Five things to watch as Lions face Commanders; plus prediction

Lions coach Dan Campbell

The second week in the NFL can’t produce a must-win game. However the Lions need a win over the Commanders to get to 1-1. When losses snowball it’s never a good thing, ask any Lions fan. 

The Lions played in front of a raucous and loud crowd in their opening loss to the Eagles. They want to keep the fans in the game and winning is a surefire way to accomplish that.

Coach Dan Campbell said he’s not talking about winning to the team.

“I’m talking about playing better, and let’s clean up our details. Because if we do, that winning is a byproduct of that. That’s got to be our sole focus, and so man, let’s just play better than we played last week,’’ Campbell said. “To a man, let’s coach better. I’ve got to coach better, our coordinators have got to coach better, the position coaches, and the player’s got to play better. And if we’ll just – everyone of us get a little bit better and clean up these issues, and the same issues that have bitten us or bit us last week, they don’t show up again, we’ll be that much better. That’s all we’ve got to worry about.”

Here are five things to watch as the favored Lions (0-1) face the Commanders (1-0):

1. The offensive line injury woes continue. Center Frank Ragnow (groin) has been ruled out and likely will be replaced by Evan Brown. Left guard Jonah Jackson (finger) was downgraded to doubtful on Saturday. And remember, starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (back) was placed on IR before the opener. He was replaced by Logan Stenberg who had a rough first series but calmed down. Stenberg could line up at right guard again or shift to left guard. It’s likely Drew Forbes, who has been with the Lions for two weeks, will start at one of the guard spots. Campbell said the rash of O-line injuries changes what they do a bit. “Just the style at which we need to play and you just – you will have to shift the burden a little bit, other places of the load to other places on our team, which is OK. It’s what we got to do. It’s what we’re charged with,’’ Campbell said. Last season the five O-line starters never played together in one of the 17 games due to injuries. 

2. In his second game in this new offense, quarterback Jared Goff needs to step up. The offense seemed to find a rhythm in the second half on Sunday against the Eagles when the Lions scored three touchdowns.There was plenty to like last week.Goff threw both of his touchdowns on third downs. “I think the stuff that we loved was we scored every time we got in the red zone and we were really efficient on third down. And typically those numbers are resulting in wins and ultimately, this one didn’t,’’ Goff said this week. “But I think if we can continue that trend, it’ll be good for us.”

3. The defense struggled more than the offense giving up 38 points to the Eagles. Of course Washington quarterback Carson Wentz is not as mobile as Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts which should make a huge difference. Rookie Aidan Hutchinson is expected to take another step in his development (he wasn’t bad in his debut, but perhaps more was expected). Cornerback Jeff Okudah, coming back from a torn Achilles in the opener a year ago, impressed, finishing second in tackles with 10.

4. Running back D’Andre Swift sparked the offense against the Eagles with 144 of the Lions 181 rushing yards. Swift (ankle) is on the injury report and listed as questionable, but should be able to go. Will he be 100 percent? Not likely. Still the Lions need to be able to count on the running attack. “It’s helpful for any passing attack. I think it’s a quarterback’s best friend when you can have that and have the play-action off of it and the keeper’s stuff off of it, the roll outs and whatnot,’’ Goff said. “So, it’s super helpful and it’s fun to watch Swift take off too..” If Swift is gimpy, Jamaal Williams can help pick up the slack.

5. Perhaps you’ve heard this from previous seasons and coaches, the Lions need to finish. This team is better than last year’s bunch but there’s a long way to go. The Lions were down 17 points in the third quarter on Sunday, but the comeback came up 3 points short. It’s all in the details.

PREDICTION:  Lions 27, Commanders 21. The Lions know this is a big home game against a beatable opponent.

Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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