The Washington Redskins (4-2, 2-1) bring a four-game winning streak to Detroit’s Ford Field on Sunday, seeking a measure of national respect against the 3-3 Detroit Lions, who have won their last two games by a combined four points. Here are five story lines to follow:
1. Rattling Matthew Stafford: The Redskins’ pass rush was a difference-maker in Sunday’s upset of the Eagles. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan set an aggressive tone at the outset, flying in for a sack on the first play. By day’s end, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was sacked five times, with the Redskins frequently exploiting the Eagles’ rookie right tackle. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will be tougher to rattle, off to the best start of his eight-year NFL career, with 14 touchdown passes to four interceptions and a 106 quarterback rating that’s third in the NFL. The Redskins hope rookie Su’a Cravens returns from concussion protocol and can add to the punch that linebackers Trent Murphy (five sacks) and Preston Smith are delivering.
2. Sustaining the running game: With rookie Robert Kelley providing a change-up and igniting a spark under second-year back Matt Jones, the Redskins’ running game against Philadelphia was the most prolific it has been in nearly four years, rolling up 230 yards. Each credits the other with spurring his own production in what they describe as a friendly competition. The shift from the pass-heavy approach the Redskins leaned on early in the season without much success to more balanced play-calling (34 passes, 33 runs) helped every facet of the offense. And it’s what the Redskins’ offense should stick with going forward.
3. Kirk Cousins’ homecoming: After an uneven start, Michigan native Kirk Cousins returns to his home state for a game that shapes up in his favor, with plenty of friends and family expected at Ford Field and a Lions defense that’s 23rd against the pass and 32nd on third down. Cousins has piled up impressive yardage in Year 2 as the starter (his 1,965 yards rank sixth), but his nine touchdown throws have been offset by six interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by Philadelphia. And he has yet to maximize the weapons around him, particularly wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Both are due for a big game Sunday, if Jackson’s ailing shoulder isn’t an issue.
4. Stout offensive line play: Lions Coach Jim Caldwell isn’t hiding his admiration for the Redskins’ line, calling it “one of the finest groups in the front that there is in our league.” The unit has weathered early-season injuries and is now showing a new dimension since Spencer Long has taken over for the injured Kory Lichtensteiger at center. A third-round pick in the 2014 draft, Long has worked and waited two seasons for the opportunity. And his smarts and obvious heft — at 6 feet 5 and 324 pounds,
Marvin Jones. (Duane Burleson/Associated Press)
he’s roughly three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than Lichtensteiger — are proving an asset in the running game. Cousins is helping, as he did last year, by getting rid of the ball relatively quickly.
5. Lions WR Marvin Jones: Much like Cousins, Detroit’s Stafford has plenty of enviable receiving targets at his disposal. Redskins Coach Jay Gruden knows Marvin Jones well, having coached him while offensive coordinator at Cincinnati. The 6-2, 198-pound Jones leads the Lions with 29 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns — as many scores as the Redskins’ Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed have combined. Jones is especially impressive after the catch and boasts an 18.2 yards average per reception. Rounded out by Anquan Boldin (29 catches, 244 yards) and Golden Tate (25 catches, 299 yards), the Lions’ receiving corps should keep Redskins cornerbacks Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller busy.