the timing of outside receivers, especially McLaurin and Dotson. Slowing them down and disrupting their routes early puts more pressure on Wentz to deliver.
In the slot, things are a bit tougher as the Lions defense doesn’t have a solid option to replace Samuel. But the Lions split-zone defensive scheme can help with that. By passing Samuel instead of trying to stay with the talented athlete and then crashing and heading for the ball, the Lions can limit his impact. The communication flow between Lions slot corner Mike Hughes with safeties Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott must be working at a high level to successfully deal with Samuel.
Probably the hardest job for the Lions defense falls on the linebackers, as they will be tasked with slowing Gibson down.
“The offense is missing him,” Lions linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard told the media Friday. “This kid is a legit player. Now, I don’t know why he’s not being promoted to the national spotlight, but this Gibson, this 24-year-old, he’s a real dude, dude. They do a good job with the patterns to marry what it does well. He’s a great zone runner, that’s their pattern. They will try to stretch you and if he can put his foot in the ground and straighten up, that’s a problem. So it starts there with the stoppage of the race.
Call Malcolm Rodriguez. Your gap integrity skills are needed at Ford Field this Sunday.
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