It seems silly referring to games this early in the NFL year as a "must-win" situation. But in Week 3 of 2013, the Detroit Lions (1-1) and Washington Redskins (0-2) each have plenty to prove to the league and to themselves.
The visiting Lions have never won in Washington, losing the past 21 games. That haunting history and giving away last week's game against the Arizona Cardinals should have Detroit motivated plenty, but it won't come easy against a Redskins team desperate for a victory.
Here are some important keys that could help the Lions snap that dreaded streak and end Week 3 with a victory.
1. Slow Down the Rush
Detroit's new offensive line has done a tremendous job keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford's jersey clean. The Lions have surrendered just one sack and a league-low five quarterback hits. That job gets a bit tougher this week against Washington.
Outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo bring a fierce pass rush off the edge for the Redskins. Kerrigan has racked up three sacks, 13 tackles and one forced fumble. Keeping these two grounded should be a top priority on offense.
It's been an impressive start to the season for second-year lineman Riley Reiff at left tackle. He's held off stout pass-rushers like Jared Allen, Darrell Dockett and Calais Campbell, and he'll have his hands full again with Kerrigan and Orakpo.
The Lions have had to deal with the absence of injury-prone right tackle Jason Fox, who is currently out with a groin injury. Backup Corey Hilliard will again start in place of Fox.
2. Attack Downfield
On practice Wednesday, head coach Jim Schwartz said he wants to "aggressively attack what the defense gives them." Might be time to turn the heat up on that game plan.
The offense has been too conservative and too reliant on screens or other catch-and-run setups. That's been inspired by the addition of running back Reggie Bush, who's become a huge focal point of Detroit's offense. But with Bush banged up and the Lions in need of keeping him healthy and effective, they'll need to change their approach.
Luckily, the Lions may be in line to get one of their top secondary options back in receiver Ryan Broyles. He's yet to play a down this season, but he could be the spark this offense needs to move downfield. Washington's secondary can be taken advantage of, and the offense should be able to handle the blitz-heavy defense of the Redskins.
I wanted to make this a key for this team in Week 1 and last week but decided not to. This should be enforced as a mandatory objective every week without saying.
After asking captain Ndamukong Suh Wednesday how to reduce penalties, he implied the necessity of "focus" and also mentioned that some penalties like illegal hands to the face "just happen."
Alarming words from your captain.
It's debatable to what extent the Lions' leadership has factored into the season. What's not debatable is the lack of focus and discipline that has been displayed so far—19 penalties in the first two weeks, costing the Lions 189 yards of play. These penalties have negated fumble recoveries, a pick-six for linebacker DeAndre Levy and many other opportunities for this team.
4. Overwhelm RG3
The majority of the Washington Redskins came from the success of the read option and magic of their franchise quarterback. RG3 still seems to be recovering from tearing his ACL last postseason against Seattle, and that magic seems to be wearing off.
Washington isn't a great team, and it's shown through the slow starts they've gotten off too. A first-half blowout against Philadelphia in Week 1 and an embarrassing performance against the Packers last week has altered the Redskins' game plan. RG3 was forced to throw all second half both games and reduced their opportunities of running the read option.
The Lions will have defensive tackle Nick Fairley back in the lineup today, giving the line an advantage over Washington's offensive line. Detroit's defensive line is long overdue for a big game and could use it today against RG3. Keep him in the pocket and don't let him find his rhythm with his legs.
The absence of Reggie Bush will test the Lions offense and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. He's called good games with Bush active, but what happens now without him? Detroit still have the weapons and the quarterback to take down Washington. If they start fast and take away the read option, they should snap that 0-21 skid today.
Detroit 31, Washington 24