The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Lions 2016 Week 7 showdown at Ford Field in Detroit.
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TAKE ADVANTAGE OF STRENGTHS
Even if Jordan Reed isn't able to play this weekend, the Redskins have the upper hand against a Lions defense that has given up seven touchdowns to opposing tight ends this year.
Additionally, Detroit has given up 17 passing touchdowns while allowing quarterbacks to record an average quarterback rating of 119.3, nearly five points higher than any other defense.
If Trent Williams can avoid a defense that will send pressure his way, the passing game could be in for a big day.
"We've seen an aggressive defense, an aggressive front seven," offensive tackle Trent Williams said when asked of what he's seen on tape. "Guys who are long, rangy and athletic. They do a good job controlling the edges, getting a knock back on the offensive line and making it harder to run the ball. It's going to be tough sledding, especially going into their stadium, dealing with their crowd noise. It's definitely going to be something, it's going to be another test for us to overcome."
Detroit has also allowed 19 plays of 20 or more yards through the air and five passing plays of 40 yards or greater. That could play into the strengths of the speedy Jamison Crowder.
But Jackson could be opposite of Darius Slay, a fast-rising cornerback who single handedly forced two Eagles turnovers in a late victory two weeks ago.
"I played against him before, good young corner, but I like our side better," Jackson said. "That's the plan, we worry about ourselves here, that's what you worry about, inside this locker room, as a team, I think everybody's on the right track, everybody's mind is where it needs to be. We're focused and not going to overlook any team we're going to play, game by game and week in and week out."
Back to the tight ends. Vernon Davis filled in well for Reed last week, recording two receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown.
Yes, the offense would change if Reed can't play, but Davis proved he's still got quite a bit left in the tank at 32 years old.
"As far as the concepts and the scheme of the offense, we can just keep moving forward," Davis said. "When you have a quarterback like Kirk who can get the ball out and make plays, you can't really skip a beat. We're fortunate enough to have the guys that we have in this locker room and we just want to keep moving forward."
BE READY FOR STAFFORD'S WEAPONS
It was arguably the most shocking revelation of the NFL offseason when three-time All Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson decided to call it quits at just age 30.
Johnson, who played nine seasons in the NFL, remained one of the most dangerous receivers in the league, making the decision all the more puzzling and similar to another legendary Detroit Lion that also retired at 30 years old – running back Barry Sanders.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford hasn't experienced an NFL season without Johnson until now, but is currently flourishing despite missing his favorite weapon. Stafford's completion percentage, yards per attempt and quarterback rating are all at career-high levels. Some of the credit certainly goes to Stafford, while another large portion goes to the Detroit front office for rebuilding the receiving corps.
First and foremost is Marvin Jones, the fourth-year receiver who moved on from playing second fiddle to A.J. Green in Cincinnati to being one of the NFL's most prolific receivers through six weeks. Jones ranks seventh in the NFL with 529 yards and sixth with 18.2 yards per catch. His six-catch, 205-yard game against Green Bay in Week 3 would have stood as the most ridiculous of the season if not for Julio Jones exploding for 300 yards against Carolina a week later. Perhaps no one at Redskins Park knows Jones better than Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, who was the offensive coordinator with the Bengals during Jones's first two years in the NFL.
"Man, I'm fired up for Marvin," Gruden beamed when asked about Jones Wednesday. "I'm proud of him. He's one of those guys that came in as a rookie and really performed. He works hard. He runs every route the same – 100 percent. Great, great, great, great kid. I'm happy-as-heck that he got a contract that he was worthy of and he's starting to live up to the expectations of being a No. 1 receiver over there. Hopefully he doesn't have a good game against us. It will be a great challenge for Josh [Norman] and Bree [Bashaud Breeland] and [Greg] Toler and [Quinton] Dunbar. But I'm happy for Marvin and the success that he's had."
However, it's not just Jones that Washington will have to worry about. Detroit also added veteran Anquan Boldin, who continues to be a consistent performer in his 14th season in the league. His eight receptions and 60 yards in last week's win over the Rams were both season highs.
More importantly for the Lions last week, Golden Tate broke out.
Tate torched the Rams for eight catches and 165 yards after not topping 50 yards in a game all season. Add in Andre Roberts, who caught his first touchdown of the season last week, and the Lions have been able to replicate Johnson's production by committee. Despite not having one of the greatest receivers in league history, the Lions have become deeper and less predictable in the passing game. The Redskins will need a good performance from the entire secondary.
