Game preview: Lions at Redskins

Game preview: Lions at Redskins
September 20, 2013, 8:45 am
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Kyle Shanahan: long term plan for RG3

Redskins Post Game Live

What: Lions (1-1) Redskins (0-2)

Where: FedEx Field

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Fox

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on CSN: Noon and 4 p.m. 

The Redskins aren’t willing to label Sunday’s showdown with Calvin Johnson and the Lions a ‘must-win’.

But they don’t have to. A quick glance at the last 23 years does it for them.

Since the NFL expanded to 12 playoff teams in 1990, 115 teams have opened the season 0-3. Only three teams – a scant 2.6-percent – rallied to make the playoffs, and none have accomplished the feat since the Bills did it in 1998.

Cornerback Josh Wilson said the Redskins must draw on last year’s experience of rebounding from a 3-6 start.

“We’re a team that’s not going to get flustered,” Wilson said. “I keep referring back to last year. I think 3-6 is a lot more difficult to get yourself out of than 0-2.”

Since we know you’re wondering, the 2012 Redskins were the fourth team (out of 111) since 1990 to open the season 3-6 and qualify for the playoffs. That’s a slightly better 3.6 percent success rate.

History, however, will actually be on the Redskins’ side when the Lions visit FedEx Field for the first time since 2007. Detroit has never won at Washington, going 0-21 all-time, including three playoff defeats.

In order to ensure that the streak remains intact, though, the Redskins must show marked improvement on both sides of the ball. Among the keys to monitor:

  • One of the biggest game-breaking threats in the league is 6-5, 236-pound Calvin Johnson, whose 1,964 receiving yards last season set the all-time NFL record. After two games this season, Megatron is off to a solid start, having hauled in 10 receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also licking his chops at the prospect of facing a Redskins’ secondary that features two rookies and is allowing a league-worst 10.2 yards per reception. “You try to go at those guys,” Johnson said of Redskins defensive backs Bacarri Rambo and David Amerson. “You try to put them in difficult situations where they have to make a difficult decision, and a lot of times inexperience leads to the offense being able to make a big play.” Asked to name the best receiver in the game, Wilson joked: “Calvin, Calvin and Calvin. I’ve been saying my prayers every day.” The Redskins could get some help if star running back Reggie Bush is unable to suit up or limited by the left knee injury he sustained last week. Bush did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.
  • The most discussed deficiency at Redskins Park this week has been missed tackles – and for good reason. The Redskins have missed 30 of them, according to And, as a result, they’re entering the realm of historically bad from a statistical standpoint. In fact, the 1,023 yards Washington has yielded through two games is the second most in NFL history behind the 1967 Falcons. “I’m going to put that on us coaches because obviously we haven’t done a good job of stressing the issue,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said of tackling. “Obviously other teams aren’t having this issue, so whatever they’re doing, it’s got to creep into what we’re trying to do.” says Wilson and Reed Doughty have missed five tackles each and London Fletcher, Bacarri Rambo and E.J. Biggers have missed four apiece. Asked if tackling has as much to do with mentality as it does technique, Haslett said: “Yeah, it does. Sometimes it’s just guys want to tackle.”
  • Throughout the week, there have been hints that quarterback Robert Griffin III will begin running the ball more as the season progresses and his confidence in his surgically repaired knee grows. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan insists the zone read option plays are being called, it's just defenses are keying on Griffin. The numbers, though, are stark. Griffin has 25 yards rushing on 9 carries. A year ago, he had 124 yards on 20 carries after two games. Could it change this week? Wide receiver Santana Moss said of Griffin: “How I look at it, these first two regular season as being two preseason games for this kid. You’re not going to go out there and make him do a bunch of stuff we’re not sure of. Once he gets his feeling back and the coaches are confident, then I’m pretty sure they’ll let him do more.” Added Griffin: “It’s not about going out there and running to prove to other people wrong or prove other people right … you just have to do it when the time arises and I haven’t had those opportunities in these first two games. Hopefully I’ll get that opportunity this game and it will be a spark for our team.”

For Griffin, getting a ‘W’ is all about getting back to the identity the Redskins’ established in 2012, when the team led the NFL in rushing and boasted the fifth best run stopping defense. Right now, they rank 19th and 32nd, respectively, in those categories.

“For us,” he said, “it’s just about getting back to the grit that we are. We run the ball and we stop the run. Those are two things this team has always done. And these first two games we haven’t done either of those very well.”

Maybe it’s that simple. Maybe it’s not. Either way, anything short of a win could carry with it disastrous consequences.

In addition to the big storylines, here are three other areas the team at will be monitoring:

1—Brandon Meriweather’s health. After sustaining a concussion in Sunday’s loss at Green Bay, the veteran safety was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Coach Mike Shanahan, however, was hopeful Meriweather would practice Friday.

2—Kai Forbath’s availability. The second-year kicker, who was sidelined last week due to a groin muscle injury, hopes to kick Sunday but might not know if he’s able to until Saturday. Shanahan said it’s possible the team will have Forbath attempt field goals and John Potter handle kick offs against the Lions. Forbath was injured while practicing kickoffs, which requires a more violent motion.

3—Much will be made of the threat posed by Johnson, Bush and Matthew Stafford. But another matchup to monitor is two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh vs. Redskins’ linemen Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus. Suh who plays with an edge and occasionally crosses the line as evidenced by his growing list of fines. Chester and Co. will obviously want to keep Suh (8 sacks in 2012) as far from RG3 as possible.