The Detroit Lions return to Ford Field this Sunday. The Lions narrowly lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week One, and they double down on NFC East opponents as they welcome the Washington Commanders in Week Two. The bookmakers favor the Lions by one point, the first time since 2020 that Detroit is a favorite. But none of that matters to Lions fans or the team. They know victory is a must, and here are three key factors that should swing the pendulum of fate towards the Honolulu Blue corner.
Run The Ball
The Lions gashed the Eagles last Sunday. Feature back D’Andre Swift amassed 144 yards on 15 carries. When running out of 11 personnel, the Lions averaged 9.6 yards per carry. Swift carried with aggression and intensity, with five runs for more than 10 yards. Detroit’s identity is the run game and is the key on offense. Without a running game, the offense struggles to convert in second or third and long situations.
The Commanders could not corral running backs Travis Etienne and James Robinson. The Jacksonville Jaguars duo rushed for 113 yards on 15 carries. Football Outsiders ranked Washington’s run defense 31st in DVOA for last week’s performance. Swift is nursing an ankle problem, but the young runner dispelled any fear after saying he’d be ready come game time.
Add Swift’s speed to Jamaal Williams’ physicality, and the Lions have a solid tandem in the backfield. With a formidable offensive line and a receiver corps happy to block, the Lions should create more running room. It is vitally important that they do.
Close Down Washington’s Wideouts
Detroit’s starting two cornerbacks experienced mixed afternoons last Sunday. Jeff Okudah locked up DeVonta Smith, while Amani Oruwayire felt the full force of A.J. Brown. Washington’s receiver corps does not feature a big-bodied bruising pass-catcher; Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Jahan Dotson are a talented trio. Smith and Brown primarily lined up outside the numbers last week; the Commanders’ trio is much more versatile. Dotson, Samuel, and McLaurin are just as comfortable lining up outside as they are in the slot.
Furthermore, these receivers can attack every level of the field. Washington ranked fourth in yards after catch last week. McLaurin and Samuel are adept at running underneath on quick-hitting passes before turning upfield.
Dotson is the wildcard. The rookie added a vertical passing threat last Sunday as he caught two touchdowns, one on a post route, the other on a go route. Dotson averaged 15.7 air yards per target, and his body control makes him a real threat. The Lions’ base defense features three cornerbacks; they must win this battle. Okudah’s intensity and ferocious tackling should see him cover McLaurin.
How they divide up the other receivers is fascinating. Oruwayire is nursing an injury, and the Lions do not have much depth at cornerback. It seems as if the onus will fall on Okudah. The former third overall pick needs to step up and quiet the Washington passing attack.
The Lions managed to generate pressure against the Eagles; they just couldn’t finish the job. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn suggested that his young defensive front was too hyped and lacked control.
The Lions are very close to turning these narrow defeats into victories, but they must finish the job when they get a chance. 10 Lions players generated at least one pressure last week; Aidan Hutchinson and John Cominsky led the way with three pressures each, but the team registered one sack.
Detroit has to get into the backfield and disrupt Carson Wentz. Wentz is not as elusive as Jalen Hurts, and the Lions will get shots to take. They must take them. It could be the fine margin that tilts this game.
The Lions are talented enough to win this game. But they have to win critical moments and stick to their strengths. Detroit fielded the youngest team in the league last Sunday, and it showed. With star center Frank Ragnow ruled out, the Lions must rally together. Players need to step up and fill the void. Backup Evan Brown will come in and replace Ragnow.
On defense, the Eagles dominated third down conversions and scored either side of halftime. The Lions have to find drive-to-drive consistency. They are too streaky.
It will be close, it will be chaotic, and it will infuriate. But the Lions must weather the storms, stay consistent and stick to these three keys. If they can do that, there might be a victory Monday to celebrate in Michigan.