"They all have their own challenges," Redskins safety Will Blackmon said about the Lions' wideouts. "People can sleep on Dre [Andre Roberts], but Dre can still beat somebody deep and Marvin (Jones) is super athletic, Golden Tate is a wildcard, where he's just full of swagger, man. I played with him in Seattle and he's a tough matchup anywhere. And then Anquan (Boldin), I mean he's just a dog and he just knows how to play the game so across the board, it's going to be pretty cool."
RUN, RUN AND RUN SOME MORE
The Redskins dominated a stout Eagles run defense last Sunday, churning out 230 rushing yards on 33 carries with an average of seven yards per run.
Rob Kelley had a career day, as the second-year Florida product ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries.
With the game still very much alive late in the game, though, Jones busted through Philadelphia's defense for a 57-yard run, slamming the door on any potential comeback in the process.
Rookie Rob Kelley added 59 rushing yards while Chris Thompson collected 37 yards on a career-high nine carries.
This week, Washington faces a Detroit defense that has allowed more than 375 rushing yards in the team's three losses to date.
Having a diverse running backs corps could throw the Lions through a loop while still focused on stopping a high-octane passing attack.
"Obviously Matt will be more so the bell cow – the guy that you hand it to 16, 20 times a game," Williams said. "Chris Thompson comes in and gives you that aspect where he can hit the edges and keep the defense honest. He's very dangerous out of the backfield. He can run routes just like a wide receiver. He's what you would call a scat back, the third-down back. And then you've got Fat Rob, and he comes in – he's a change of pace. He knows how to find lanes. Extremely fast to get to the second level. He has some really good moves if you haven't noticed. He's not an easy guy to get a hat on. It's a perfect mixture."
While Kelley has recorded only 13 carries on the season, he could see an increase in action of the offense is able to dominate time of possession once again.
"Obviously if we have that many opportunities offensively, he'll get more and more touches," Gruden said. "It just depends how the game flow goes and how many possessions and time of possession and all of that, but we'd love to get him some touches for sure."
MAKE IT SPECIAL
Usually winning and losing a game is discussed in terms of how the offense and defense performed. But for the Redskins, a major factor in their current four-game winning streak has been their success on special teams.
The Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions have met 18 times during the regular season. Here's a look back at some of those games.
Jamison Crowder leads the league in punt returns with 10 attempts for 207 yards and a touchdown. Crowder's returns have been incredibly important over the last month, which makes continuing that performance against the Lions this weekend that much more important. That could be difficult, however, considering Detroit has given up the third-lowest punt return yards in the NFL. Only allowing 48 yards on 10 attempts this year, the Lions will give Crowder a much greater challenge than he has seen in week's past.
On the other side, the Redskins did allow an 86-yard touchdown on a kickoff return last week to the Eagles. The rest of the special teams' performance against the Eagles was enough to win the game, but giving up points shows a need for improvement. The goal for the Redskins special teams against the Lions this weekend is to rebound from last week.
"We set the bar high. [Special teams] Coach [Ben] Kotwica set the standard early on in the season that we've got to get better in [special teams]," Houston Bates said. "We made big strides last year throughout the season making some plays, making a difference in the game. We had the touchdown –Crowder had the return in the Ravens' game. The bar was set high, and I think Philadelphia has one of the better special teams units in the league as well. They came to play. Having a kick return [for touchdown] is obviously not what we want. We need to get better and fix it."
Fixing it might be a bit of a hard task with the Lions on Sunday. Detroit also has a punt returner that can make a significant impact in the game in Andre Roberts. Coming off a tough two years with the Redskins, Roberts is now ranked fifth in the league in punt returns with his new team, averaging 17.8 yards on eight attempts and one touchdown. The former Washington player has also turned into a dangerous kickoff returner, accumulating 248 yards on 12 attempts. The Redskins will have to be careful when kicking the ball in his direction.
Rounding out the Redskins special teams is kicker Dustin Hopkins, who has made 15 field goals this year, second in the league. Having missed only one kick this season, Hopkins has become very reliable.
Overall the importance that special teams could have on the outcome of the game is not being overlooked and will most likely have a significant impact on the team winning its fifth consecutive game.
"We've got the right pieces," Bates said. "Niles Paul is our captain. He's keeps everybody up. He's passionate. I like to keep the energy up because it's important. It's one of the three phases of every game. So when you can play well on defense, play well on offense, play well on special teams, you've got a pretty good chance of playing the game. We take it very seriously."