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3 keys to Washington getting a win in Detroit

09112022 Week 1 WAS vs JAX KC8932

The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.

The Washington Commanders are playing the Detroit Lions in Week 2 with hopes of going 2-0 for the first time since 2011. Zach Selby and Logan Paulsen give three keys to Washington coming away with a win.

What can the defense do to replicate the pressure it generated against the Jaguars?

Logan: The Commanders' defensive line did an outstanding job against the Jacksonville offensive line. This week, the Commanders' front and Jack Del Rio face a different challenge. Penei Sewell is a budding star at right tackle and will soon be one of the best at the position. I expect a quiet day from whoever rushes the right side. On the other side, Taylor Decker might have less upside but has been a solid pro since being drafted in the first round in 2016.

On paper, this matchup would appear to favor Detroit. I thought Del Rio would need to find a way to generate pressure given the skill of Detroit's offensive line. However, I feel differently about watching the film. Josh Sweat showed off why he is quietly one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in the opener with a nice array of moves, great get off and elite bend. He was able to cultivate multiple pressures on Decker. Sweat might be a better pure pass rusher than Montez Sweat, but Montez brings the "freak factor" and one of the best long arms in the game. Couple this with Decker's tall, open pass set (which invites the long arm) and a calf injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday, Montez might be able to turn the tide on this matchup.

Despite Montez's upper hand, Sewell on the other side means pressure needs to come from elsewhere. While Detroit's offensive tackles are solid players, the interior is in flux. The team's starter (Halapoulivaati Vaitai) and backup (Tommy Kraemer) both suffered back injuries and are now on IR. Logan Stenberg, the team's current starter, is the third guard on the roster. He got his first start against Philly on Sunday and had a rough outing. Stenberg has potential to be a solid starter but will need time to figure it out. Daron Payne and Jon Allen should be able to take full advantage of this matchup and keep Goff from pushing the ball down the field.

Zach: The Commanders pressured Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars 24.4% last week, which was just barely in the top half of the league. They did, however, bring 18 blitzes, according to Pro Football Reference, which was the second most behind the Arizona Cardinals.

The Lions were the only team that was worse than the Jaguars in terms of pass-block win-rate (32nd, 41%), but they should still present a tough challenge for the Commanders' front. Jonah Jackson has a Pro Bowl on his resume, and as Logan alluded, Sewell is one of the better young tackles playing today. It should also be noted that the Lions were squaring off against the Eagles' defensive line, which among the best in the league.

I think there are two things Washington needs to do against the Lions. The first is that the defensive line needs to continue rushing as one group. Ron Rivera gave an excellent example of this on Friday, when he described a play where Daniel Wise altered his rush trajectory based on how Sweat was attacking the edge. Goff is not a mobile player, but limiting his escape routes will make life more difficult for him. Center Frank Ragnow was also ruled out of Sunday's game, so Payne, Allen and the rest of the defensive tackles will need to take advantage of that.

The other component is that players outside of the defensive line need to contribute. Benjamin St-Juste could be one candidate for that. He had an excellent blitz on Lawrence that caused an incompletion. Chris Harris was pleasantly surprised by his effectiveness in Week 1, so we could see more of that in Detroit.

What can Washington do to limit some of the production from the Lions' slot receivers?

Logan: The short answer is that it will be tough, but let me explain why. Amon-Ra St. Brown is Detroit's top slot receiver. The second-year player out of USC is not a physical freak at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, but he falls well within the normal height and weight ranges for the position. His 4.51 40 is also perfectly average. In a man-to-man coverage situation, nothing about that athletic profile scares you. However, he has been dissecting defenses since he arrived in the NFL. St. Brown excels at identifying coverages and knowing how to bet those coverages with his route stems and breaks. His toughness and contested catch abilities are also excellent, allowing him to make plays on tight window throws that would normally be broken up. Last year, he had one drop for the entire season.

