As bad as the Washington Redskins have been during the last decade or so, it's been 12 years since they last started 0-3. Sufficed to say it'd be extremely surprising and disappointing if the 'Skins were to do so this year, with Robert Griffin III under center and with their first division title this century in the rearview mirror.
In order to avoid that and arguably to save their season, the Redskins will have to get past the Detroit Lions Sunday. The good news is they're at home and Detroit won just two road games last season, but the bad news is that the lackluster Washington secondary has never had to deal with a receiver like Calvin Johnson. Throw in Reggie Bush and it could spell trouble.
Here's our final preview of Sunday's matchup from a Redskins perspective, along with a prediction...
What Washington must do to win, offensive edition
Take what they give you and avoid mistakes. It's quite simple. The Lions are beatable both through the air and on the ground, so if the 'Skins can attack those young ends with the zone-read option and establish the ground game, they should gain some opportunities in the passing game, and vice versa. Even if Griffin isn't fully himself, they should score a lot of points as long as they don't turn it over.
What Washington must do to win, defensive edition
Get in Matthew Stafford's face. This defense is better than what we've seen the first two weeks. It might not be able to completely shut down Johnson and that passing game, but it can compensate for that by flustering Stafford and making plays. If DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson can simply hang in there and Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan can bust through, the Redskins have a chance. Stafford averaged only 5.4 yards per attempt and threw only five touchdown passes on 211 dropbacks under pressure last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Five most important non-quarterbacks
DeAngelo Hall: He held his ground against Dez Bryant in last year's finale and did a decent job when battling DeSean Jackson in the opener, but he struggled against everything the Packers threw his way in Week 2. I still think Hall is the best option to press Johnson, with a lot of help over the top.
Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan: Really, I could almost list the entire linebacking corps here. Reggie Bush, who already has 260 yards from scrimmage this season, is questionable, but I expect him to play. They'll need Orakpo and Kerrigan to get constant pressure and they'll need Perry Riley and the aging London Fletcher to hold it down in the middle.
Chris Chester: Not only will the starting right guard have to worry about protecting Griffin and his right knee against an aggressive pass rush, but he'll be dealing with Ndamukong Suh, who PFF grades as the best defensive tackle in the league through two weeks.
Alfred Morris: It was either him or Trent Williams. Both have to support Griffin all afternoon.
Injury analysis, Redskins edition
Three defensive starters—Kedric Golston, Stephen Bowen and Brandon Meriweather—are listed as questionable. They're used to playing without Meriweather but could really use his help against this Detroit passing game. Bowen and Golston are also integral, because Adam Carriker is also out and Jarvis Jenkins is suspended.
Injury analysis, Lions edition
Bush is questionable but optimism reigns, and he was able to practice Friday. His health is a massive factor. Without having to deal with him, the 'Skins could have shifted their defensive focus a little.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Redskins 24, Lions 21
I just can't see Mike Shanahan's team losing three in a row to start the year, and I do think this defense can hang in there. The Lions aren't good away from home and this is their second consecutive road game. It'll be close, but Washington will survive.