- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2007

Detroit Lions (3-1) at Washington Redskins (2-1)

Today: 1 p.m.

Where: FedEx Field.

TV: Chs. 5, 45

Radio: AM-730, FM-92.7, 94.3, 100.3

KEY MATCHUP

REDSKINS CBS SHAWN SPRINGS, CARLOS ROGERS AND FRED SMOOT vs. LIONS WRS ROY WILLIAMS, SHAUN MCDONALD AND MIKE FURREY

After barely getting tested by Miami and Philadelphia’s passing games in winning the first two weeks and getting burned in the second half by the New York Giants in losing in Week 3, Washington’s cornerbacks return from the bye week to face their biggest challenge of the season.

Detroit receiver Roy Williams leads the NFC with 388 yards and is one catch shy of the conference lead with 26. Running mates Shaun McDonald (21 catches, 268 yards) and Mike Furrey (20, 246) make the Lions the only team with three players with at least 20 catches. And that’s not counting rookie Calvin Johnson, the No. 2 pick in the draft who has a team-high 18.9 yard-per-catch average despite sitting out last week with a back injury.

Fred Smoot returns after two games off with a sore hamstring. He joins Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers in what should be a regular three-corner alignment today. These guys need to hold up on what promises to be a pass-filled afternoon.

THREE KEYS

1. CONTROL THE CLOCK

The Lions can score in a hurry. Fourteen of their NFL-record 34 points in the fourth quarter last week came on defense and special teams, but Detroit averaged 29 offensive points during their first three games. The Redskins, who have averaged 18 points a game with a healthy No. 1 receiver Santana Moss and top running back Clinton Portis, don’t want to try to trade touchdowns with the Lions, especially with Moss and Portis both ailing. That means there will be even more of an emphasis on ball control and grinding out the clock with the running game even if Ladell Betts is filling in for Portis.

2. HARASS KITNA

Lions quarterback Jon Kitna came into the season with a 33-54 record in his six years as a full-time starter in part because he was with mediocre (Seattle) or bad (Cincinnati) teams. But especially now at 35, the never-swift Kitna can be harassed. He was sacked 63 times and picked off 22 times last year. He already has been sacked 19 times this year and intercepted four times. Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams doesn’t have a dominant front four so he’ll have to try to outguess Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz by disguising blitzes from his back seven in hopes of disrupting Detroit’s league-leading aerial attack.

3. THE SECOND HALF

The Redskins led the Giants 17-3 at halftime in their most recent game and lost 24-17. That was an extreme example, but Washington is just 3-6 when leading at halftime the past two seasons. That’s worse than its 4-6 mark than when it trailed or was tied at halftime. Despite their 2-1 record, the Redskins have been outscored 33-23 after halftime this year. The 3-1 Lions have a 70-65 edge after halftime. The second half lapses are inexcusable for a Redskins team coached by famed motivator Joe Gibbs and one that prides itself on its superior conditioning. This game figures to be a track meet, at least for the Washington defense, and it can’t afford to wear down after halftime.

THE EDGE

WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL

Through 2½ games, all was fine with Washington’s offense despite losing longtime right tackle Jon Jansen for the season in the opener and veteran right guard Randy Thomas for possibly as long the next week. The unbeaten Redskins were leading the winless New York Giants 17-3 at halftime at home and had totaled 179 yards and 10 first downs. In the second half Washington managed just 81 yards and four first downs while being blanked and losing No. 1 receiver Santana Moss and top running back Clinton Portis to injuries. The Redskins have had a bye week to heal, but it’s unclear if Moss (groin) and Portis (knee) will be recovered in time to play today. While backup Ladell Betts excelled in place of the injured Portis last year, the Redskins don’t have another receiver beyond Moss and fellow starter Antwaan Randle El with a catch this season. Fortunately for the Redskins, the Lions are struggling on defense. They were strafed for 56 points two weeks ago in Philadelphia and have allowed the most total yards, passing yards and points in the NFC.

Edge: Redskins

WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL

While Washington’s cornerbacks will have their hands full with Detroit’s talented receivers (see Key Matchup), the Redskins have to help out their secondary by winning the battles up front and getting to Lions quarterback Jon Kitna. Right end Andre Carter and weakside linebacker Rocky McIntosh both have two sacks in three games. The Lions have surrendered an NFL-high 21 sacks although offensive coordinator Mike Martz is so pass-happy that Jacksonville and Philadelphia actually allow more sacks per dropback.

Detroit has the second-fewest rushing yards, but starter Tatum Bell is a home-run hitter who ripped Washington for 127 yards on 12 carries, including a 55-yard scoring sprint for Denver in 2005.

With 1,227 yards, Kitna is on his way to becoming just the seventh quarterback with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons. It’s up to middle linebacker London Fletcher, the quarterback of Washington’s defense, to outthink the veteran signalcaller.

Edge: Lions

SPECIAL TEAMS

Detroit kicker Jason Hanson is one of the leading scorers in NFL history. Hanson has played more seasons (16) than Washington’s Shaun Suisham has games (14). But Suisham is having a better season, hitting six of seven field goal tries and all of his extra points. Hanson has missed two of nine field goal attempts and had another blocked as well as an extra point. The Redskins also have the advantage at punter with Derrick Frost over Nick Harris. Frost’s 45.9 gross average is 2.5 yards better than that of Harris and thanks to Washington’s superior coverage team (eighth in the NFL vs. 22nd), his 40.5 net average puts Harris’ 34.9 to shame. Washington’s Rock Cartwright (26.7 yard average) is outperforming Detroit’s Brian Calhoun (22.1). Lions punt returner Troy Walters is having a better year than his Redskins counterpart, Antwaan Randle El. Washington’s Ethan Albright is a more established snapper than Detroit’s Don Muhlbach. Redskins assistant Danny Smith’s kickoff coverage unit is also much better at than that of the Lions, ranking 17th to the visitors’ 29th.

Edge: Redskins

— David Elfin


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