The question is, "How do you slow him down?" My first thought is the Commanders play man coverage. I think St-Juste quickness and length would cause St. Brown fits. But long term, I don't think this is a viable solution. The Lions have other weapons, D.J Chark and T.J. Hockenson who would stress other players on the defense with their ability to win in man-to-man situations.

I think the solution resides in confusing not St. Brown but rather Jared Goff. The Lions don't feature St. Brown in many one-on-one situations outside of third downs. He gets open within the concept, and Goff works his progressions. If Del Rio and the Commanders' secondary can confuse Goff by giving him false reads on the coverage, it will be more difficult for Goff to work through his progressions and find St. Brown in the concept. It would also impact how Goff and St. Brown read the coverages on the short option routes that St. Brown runs on third down. It's a tall task, but with Kam Curl on his way back into the lineup, the backend should be able to mask what they are doing and make it more difficult for Goff to consistently find St. Brown.

Zach: Christian Kirk lined up in the slot on 57 snaps against the Commanders in Week 1, and all three of his catches in that area of the field went for at least 15 yards. It is easy to assume that St. Brown is going to get plenty of attention from Goff in similar situations.

There are a few factors that Washington will need to account for here. The biggest question is whether Curl ends up playing with an injured thumb. If he is active, that would go a long way towards limiting St. Brown and Hockenson, who combined for nearly half of Goff's passing yards.

As Logan mentioned, St-Juste can alleviate some of that, but the Commanders must prevent the Lions trying to match up St. Brown against linebackers, which is simply not an advantageous situation. St. Brown thrives because of his speed and quickness, and the Commanders will need someone like St-Juste to match that skill set.

What is one matchup that you'll be watching in Week 2?

(Commanders' passing game vs. Detroit's secondary)

Logan: The Commander's passing game was outstanding Week 1. The big question now is, "Can this continue against Detroit?" The success of the passing game rests on Scott Turner’s shoulders and his plan for Arron Glenn's aggressive play calls in high stakes situations. "Aggressive play calling" probably doesn't do justice to what Arron Glenn does on third down, low red zone, two minute and critical situations. Glenn is hyper aggressive in these situations, playing man coverage and bringing as many as three extra blitzers often going as far to play zero coverage (man across the backend with no help).

If you are Turner, you are salivating about having all your playmakers in one-on-one situations. However, Carson Wentz has historically struggled against high-pressure defenses. Turner needs a plan to make sure Wentz is comfortable and can distribute the ball the same way he did last Sunday. Turner had a solid plan against Jacksonville for high-pressure situations, employing seven-man protections and quick game. Will he deploy a similar plan this week? It would seem unlikely. In the max protection sets, you are playing into Detroit's hands keeping playmakers into protect. I would expect to see Turner spread the formation and let Wentz see the blitzers and get the ball out of his hands accordingly. Whatever the plan is, I'm excited to see what Turner cooks up to cool Glenn's aggressive tendencies.

Mike Bass was honored during the Washington Commanders' Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars by being inducted into the franchise's Ring of Fame. (Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)

(Commanders' front seven vs. Detroit's run game)

Zach: Clearly, the Lions liked their matchups in the run game on the left side of the field, because that is where most of D'Andre Swift's success came from, as he put up the third-most rushing yards in Week 1 (144).

James Robinson, the Jaguars' leading rusher in Week 1, has a more physical style, whereas Swift brings more athleticism to the position. There is a reason why Del Rio has such respect for him; he has proven that he can be one of the more electrifying players with 18 career touchdowns in three seasons.

I expect the Lions to rely on Swift's speed to beat defenders around the edge in a similar fashion to what they did against the Eagles. This is going to be a big game for Sweat, whose 4.4 speed is enough to match that of Swift. The defensive ends on the other side, whether it be James Smith-Williams or Casey Toohill, will also need to step up.

This would also be a good opportunity for defensive backs like Percy Butler and Forrest to show off their physicality. Butler had a quiet rookie debut, but Forrest was outstanding and one the best defenders on the team. It will be difficult to stop Swift completely, but stymying him is certainly possible if the right players step up.

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