The Washington Commanders travel to Detroit on Sunday to play their road opener against the Lions. The Lions, much like the Commanders, had a very shaky performance on defense that led to a high-scoring game in Week 1.
Unlike the Commanders, the Lions found themselves on the losing end of the game as the Eagles won 38-35. Washington hasn’t won in Detroit since their infamous loss to the Lions in 2009, a game which saw the Lions (losers of 19 straight) beat Washington in what was Matthew Stafford’s first victory as an NFL QB. If the Commanders are going to break that streak on Sunday they will likely need to play better than they did in their Week 1 win over Jacksonville.
Here are two keys to victory, one offensively and the other defensively, if the Commanders are to achieve their first 2-0 start in over a decade.
2 things Commanders must do to defeat the Lions
Commanders’ Key on Offense: Sustaining Drives
In their Week 1 win over Jacksonville, the Commanders managed to win despite losing the turnover battle 3-1. A big part of how they were able to do that was the fact that they dominated the Jaguars on third-down on both sides of the ball. If they are going to win against Detroit they will need to recreate some of the same success they had in the season opener. The defense was due for positive regression on third-down this year, and Commanders’ fans should be optimistic that will continue, but let’s take a look at the offense and what was sustainable or not sustainable in their success on third-down in Week 1.
The Commanders were unsustainably good on third down against the Jaguars in Week 1, as they posted a ridiculously high 460% DVOA on third and long. That means they were 460% better than average in that situation. Although it is a small sample size, that number is not close to sustainable. The leader in that same stat last year, the Arizona Cardinals, posted a 138.4% DVOA on third/fourth and long.
In order for the offense to continue its success they need to stay out of third and long, and really try to stay out of third down altogether. The Commanders were not very good on early downs running the football, something they will need to improve on if they want to continue to sustain drives on Sunday. They were in the bottom 10 teams in early down success rate (1st and 2nd downs in the first three quarters) and they were last in EPA/play running the football in those situations, according to rbsdm.com. If they do continue to run the football that poorly, it will force Carson Wentz and company into very tough third and long situations.
Although it is important that if the Commanders run the ball during early downs they have success, I think the Commanders should continue to lean on the short passing game on 1st and 2nd down, and trust the playmakers to do what they did so well last week. Aside from the INT thrown to Travon Walker, the short passing game, a staple of the Scott Turner offense, was very successful; getting the ball out of Wentz’s hands and into the likes of Curtis Samuel and Antonio Gibson was critical on both of the Commanders’ first-half TD drives.
The Lions are a team that wants to control the ball for a long period of time and rely on their ground-and-pound game, if the Commanders are able to take them out of their comfort zone and dominate time of possession themselves by sustaining drives they should give themselves a great chance to win in Week 2.