Redskins 2013 Game-by-Game Match-up, Lions: Matt Stafford and RGIII are game changers

Redskins vs. Lions

This is the third of a 16-part series where Hog Heaven looks at each game on the Washington Redskins 2013 schedule. We are 21 days away from the opening of training camp.

Sunday, Sep 22 – Lions at Redskins

Quarterback Match-up: First round quarterbacks taken in the 2008 NFL Draft and thereafter show the evolution of football. Those players are huge improvements over first-round QBs selected over the prior 10 years.

QBs Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith were the first three players picked in the 1999 Draft. McNabb was the only one to make any noise as a pro.

Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were first-round selectees in the 2008 Draft. Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman were 2009 first-rounders. Sanchez was a reach, as was Tim Tebow taken in 2011. Then you get to the golden class of 2012 headlined by Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The 2008 through 2012 first-rounders will fuel football enjoyment for the next 10 years.

The playing styles between Matthew Stafford and Robert Griffin III could not be wider.

Stafford is the old school pocket passer that pro teams have honed since before Peyton Manning. Griffin is the new school duel threat whose passing skills are as deadly as his rushing speed.

Stafford is an effective passer whose performance declined in 2012. Um, yeah; he only passed for 4,967 yards in ’12 compared to 5,038 the prior year.

Yards mean nothing in football. Stafford threw 21 fewer TD passes in 2012 than he did in 2011. He is being criticized for his passing mechanics. Some people comparing him to Tim Tebow (ouch).

The 2012, 4-12 Lions had young-team syndrome. That’s the notion that things will pick up right from their 2011 playoff season and only get better and better. In popular culture, “badder and badder” isn’t supposed to mean “worser and worser.” The 2012 Lions were plain bad and getting worse before the season mercifully ended.

Stafford is still a 5,000-yard per season passer who still throws to Calvin Johnson and might have running back help from Reggie Bush. Bush could mean Stafford will attempt fewer passes and get back to 40 or more scores.

Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan does not want Griffin III to throw much more, although he says Griffin does not yet realize how much more effective he can be as a passer. Griffin is just that good that a 65.6 percent completion rate and 8.1 YPA is something to be improved upon.

Nor does Shanahan want Griffin to run too much less than the 120 attempts made last year. Some of those attempts were busted passing plays. Coach wants RGIII to slide more and find the sideline sooner. The sideline is your friend because of the potential to draw late hit penalties as well as to lessen injury risks to the savior of Redskins football.

Griffin and the entire Redskins offense should put up a poster of Stafford's Lions as an example of a team that could not handle its success. Both the Lions and the Washington Nationals are reminders that things don’t always go up from your playoff year.

You have been warned.

Coordinator Match-up

Scott Linehan vs. Jim Haslett: Lions OC Linehan and his boss Jim Schwartz make every list of 2013 coaches on the hot seat. Hot seats happen when you have a four-win season after making the playoffs the year before. Lineham’s task is to get offensive performance with fewer passes by Stafford who attempted more passes (727) last year than anyone. Drew Brees threw for more yards on 57 fewer attempts than Stafford.

That’s the point. Detroit and New Orleans missed the playoffs because both teams were too dependent on the passing game.

Detroit imported Heisman Trophy (2005) RB Reggie Bush in hopes that he would give them what Jahvid Best could not, durability. Bush has not lifted a team by his rushing ability, but he is a talented receiver out of the backfield. Versatility is what Linehan seems to be after.

Jim Haslett’s job is fairly easy, if anything in the NFL can be described “easy.” Stop Stafford. Bend, but don’t break on WR Calvin Johnson, who scored a mere five touchdowns last year, 11 fewer than in 2011. Keep a wary eye on Bush in the Red Zone. Count on the offense to outscore these guys.  

Kyle Shanahan vs. Gunther Cunningham: It says right there on detroitlions.com that Gunther Cunningham is not too worried about defending the read option. The post has a picture of Robert Griffin III to accompany that story.

Cunningham believes he has the big cornerbacks and rangy DEs to contain option offenses. The ball is going outside because those schemes spread the defense, says Cunningham who has seen it all before. Griffin, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have something that Cunningham didn’t mention that keeps defenses from over-focusing on the quarterback − exceptional running backs.

The Lions play from the 4-3 defensive alignment, which means that Griffin will be reading Detroit’s defensive ends more than the linebackers. And he might keep an eye on DL Ndamukong Suh, too. Hog Heaven is not convinced the 4-3 is the ideal alignment to throw against a pass oriented option team.

The Redskins are a run-oriented option team, however. If Kyle Shanahan tempts to exploit the Lions by passing, he is going to need Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson to step up their game.

An analysis by Football Outsiders found that no team ran the conventional play-action offense more often than the Redskins did last season. Read option makes play action more effective. Why? Because rushing the quarterback is exactly the wrong thing to do on read option plays, as this write up on httr24-7.com demonstrates.

Cunningham believes read option quarterbacks will have short careers. We have already seen RGKnee issues here. Shanahan’s and RGIII’s biggest job is to make sure Cunningham’s prediction does not come true.

Storyline: Time was when the Redskins owned the Lions. Washington won 18-straight games against Detroit between 1968 and 1997, and was 22-2 between ’68 and 2008. Losses to the Lions in 2009, which only deepened Daniel Snyder’s scorn for Zorn, and in 2010, which exposed Mike Shanahan’s scorn for Donovan McNabb, showed how steep the fall for the Redskins. Beating the Lions will show if the ‘Skins are coming back, or if 2012 was just a mirage.

Way too early prediction: Don’t call the Lions “beatable.” They should revert to the norm of an eight or nine win season. But they are playing this game at FedEx Field for the first time since 2007. I’m giving the ‘Skins home field advantage for the win.

Friday: Redskins at Raiders. Happy July 4th. Stay safe.

“Way too early prediction” means we reserve the right to change our minds after we see these teams in preseason games. Look for Hog Heaven’s stake-in-the-ground prediction the week before game one.

This story idea was inspired by the Big Ten Network Tom Dienhart who is running a similar series for the B1G football season.

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Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.

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