Home > NFL > Story Behind the Game: Why Redskins at Lions is the Game of Week 3

Story Behind the Game: Why Redskins at Lions is the Game of Week 3

flickr.com/Keith Allison

flickr.com/Keith Allison

If there’s one word that describes what the Redskins-Lions game is not, it’s epic.  These are two teams who are very, very desperate for very different reasons.  And when these two NFC also-rans take the field in Detroit, in a game that won’t even be televised locally, both teams will be desperate for a victory for entirely different reasons.

After all, isn’t that what makes the NFL great?

The Lions come in on an 19 game losing streak that officially appears to be in danger of becoming the longest losing streak in NFL history (currently 26 games).  The Redskins come in aware of the threat that the Lions pose, but needing the win for this team, this year.  The Lions are trying to avoid making dubious history.  The Redskins are trying to avoid taking one of the softest fourth-place schedules in recent memory, and riding it to a 1-2 start.

Both coaches need this win as well.  Jim Schwartz has watched Josh McDaniels start 2-0, watched Rex Ryan start 2-0,  watched Jim Caldwell start 2-0, and watched Mike Singletary start 2-0, leaving him in a group of winless NFL head coaches with Raheem Morris, Todd Haley, and Steve Spagnuolo.  That is not a group that one would want to be the last coach remaining.  Zorn, on the other hand, has endured about as rough a week as a winning coach can have.  He’s really taking it from all directions after the Redskins failed to get in the end zone against the Rams.  Certainly, a lot of the criticism is warranted, but it should be noted that Zorn is a win maximizer, not a point maximizer.  He’s lead a very average-looking team to a 1-1 record.

Furthermore, this is a game that will almost certainly be decided in the final few minutes, and figures to include some sort of a Redskins lead in the final minutes while Matthew Stafford tries to lead a Lions comeback to take the franchise to the next level: back to winning.

The Redskins have been here before.  In 2006, a lost season in which the team finished 5-11, an 0-5 Titans team led by Vince Young went into Washington and beat the Redskins.  The next year, a playoff bound Redskins team hit one last bump in the road against rookie Trent Edwards and the Buffalo Bills.  The last rookie quarterback the Redskins actually beat was Alex Smith of the 49ers, back in the 2005 season.

We’re also unsure exactly what we can make of the Redskins at this point.  At the very least, this is an average team.  But the payroll is not at the level it is at for this team to repeat at 8-8.  A loss in this game would certainly suggest that 6 to 8 wins is the end game for the Redskins this year.  For the Lions, a lot of prognosticators figured the team would rebound to at least 4 or 5 wins.  But at 0-3, the team isn’t going to be able to simply improve to that number thanks to mean regression: 5 wins in the final 13 games would be indicative of a team that is–talent wise–much stronger than their 0-16 counterparts.

The Redskins expect to be great.  It appears that Jason Campbell has made the necessary improvements to take the team to the next level: a 68.9% completion percentage, 7.4 yards per attempt, a career low sack rate of 4.7%, a remarkable 1.6% INT rate, and an 89.0 QB rating.  Campbell is what the Lions hope Matthew Stafford can one day become.

But if Campbell’s maturation hasn’t helped the Redskins score touchdowns, what is left to blame?  A lot of it can be pinned on mental errors, losing key one on one match-ups on offense, and yes, some piss poor red zone playcalling.  A lot of it does come back to the feet of Jim Zorn.  My take is that: if you can win the battles that help you win the games, it doesn’t so much matter if you have to take advantage of field goals over touchdowns to do it.  Of course, the point of offense isn’t to score field goals, it’s to put the ball in the end zone, but field goals can be a useful tool for winning games.

Now the media, the media has seen the cracks in Snyder’s empire, and sees the David vs. Goliath angle, and they’re thinking (collectively, of course) that, “hey, this is a week the Lions can win!”  Well, yeah, of course, but about the time they started 0-12 last year, every loss from that point out became historic, and you were no longer in danger of getting anything but the best effort from the team.  Yet, since the Thanksgiving loss to the Titans, the Lions are 0-6.

Now sitting at 0-2 this year, Jim Schwartz gets the added pressure if he loses to the Redskins.  Schwartz was nearly offered the Redskins job a year before, but ironically, one of the reasons he took his name out of the running was because the team was going to make Zorn the offensive coordinator regardless of who took the job, and naturally, that made the job less appealing to everyone but Zorn, who eventually emerged as the best candidate.

Zorn has the better team in this game.  He knows that.  Schwartz knows that.  The media, I think they know that.  I think the whole Redskins organization and fanbase knows that.  But the fact that the teams are uneven only makes this match-up more intriguing.  You have an injured offensive line on the Washington side who knows that big plays will be at a premium, and they can only score via effective red zone play.  You have a rookie quarterback on the Lions side who is confident that he can win this game for his team at home.  And you have two organizations who take on a very different outlook should they lose this game.  In summary, this should be a great football game.

For those who get to see it.

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