Time was when the Detroit Lions was as close to a gimme game as the Washington Redskins could ever find. The 'Skins are 27-11-0 all time over the Lions. The Redskins have never lost to the Lions in Washington. So, even with the team struggling, Washington's loss to Detroit last year was beyond shock.
The loss laid bare Washington's issues that were just below the surface. Who expected to see Clinton Portis fail to score on fourth down with one yard to go? Who expected to see $100 million Albert Haynesworth sprawled on the field, gassed? Who expected to see the Lions score 13 points before the Redskins get on the board (57 yard Campbell to Moss scoring strike)? Who expected to see Jason Campbell play his finest game (27/41, 340 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and lose? To the Lions?
Worse, the loss triggered the most inept example of leadership failure by Vinny Cerrato and Daniel Snyder as you will find. That gets to the point. Detroit won last year because of better leadership at the top. They may win this game because former-Redskin, current GM Martin Mayhew is a year ahead of Bruce Allen in remaking his team.
If nothing else, The Redskins should be on high alert this time when they visit the Lions.
Into the Lions den
No more the patsy, the Lions are three point favorites this game despite a deceptive 1-5 record. Mayhew and company made astute choices to restock the Lions with real talent, including a defensive line that features DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DT Ndamukong Suh. The TV cameras and media types will focus on quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Donovan McNabb, but the real contest in this game will be Washington's offensive line versus Detroit's front seven.
The Lions hung 20 points and 366 yards on the New York Giants in a losing effort on the road. They did that with their second and third string quarterbacks. The Giants consider themselves lucky to have come away with the win.
The Philadelphia Eagles outlasted Detroit's 32 point, 410-yard effort in the game that made Michael Vick a media darling. We know the Giants and the Eagles. If the Lions can do that to them, we then know that Detroit can move the ball and can score.
Detroit averages 24.3 points per game. The Redskins average 18.6 points per game. That fuels a lot of doubt about Washington's chances.
But wait. There's more.
Football Outsiders ranks Detroit #21 and Washington #23 in week seven DVOA, their statistical measure of a team's performance against a theoretical NFL average. FO projects that both the Lions and the Redskins will win three more games this season.
Paul Bessire at PredictionMachine.com gives the Lions a 55 percent probability to win after simulating the contest 50,000 times. What's scary is that Bessire's Prediction Machine signaled a Washington win in Chicago.
Measuring defensive rank by yards allowed doesn't tell you enough about the Redskins. Yards be damned. The Redskins did that last year. Did it well. Didn't work.
This year, the 'Skins are going for disruption--quarterback sacks, hurries and turnovers. The results are better. And Washington is doing it by playing Beast ball, that old school, slobber-knocking, east coast smash mouth football. People get hurt when they play the Redskins.
It figured that the Redskins would need half the season for the new schemes on both offense and defense to jell. Other teams figure to take that long to decipher Shanahan's game plan. This game comes right at the mid-point of the season and with Detroit, off of a bye, having two weeks to study game film on Washington.
Maybe this is the game when the Redskins explode on offense as Donovan McNabb promised would happen...someday.
No predicting this game
The Lions deserve their favored status. They are a better team with genuine talent and they are playing at home (they still stink on the road). They've had two weeks to prepare for Mike Shanahan and they get starting QB Matthew Stafford and MLB DeAndre Levy back from injury. These Lions have teeth, though I'm not sure their fans believe it. The game will be blacked out in the Detroit TV market.
Washington and Detroit are very evenly matched. That makes for an entertaining game that can go either way. The winner will be the team that catches the right break--the first to score like last year, or a turnover at the right time, or whoever benefits from a bad call by the refs.
Point after: We spend time at Redskins Hog Heaven analyzing the Redskins and rosters that win games. For me, that means studying successful general managers who construct rosters that win. Keep your eye on Detroit's Martin Mayhew.
Good things happen when you combine good people with good management. Former Redskin (Super Bowl 26) Mayhew is a real smart guy: Georgetown Law; Redskins front office intern; prestigious DC law firm Akin Gump (general counsel of the NFL), associate on the NFL management council. Mayhew has shown good management and a sense for picking good talent. Mayhew took the administrative career path to GM-ship, but he either has a nose for talent, or knows to listen to his scouts.
If the dumbest football thing the Ford family did was hiring Matt Millen, the smartest thing they did was keeping Mayhew. In three years, you'll compare this guy to Bill Polian (Colts) and Ozzie Newsome (Ravens). A competent team will take the field against the Redskins Sunday. That's Mayhew's doing.
The Lions do poorly on the road and they have never won in Washington. So, why are the Redskins playing the Lions for the second consecutive time in Detroit?