All eyes were on the Washington Redskins entering the 2013 season and they're still on the team following an 0-2 start.
The Redskins were dismantled early at home against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 and dropped last weekend's road matchup with the Green Bay Packers 38-20 at Lambeau Field.
Washington is back in the nation's capital hoping to get its first victory of the season Sunday versus the Detroit Lions at FedEx Field and the spotlight will once again be on young quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin's leadership came into question following the lopsided loss to the Packers, but he's not going to change who he is for the sake of sparking his teammates.
"Not necessarily change who I am as a person, but, if they want me to be hard on them, I'll be hard on them," Griffin said. "You start off 0-2 and it's a little bit harder to go about that without causing problems. I'm not going to ever tear someone down as a person. That's just not who I am as a person. I'm not here to tear people down."
Griffin is there to tear opposing defenses down and for how well the offense has played in two games this season, the Redskins have no wins to show for it. The defending NFC East champions still have one of the more potent offenses in the NFL thanks to Griffin and rank first in the NFC and are tied for second in the league in rushing yards per attempt (5.2). Give running back Alfred Morris some props for that as he ran for 107 yards on 13 carries in Green Bay, posting a career-high 8.2 yards per carry.
Head coach Mike Shanahan usually has great offenses to work with and the Redskins rank in the top five in the NFL in passing first downs (34), red zone touchdown efficiency (83.3), total touchdowns (7) and passing touchdowns (5). But for how dominant those numbers look, the Redskins are still winless and face a must-win situation versus the Lions. They have been victimized early on by fumbles, interceptions, penalties, etc and Griffin still has trust in his teammates, coaches and the system.
"I think we've had sloppy execution these first two games in general and we picked it up in the second half, and that's a good sign. But you have to play that way the whole game," said Griffin, who threw for 320 yards with three TD passes and an interception last week. "We have to convert third downs of course, but aside from that we just have to make plays.
"It's not on the coaches, it's not on anybody else, it's on us. I think the guys understand that and we'll be better moving forward. We'll figure this out."
The Redskins, who have scored 20-plus points in six straight regular season games, are 0-2 for the first time since 2006 and haven't lost their first three games since an 0-5 start back in 2001. They'll be facing a Lions defense that has allowed 49 points so far in two games.
Detroit opened the season in impressive fashion, handing the Minnesota Vikings a 34-24 loss at Ford Field. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 357 yards with two TDs and one interception and star wideout Calvin Johnson was surprisingly held in check with 37 yards on four catches. Johnson, though, was back to his old form in Sunday's 25-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals with 116 yards on six catches with two scores, including a 72-yard TD early on.
But the story in Detroit's loss was the defense allowing the last 12 points of the game to come up short. After leading most of the game, penalties, poor tackling and bad coverage took its toll. Lions cornerback Bill Bentley had a 28-yard pass interference penalty in the third quarter, then was whistled for a 31-yard pass interference call in the end zone to set up Rashard Mendenhall's one-yard, game-winning touchdown run.
The Lions had 101 yards on eight penalties.
"I mean, you've got to look at the penalties ... those are guys out there trying," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. "Again, in our situation if they were a bunch of unsportsmanlike, after-the-whistle plays or false starts or stuff like that.
"But in the game, when you talk about pass interference and holding and anything else is generally just a player either had a bad technique or being in a bad position."
Linebacker and leading tackler DeAndre Levy scored Detroit's only points in the second half with a 66-yard interception return for a score and his job continues to be tough with Griffin and the Redskins on the docket. Schwartz has been pleased with his linebacker's play early on.
"He has played pretty consistently since he has been a player here. I think what stands out is that he had a couple interceptions and returned both of them to the house, one of them negated by a penalty but he did that in Miami in his second year," Schwartz said. "He scores. He has always been a guy that is around the football that can make those plays."
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley didn't play against the Cardinals because of a shoulder injury and is hoping to provide bulk up front to help stop Washington's ground attack of Griffin and Morris. That's why it's important for star DT Ndamukong Suh to keep his cool and wreak havoc up front because when he does good things generally occur. As far as team work is concerned, both of Levy's interceptions this season have come after Suh was able to apply pressure on the quarterback.
