The territory looks familiar as the Lions return from a bye occupying last place in the NFC North, but the feeling persists that the hole they’ve dug in the first six games isn’t as deep as in other seasons.
The 1-5 record is hauntingly similar to other years, but the quality of play and overall talent level are better.
An opportunity is at hand for the Lions to make something from this season, but it must start Sunday against the Washington Redskins at Ford Field.
“I think we’re looking at this as a 10-game run,” said Lions offensive tackle Jeff Backus. “I feel great about where this organization is headed and what we’re doing as a football team.
“We’ve got to eliminate shooting ourselves in the foot. That’s the only reason we’re sitting here at 1-5. We have a talented group of players. We just have to play smarter.”
The record is what it is, but the Lions could have won another game or two before the bye.
This week’s FOX Sports Detroit breakdown focuses on correcting errors.
The Lions should get a boost by the return of some injured players, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford. He hasn’t played since going out with an injury to his right shoulder in the opening game at Chicago.
The Redskins will be as tough as any opponent the Lions faced in the first six games. They are in contention in the NFC East with a 4-3 record, and they have shown a resilient, competitive quality.
The Lions have lacked that quality. They’ve been hurt by penalties and an inability to close out games with winning plays.
Here is this week’s breakdown:
Site/kickoff: Ford Field, 1 p.m. Records: Redskins 4-3, Lions 1-5. Last meeting: The Lions beat the Redskins 19-14 in Game 3 last year, giving Jim Schwartz his first victory has head coach of the Lions. History: The Redskins have a 27-11 series lead, including 9-9 on the Lions’ home field.
Lions’ stats Passing — Stafford 11-15 (73.3 pct.), 83 yds., 0 TD, 0 Int., 86.3 rating. Rushing — Jahvid Best 80-257, 3.2 ave., 4 TD; Kevin Smith 10-45, 4.5 ave.; Jerome Felton 6-26, 4.5 ave. Receiving — Brandon Pettigrew 33-336, 10.2 ave. 1 TD; Best 31-285, 9.2 ave, 1 TD; Calvin Johnson 29-437, 15.1, 5 TD; Tony Scheffler 26-217, 8.3 ave., 1 TD. Sacks — Ndamukong Suh 4.5, Louis Delmas 2, Turk McBride 2, Kyle Vanden Bosch 2. Int. — Alphonso Smith 3. Punting — Nick Harris 44.2 gross ave., 38.6 net, 1 touchback, 5 inside 20. Field goals — Jason Hanson 11-13.
Redskins’ stats Passing — Donovan McNabb 142-247, (57.5 pct.), 1,761 yds, 6 TD, 7 Int., 76.0 rating. Rushing — Ryan Torain 82-381, 4.6 ave., 3 TD; Clinton Portis (injured), 49-195, 4.0 ave., 2 TD. Receiving — Santana Moss 42-548, 13.0 ave., 2 TD; Chris Cooley 35-392, 11.2 ave., 2 TD. Sacks — Brian Orakpo 7. Int. — DeAngelo Hall 5. Punting — Hunter Smith 41.3 gross, 34.3 gross, 1 touchback, 9 inside 20. Field goals — Graham Gano 13-18.
Redskins’ keys: They’ve been able to keep games close and win, and they’ve had a little luck. They beat Dallas in the opener, but only because a last-play TD pass for Dallas was nullified by a holding penalty.
They run the ball behind rookie Ryan Torain. Tight end Chris Cooley has hurt the Lions in the past.
Up front on defense, tackle Albert Haynesworth is coming off a dominating performance last week at Chicago. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall had four interceptions in that game.
Lions’ keys: The front four has talent, depth and production and has hidden some defensive flaws. The secondary has improved, but there still isn’t a lockdown cornerback.
Wide receivers and tight ends are skilled, productive targets for whoever plays quarterback. Stafford’s return expands the dimensions of the field because of his arm strength and quick release.
One caution, though. Stafford can’t be reckless with his throws. An incomplete throw-away is not a bad pass.
Stafford’s return: His arm has looked strong and sharp in the portions of practice that were open to the media. He doesn’t think it will take long to shed any rust from missing the last five games, saying it would only take a pass or two to get in a groove.
Stafford played well in last year’s game against the Redskins, completing 21 of 36 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown. He did not have an interception.
Flag football: Penalties have hurt the Lions. They’ve had 59 accepted compared to 42 for the opposition. The differential is almost four a game. They had 11 in the last game — a 28-20 road loss to the Giants.
During the bye week, Schwartz broke down all 11 penalties in a team meeting and highlighted how they could have been avoided.
Sack exchange: The Lions have been good in sacks allowed per play, and sacks generated per play by the defense. They rank seventh in the league in both categories.
The payoff on sacks on defense is in lost yardage and the possibility for creating turnovers. Limiting sacks keeps the offense in more manageable situations.
“The ability to stay out of negative plays on offense is huge because it’s very, very difficult to convert second-and-18 after a first-down sack,” Schwartz said. “And defensively, the same thing. You force offenses to have to recover from those situations.”
On the run: Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was a master at developing a potent running game in his 14-season tenure with the Denver Broncos. He often did it with backs who were not high draft picks. Terrell Davis, who had a 2,000-yard plus season, was a prime example of that.
Rookie Ryan Torain, an undrafted free agent from Arizona State, is another in the Shanahan mold. Torain has 381 yards and three TDs, and has picked up the slack with Clinton Portis out with an injury.
“I think it’s a commitment to running,” Shanahan said in a conference-call interview with the Detroit media. “You believe in the running game. You have to have a lot of guys involved in it. You get a philosophy and a belief that you can run the football. We do believe in it.”
Linebackers: Getting DeAndre Levy back should help the unit, which has been under fire all season. He has played in part of only one game, with the latest injury being to an ankle.
“I really haven’t had any setbacks,” Levy said.
The addition of Bobby Carpenter, signed last week after being released by Miami, could upgrade the unit. Carpenter was a 2006 first-round draft pick by Dallas. Carpenter’s skills are best suited to the Lions’ 4-3 scheme. He played predominantly in a 3-4 in Dallas and Miami.
There are indications that Carpenter will start Sunday at outside linebacker, where Zack Follett made little impact in the first six games. Carpenter’s skill level should be an upgrade.
Follett went on injured reserve on Wednesday with a neck injury.
Haynesworth : Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth has been in the spotlight since spring, when he refused to take part in the voluntary off-season workouts.
Haynesworth clashed with Shanahan, but he was on his game in last week’s 17-14 victory at Chicago. He had a sack, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits.
“He was in the backfield, disrupting their offense all game,” Backus said.
Betting line: The Lions are favored by 2 1/2.
Prediction: Picking the Lions to win is a lot like trying to fly stand-by on the night before Thanksgiving. “Why am I doing this?” you keep asking yourself.
So why am I doing this?
Having Stafford back is one factor. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has to get him in a groove early to establish rhythm and have early success so Stafford doesn’t feel like he has to force passes.
Donovan McNabb’s competitive, winning history cannot be discounted. His statistics this year are below previous levels, and the Lions have made mediocre quarterbacks look good.
The Lions are committed to a turnaround, though. If there is one, it has to start Sunday.