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Saturday, September 21, 2013
Four keys for Detroit vs. Washington

By Michael Rothstein

The great Detroit quest to end losing streaks continues Sunday in Landover, Md., where the Lions have not won in almost a century.

You read that right. A century.

Detroit has actually never beaten the Washington Redskins in Washington -- the Lions' last victory coming back in 1935 ,when the Redskins were playing in Boston, two-way play was still en vogue and Detroit had Dutch Clark as its All-Pro quarterback.

Only one Lion, kicker David Akers, was even alive when Clark died in 1978. Current quarterback Matthew Stafford wouldn’t be born for a decade.

“That game is going to be determined by the players on the field, how well they execute, who makes the fewest mistakes in the game, who makes the most plays, who wins the most matchups,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “That’s going to determine who wins, not what happened 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 50 years ago or even last year or even last week. There’s an urgency to this week and we have to be up to that.

“We have to play well against their players, not Billy Kilmer. Sonny Jurgensen isn’t playing. We don’t have John Riggins back there or anybody else. We’ve got to play [Robert] Griffin, got to play [Alfred] Morris, we’ve got to play Pierre Garcon, [Ryan] Kerrigan, [Brian] Orakpo. There’s enough good players on the field for us to worry about those guys.”

Here are four keys for the Lions to pull that off:

Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson should find room to roam against a Redskins defense that's been porous.
1. Stretch the field. Detroit hasn’t taken too many downfield chances yet with Stafford, but Washington’s defense is the worst in the NFL so far this season. With Calvin Johnson available as a large, talented target for Stafford, this could be the week where the Lions take a more vertical approach, especially if Reggie Bush ends up not playing. Bush is officially listed as questionable in the injury report, but practiced on a limited basis Friday.

2. Keep an eye on Robert Griffin III, but don’t oversell it. Sure, Griffin is a dynamic quarterback who, when healthy, can be a player who can make one cut and turn it into a 20-to-30-yard gain. But, after offseason knee surgery, Griffin hasn’t played like that this year. He’s looked just a tiny bit slower and has not run the ball nearly as much. But Detroit would be wise to still keep an eye on his ability to run, but also play Griffin more as a passer than as a dual-threat quarterback.

3. Avoid crushing penalties. The Lions have been penalized 19 times this season for 189 yards and those penalties have extended drives, turned over turnovers and wiped out touchdowns. One could argue, too, that the penalties cost Detroit a victory last week at Arizona. The Lions have a talented group on offense with perhaps the most dominant defensive line in the NFL. But if they can’t keep themselves from picking up devastating penalties at crucial points in the game, they’ll continue to be in unenviable situations in the fourth quarter. Against a struggling team like Washington, giving extra hope and plays on offense is a sure way to sap a squad’s confidence.

4. Catch the ball. Again, something fairly simple -- but it was a big reason why Detroit is not 2-0. The Lions lead the league in dropped passes, and those drops have killed drives and momentum for the Lions. Most of the drops have been on short, dump-off passes -- the kind of passes that go back to the first key, extending the field. If Detroit can be sure-handed in its short passing game, it’ll open up the field for Johnson and the tight ends making moves down the middle. Obviously, Bush’s health is a key component here, but between Joique Bell and Theo Riddick, they could have some approximation of a short screen game even if Bush is unable to play Sunday.