Back to back road games are not an ideal way to start an NFL season, but the Detroit Lions will have to persevere through a second consecutive game away from home if they wish to see a winning record before the Chicago Bears visit Michigan next weekend for a showdown.
Last week, things went wrong on the road for Detroit against Arizona in a multitude of ways. The good news is, Detroit gets a second chance to make things right on the road against an opponent with seemingly more problems than themselves. It will take a cleaner effort in plenty of areas for that to happen, though. Here's five keys to this week's game.
1. Matthew Stafford's Decision Making. Facing what figures to be intense pressure from Washington's blitz packages. the pressure will literally be on Stafford all day long in more than one sense. He'll have to make quality decisions to get the ball out fast to avoid getting hit. Moreover, he'll have to find open receivers and pick apart the Redskins' tattered secondary, which hasn't played fantastic over the first two games. A major opportunity exists for Stafford this week, and he needs to be good in the face of pressure this time around for the Lions to win.
2. Detroit's Offense Without Reggie Bush. Last week, it disappeared completely when Bush went down with his knee injury. This week, with Bush's impact on the game uncertain, the Lions will have to be much more prepared to play without their star running back. That means the running game cannot be abandoned as fast as it was last week, and other receivers must step up in Bush's absence. Wide receiver Patrick Edwards is to miss the game as well, meaning others will have to step up. During the first two weeks, the Lions' offense has looked far too Bush-centered. Others have to make plays, too, in order for the offense to have success.
3. Discipline. Through two games, the Lions have 19 penalties. Though that's not tops in the league, a few of the calls certainly helped doom Detroit last week, including Willie Young's illegal hands to the face call and Bill Bentley's costly pass interference mistake. Worse, as the critical calls pile up, the media will continue to hound the team about being undisciplined and classless. To climb out of their enormous hole, the Lions have to play much more focused and eliminate the unforced mistakes against the Redskins.
4. Offensive Line Play. As previously mentioned, the Redskins love to pressure the quarterback. Some of that pressure, thanks to the sheer volume of rushers, will likely get home. It will be up to Detroit's offensive line to limit that most of the time, though, so Stafford has a tiny bit of time. Last week, the line was simply alright against Arizona. In this match up, alright won't cut the mustard. If the line gives Stafford time and allows the running game to grind out a few yards along the way, that will go a long way towards helping Detroit's offense look much better than it did.
5. Brandon Pettigrew's Hands. It's been a storyline forever. Pettigrew, when targeted, simply cannot make big plays or big catches, and seems to drop the ball more than he catches it. Though Jim Schwartz stood up for him this week citing one fantastic catch he made during the last game's two minute drill, one is simply not enough at this point. In the absence of Edwards, Ryan Broyles and perhaps even Bush, the Lions are depending on Pettigrew to make big plays down the field. When and if he's targeted against Washington, it's time for Pettigrew to be consistent and help his team's passing attack.
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