Washington heads to Detroit with an opportunity to answer some questions from last week
Not conceding seems to be a common theme these days in Washington.
In the Washington Football Team’s case, there is every reason to believe that they still have a shot in a weak division. Washington has one of the easier schedules any of the four teams must face in the back half of the season. Head coach Ron Rivera is also hell bent on making sure the young players he is trying to develop understand what it will take to become a winner.
While New York was an all-around clunker, Detroit can be a game of redemption. Quarterback Alex Smith will be starting an NFL game for the first time in 727. We can all agree that he has already won the Comeback Player of the Year award, but this solidifies it. Ron Rivera can be redeemed with one final playoff push with a win while Jack del Rio’s first half defense can be redeemed going up against an okay Lions offense without wide receiver Kenny Golladay.
The Washington fan base has been snake bitten before. Happened just last week. But there is optimism heading into their showdown with the Detroit Lions.
Here are my 5 keys to Washington dethroning the Lions:
Third Down Gibson
I will admit that I have been an Antonio Gibson stan since training camp. He is someone that I have wanted to see offensive coordinator Scott Turner get the ball to as much as possible. Gibson did have a bad fumble on the teams first offensive play against the Giants. But he looked to have settled down after that and return to the type of player we’ve seen so far this season.
One ugly mark about Gibson’s playing time is that he has had only one snap on third down. It was the 40-yard screen pass against the Baltimore Ravens.
I have been leading the “Free Antonio Gibson” charge the past month and a half. I’ve been wanting to see them use him more in the passing game out of the formations that he runs from. Turner has started doing that. But in order to truly free the “Weapon X” that Antonio truly is, his usage needs to be on all three downs. There is no NFL by-law that says Gibson and J.D. McKissic can only be on the field a certain number of plays per game. In fact, putting them on the field at the same time more on third down situations could create even more mismatches against linebackers and safeties.
Staying with Gibson and getting him more third down snaps will allow for creativity and more chances to extend drives.
Turnover Free Alex
There is no question that Alex Smith has locked up comeback player of the year. They might as well start naming it after him. Smith came in against the Giants in relief for a second time this year for an injured Kyle Allen. This time—though—Alex will be getting his first career start since breaking his leg and nearly dying in 2018.
While this is an astonishing feat, coming back from the brink of death, we can’t overlook how Smith’s performance began to decline as the game wore on. Alex looked like he was having trouble scrambling and getting out of situations. He was forcing the ball in spots that need to see him throw it away.
Even with the game seeing both Alex’s, there needs to be more from him. Washington is going to need the game managing, turnover free Alex if they want to make a serious run at the NFC East. Detroit does not have a stellar defense that is going to intimidate anyone.
If Alex can extend drives and avoid critical turnovers that gives Matthew Stafford a short field, Washington should be able to walk away with their third win of the season.
AP Not All Day
This Sunday could be no different as they face Adrian Peterson. A player that was not going to fit into the system that Rivera and Turner were putting together. Peterson also reportedly did not want to take a reduced role that would have been carved out for him. So, Ron let him go so he could land with a new team.
Washington struggled to stop the Giants run game allowing 166 yards on 35 carries from 7 different players. It was asked on Monday by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Russell whether trying to stop the run on the way to the quarterback was creating some of the problems, ironically, stopping the run. Rivera shot that down immediately and said it had to do more with the defensive players not maintaining gap integrity.
The defense will need to be sure to tighten that part of their game up. Peterson has been one of the bright spots on the Lions offense this season. He is leading the team in rushing yards, carries, and rushes that are 20 yards or more. Peterson has also seen his fair share of time in the passing game pulling in 10 receptions on 14 targets for 69 yards. Adrian is second in running back targets behind D’Andre Swift’s 34.
Even with Matthew Stafford as the Lions quarterback, Washington needs to make their opponent one dimensional and hold Peterson to a season worse performance.
Make Special Teams Special Again
This issue must be infuriating Rivera. Washington has seen muffed punts by Steven Sims, Jr., Greg Stroman, and Isaiah Wright halfway through the season. For a team that cannot afford to give opposing teams short fields on turnovers, this one has killed Washington. Whomever is back on punt returns needs to have better hands and urgency to put Washington in a better position to win against the Lions.
Who’s the Bos(tic)?
Middle linebacker Jon Bostic has been less then stellar as the 2020 season continues to roll along. He showed some flash and playmaking ability early. But his play has diminished to the point opposing offenses are scheming to get tight ends and running backs one-on-one against him
While Bostic has done a great job as the defensive play caller—and adjusting when needed—his play in the passing game has been atrocious. Defensive coordinator Jack del Rio likes what Bostic brings from a veteran leadership point of view. However, del Rio and Rivera have shown a shorter leash more recently with veterans that are not performing and hurting the team. Bostic will need to be on top of him game to shutdown tight end T.J. Hockenson so he doesn’t kill them like other tight ends have this year.
Washington burned a lot of us last week against the New York Giants. They looked great against a bad Dallas team and had a bye week to prepare against a division rival. It would be easy to poo-poo this game and be jaded. The team is hungry to show it can grow after a loss and stay in a battle for the horrific NFC East division title.
Alex Smith has had a full week of practice with the 1’s and Cornelius Lucas has been looking more and more comfortable at left tackle with each snap. Cam Sims is another breakout game waiting to happen against a bad Detroit Lions secondary. As the young players continue to come into their own and have a better grasp on the offense Scott Turner wants to run, they are going to be in better position to put up more then 17 points a game consistently. This is one of those games. Give me the Washington Football Team for the win in Detroit.
Washington 24 Detroit 21
Time: 1:00 PM EST – Ford Field; Detroit Michigan
TV: FOX – Dan Hellie, Aqib Talib, Megan Olivi
Radio: The Team 980, ESPN 630, 105.9 WMAL – Julie Donaldson, Bram Weinstein, DeAngelo Hall
Line: DET -3.0; O/U 46