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In Detroit, Redskins May Have to Avoid 'Underconfidence'

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The first worry might be overconfidence.

A team goes into its opponents' stadium knowing the place won't be full. That the home side has lost 19 games in a row. That it might be starting five rookies, including one at quarterback. That it has a new coaching staff, an overhauled roster and no real sense of its identity yet.

Overconfidence is not the Redskins' problem. Or shouldn't be. For all of Jim Zorn's protestations that he won't discuss the Detroit Lions' 0-19 skein with his team, there's not a player that doesn't know it, nor how embarrassing it would be to assist in the Lions beefing their record up to 1-19.

But what about underconfidence, if there is such a word? What if there's a fear factor, a gross overweighting of caution, a tension that keeps the players from being relaxed, from settling into their game, their roles, their jobs?

Joe Theismann announced on his Sirius radio show the Redskins are, he believes, primed for an upset. They are favored by six points at Ford Field, so a Lions' win would certainly qualify as an upset. There are the faux mathematicians who believe the Lions are due and that somehow the odds favor them because of that, though games aren't coin tosses and the won-loss proposition only has two possible outcomes and they're not influenced by mere chance.

The Redskins seem to be trying to keep some of this balance in mind. They expected to compete on an even footing on the road with the New York Giants and, despite a mediocre performance, were within a touchdown at the end. They allowed the Giants only one offensive touchdown and were undone by a sack-strip-fumble recovery for a touchdown.

They anticipated more of a roll against the St. Louis Rams and did everything but score touchdowns (no minor issue, to be sure). They dominated time of possession, yardage, etc. They won, 9-7 and their own fans booed them for it.

Now, the Lions. Not the equal of the Giants. Maybe not the equal of the Rams, whose losing streak is a mere 12. The Rams, however, beat the Redskins last year. The Lions fought them to the end before succumbing 25-17. The Redskins, then, should not be underestimating the challenge.

"I think they understand that," defensive coordinator Greg Blache says. "They know those guys don't get up in the morning and say, 'We're going to lose another one.' Those guys get up in the morning and they look at us as a team they can beat. They're looking forward to us.

"When we went up to Detroit last year, if Santana (Moss) doesn't take the punt back at the end of the game, they beat us. We stunk the joint up there last year. If our players don't recognize that, they're not as smart as I think they are. I don't have to say a whole bunch. We've addressed it slightly, but at the same time (our guys realize), with our history against Detroit when they hadn't won a game last year and almost beat us there, and also the fact that we haven't been setting the house on fire.

"We're 1-1 right now. It's not exactly like we're smoking into the Super Bowl."

There's a dose of reality. Reality is truth and truth hurts.

The Lions led the Redskins 10-3 early, 10-6 at halftime and 10-9 in the third quarter. Those field goals sound familiar? Then Moss stepped up. He caught a 50-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter and made his bold big play with the 80-yard punt return to put the Redskins ahead 22-10.

Did they actually stink the house out? Clinton Portis rushed for 126 yards and Jason Campbell posted a passer rating of 127.4, his career best. The Redskins held the Lions to 274 yards and allowed them to convert only two of 12 third downs.

Not too pungent.

Where the fragrance turns sour, and the concerns begin, reminds us too much of today. The Redskins ventured three times into Detroit's red zone and scored six points, kicking field goals of 25 and 42 yards. They missed one from 50. These drives seem alarmingly like the ones on display this season.

The Redskins took the opening kickoff and maneuvered 78 yards in 11 plays. The drive stalled at the Detroit. 7-yard line. Or terminated. It actually reached the 1, after a 14-yard pass from Campbell to Moss. But Campbell lost two yards on a run to the left and Portis lost five yards on a run to the left and Campbell's third-down toss to Portis gained back six. Then the Redskins took a five-yard penalty for a false start while in field goal formation and got backed up a bit further.

Flash forward to the second quarter. The Redskins drive from their 18 to the Detroit 18. Third and one. Shaun Alexander (remember him?) picks up the first down with a three-yard run but guard Randy Thomas draws a flag for a facemask penalty. Now the Redskins are in third-and-16 from the 33 and miss a 50-yard field goal after an incomplete pass.

We'll skip ahead to the end. You must be getting the idea by now. The Redskins lead 22-17 with 6:39 to play after a Detroit touchdown. They begin to work from their 20 after the kickoff. They march down the field, propelled to the Detroit 13 by Portis' 31-yard run. Three plays later (two runs by Alexander and an eight-yard sack of Campbell, whose fumble cost some more turf), they're at the 25 and Shaun Suisham has to kick his fourth field goal of the day.

That at least puts the Redskins in the position of not losing if the Lions should score and manage a two-point conversion. The defense, however, stops the Lions on downs, Campbell takes a knee to run out the clock and the Redskins are 6-2.

As we know, the Redskins would win only twice more. The Lions? Never.

So we have a cautionary tale. An eight-point win in which the defense held the Lions down sufficiently but had but one sack and no takeaways. Red zone failure. Too many field goals, not enough touchdowns from the offense. Seen this show before?

"We're not 0-2, we're 0-19. You know what I mean? And that's unfair to a lot of players on the team. It's unfair to the players that were here last year because it's a different situation," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz says.

It's a new and different Lions team, if not a markedly better one. It's very much the same Redskins team, in terms of personnel and in their struggles.

Overconfidence? Nah. The Redskins know where they've been, if not where they're going. Right now they've only won one more game than the Lions.

Underconfidence? If the Redskins look tight or seem to have no sense of purpose, this would be their undoing. Offensively they can do the job. They simply need to finish it. In that regard they should have no fear of overconfidence. No team has allowed more red-zone penetrations than Detroit (10). Few teams have had more than Washington's eight.

The time is right. The situation is right.

Confidence is in order. That's the real over-under number in this game.


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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