The Washington Redskins return to FedExField on Sunday for a NFC showdown with the Detroit Lions.
Ahead of the Week 12 matchup, Redskins.com spoke to longtime team reporter Tim Twentyman about what to expect from the Lions this weekend. Here's what we learned:
Take a look at practice photos from Thursday's practice for the upcoming Jets home game.
Q: Longtime starting quarterback Matt Stafford is unlikely to play Sunday because of a back injury. How does the Lions' offense change with backup Jeff Driskel under center?
Tim Twentyman: Well, Driskel is a little more athletic than Stafford. He can use his legs; he rushed for 51 yards last week on eight carries. So Matthew’s got the big arm to make plays down the field, but what offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has done a nice job of is kind of tailoring this offense to fit Jeff Driskel’s skill set.
We’re seeing more [run-pass options], designed runs for Driskel, some boot outs, being able to use his athleticism. And so it’s a little bit different, but credit Darrell Bevell for kind of finding a way to make it work. Driskel threw two touchdown passes last week, rushed for another one, didn’t turn the ball over, and so that’s pretty much all you can ask for from a backup quarterback is give you a chance to win and Jeff Driskel did that last week.”
Q: It seems like regardless of who's at quarterback, the strength of the offense is on the outside with wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr.. What do they provide for this offense, what specifically do they do well and what threat do they post to opposing defenses
Twentyman: Both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. have eight touchdown catches on the year, and that leads the NFL alongside Jacksonville's D. J. Chark. They’re both really good at 50/50 balls, catching balls along the sideline, body control, making contested catches.
You won’t see a lot of separation with those guys -- they won’t be running wide open down the middle of the field -- but both can make the tough catches, and the quarterbacks trust them throwing the ball down the field. If Jeff Driskel sees them one-on-one with either Kenny Golladay or Marvin Jones Jr., he will have no hesitation to throw the ball up and let them make a play.
So, I think there is a trust level there with both of those guys, and that’s really been built on them making plays for the quarterbacks, both Matthew Stafford and now Jeff Driskel as well.”
Q: Just shifting over to the running game, Kerryon Johnson was the lead back to start the year but then he got hurt. There's been a host of running backs who have gotten the work since, with Bo Scarbrough handling much of the responsibilities last week against Dallas. What exactly is going on in the running game, and what should we expect this weekend against the Redskins?
Twentyman: It’s been a patched unit since Kerryon [Johnson] went down, but I think they found something in Bo Scarborough. He was on their practice squad, brought him up last week and the numbers don’t jump out on the stat sheet -- he had a touchdown, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry -- but if you look at those 14 carries, nine of those were of four yards or more. And so he broke tackles in the first-level, in the second-level; I thought he brought a physicality and a toughness to this Lions run game that we just haven’t had since Kerryon went down, and so I would expect Scarborough to get the bulk of the carries this week. He’s showed last week that he’s got some ability and he kind of fits this zone-run scheme that Bevell’s got going on here.
Q: So basically, with what they're trying to do with Driskel, Scarbrough is the running back that best fits the mold?
Twentyman: Essentially, yes. He adds a physical element. Driskel can get outside, get wide, all the play-actions are [in play] because he’s breaking those tackles and they’re having to put another guy in the box or a box safety or whatever Washington decides to do based on the film last week. They're going to have to gang tackle this guy, at least if I'm watching the film that's what I see. It’s not going to be a one-on-one deal getting him to the ground, and he showed that last week. Dallas is a pretty good defense -- they have some good linebackers and some good players over there -- and they had a real tough time tackling Bo. And so if I watch that on tape I say, ‘Well, we've got to watch that.’ Well now, there's play action. And with Driskel’s ability to run the ball and get out wide, and then not just run to run but run to throw and extend plays. I think it's a good combination we've got going on with those two right now.”
Q: Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, what have been the strengths of this unit, and who are some players who have stood out?
Twentyman: There’s not a whole lot of guys jumping out in terms of playing well. I mean you just look at the defense and the numbers and they’re one of the worst defenses across the board in the league. And that's really been their Achilles heel because the offense has played well enough to win most of these games. The Lions, along with Kansas City and San Francisco, are the only teams in the NFL that have led in every game this year. And yet we sit here at 3-6-1. So, it’s close games, and the offense has played well enough to win, the defense simply just hasn’t.
I think [cornerback] Darius Slay has played well, He hasn't gotten as many opportunities as he has in the past to make big plays in terms of interceptions and getting those numbers up. But it's because teams aren’t throwing at him, and that’s a good thing.
It's just been, as you know, to have a good pass defense is a marriage of rush and cover, and I think the last two weeks have been a great example of Detroit’s [shortcomings.]. In Chicago, they were able to pressure Mitchell Trubisky -- they sacked him five times -- and then there were some breakdowns in the secondary that allowed some big plays and three passing touchdowns. Last week, they couldn’t pressure Dak Prescott at all. Dak said after the game that there were times when he could go through his reads twice. You just can’t ask players in the secondary to cover guys that long, especially guys like Amari Cooper and some of the weapons that they have. So, it’s been kind of a broken marriage for better words between the rush and the cover, and it's just been really inconsistent.
And then on top of that, at the beginning of the year they couldn’t stop the run. They’ve been good at that the last four games -- I think they’ve held opponents under 100 yards rushing three of the last four games -- but then you’ve got the last five weeks quarterbacks passing for a better than 110 passer rating and three touchdowns each of the five weeks.
So it’s again that marriage hasn't been consistent all year. Rush defense, rush/pass defense and then rushing the passer and covering behind it. There’s just been a real lack of consistency.
Q: Lastly, what do you think are the keys to the game? Where do you think the game is going to be decided between the Redskins and Lions on Sunday?
Twentyman: Well I think if you look at Washington’s offense, obviously they’ve struggled. They’ve got some young players that they are putting into situations to see what they can do, and you’re always going to struggle when you have first- and second-year players at key positions.
But them for the Lions it's they're defense. They've struggled, too. It’s really kind of a weakness on weakness type deal with Washington’s offense, who ranks near the bottom of most offensive categories, and then Detroit’s defense who ranks near the bottom of most defensive categories. I think the keys Sunday for me at least are which of those units that have struggled can step up and make plays? I think both units have to be thinking, ‘Wow, this might be a get right type of game,' and so which one of them can get right? And I think that’s the biggest key to Sunday.”