The Lions are facing a desperate Redskins squad and look to play smart football, meaning limiting the penalties and forcing more three-and-outs. It's tough on a defense when the other side of the ball isn't holding up its own end, so the Lions better come with their 'A' game Sunday.
Detroit hasn't had much success in the nation's capital since the Redskins moved there in 1937 and is 0-21. A win by the 'Skins would give them an all- time record of 31-12 against the Lions, including the postseason. The Lions, though, have prevailed in each of the last two matchups in this series.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Lions still have a potent offense because of two players: Stafford and Johnson. The two will have to get on the same page early Sunday to keep Washington's misery intact and notch the Lions' first win in D.C. Johnson is a beast and needs just two catches and 11 yards to become only the second player in franchise history to reach 500 career receptions and 8,000 career receiving yards (WR Herman Moore).
Johnson is a mismatch for practically every defender, including Redskins corners DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson. The Washington defense has been torched the last few weeks, allowing 443 yards to the Eagles and 580 to the Packers. Stafford is probably drooling to get after the Redskins defense, especially after Packers QB Aaron Rodgers passed for 480 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions last week.
The same goes for Johnson. Packers wideouts James Jones and Randall Cobb finished with 178 and 128 receiving yards, respectively, and aren't even half as good as the man more commonly known as Megatron. Johnson was upset that his team couldn't find an answer in the second half against Arizona.
"We definitely wanted to get a W," Johnson said. "We had opportunities in the second half on offense I felt. We just didn't capitalize on them. It wasn't good field position or just moving the ball down the field like we wanted to, taking time off the clock ... Whether it be mistakes or whatever, it's only the second game. We still have room to improve."
On Sunday, Johnson set a franchise record with his 10th career game with two- plus touchdown receptions, breaking the previous record of nine held by Moore.
Lions running back Reggie Bush suffered a knee injury in the loss to the Cardinals and his status is in question for Sunday's game. Bush took a knee to the helmet and said he wasn't himself afterward. He is also a threat in the passing game and his absence will shrink Schwartz's playbook. Joique Bell is a decent option after Bush, but not as talented.
Washington has been outscored 71-47 over the first two games and could be peering down another lopsided score versus the Lions. Tackling, penalties and ill-advised plays are some of the issues Jim Haslett's defense is dealing with and it's still early to correct those mistakes.
"It is frustrating because we feel like we've got the talent and the coaching to be a good defense," Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "We haven't played like that. So we have to get better."
For how poorly Washington has played on the defensive side of the ball, they're still one of the top units in the NFL. They are tied for first in the NFC and second in the league in forced fumbles (3), second in the NFC and third in the NFL in sack yards (62) and tied for second in the conference with seven sacks. Kerrigan and linebacker Brian Orakpo need to step it up this week. Kerrigan, who had two sacks in Green Bay, is tied for fifth in the NFL with three sacks.
Redskins veteran linebacker London Fletcher is off to a slow start, but is the face of durability. Fletcher played in his 242nd straight regular season game in Green Bay and is one game shy of matching Bill Romanowski's record by a defensive player since the NFL merger (1970). He has made 201 starts in a row and trails Derrick Brooks' linebacker mark of 208.
For how poorly the defense has been at times, the offense has to open games fast or else the Redskins will be 0-3 for the first time in more than a decade. Wilson looked on the bright side about climbing out of a deficit, something Washington did last season en route to an NFC East title.
"It's a lot easier to come back from 0-2 than 3-6," Wilson said. "Last year, we were able to turn it around and won seven straight. Being 0-2 isn't the end of the world. We've just got to go in there, figure out how to find our groove and get things straight."
Griffin has never thrown for 300 yards in three straight games and that will come Sunday in another loss. Questions have surfaced whether Shanahan is committed to his prized quarterback, but he shut the door on those rumors.
"We've got a lot of confidence in Robert," Shanahan said distinctly.
Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon suggested Griffin's mending knee and brace are keeping the elusive QB from playing at a high level. Actually, Griffin hasn't played that poorly, it's just that the Redskins have been matched up against tough offenses and it doesn't get easier Sunday versus Stafford and Company. On a day where the community will reflect on the senseless acts at the Navy Yard, Detroit will prevail in a high-scoring affair and keep the 'Skins searching for answers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 31, Redskins 24