Game Day: Lions Need To Establish Home Field

With home field advantage, it would be nice to see the Lions open it up a little bit and take a few more shots down the field. The Lions have a real playmaking threat in WR Roy Williams who, not coincidentally, has missed two games and the Lions have lost both. In-depth, Game Day preview from Lions' insider Mike Fowler inside.

DETROIT - LB Boss Bailey (knee) is out. LB Donté Curry (knee) and FB Stephen Trejo (knee) are doubtful. LB James Davis (knee), WR Tai Streets (hamstring) and WR Roy Williams (ankle) are questionable. CB Fernando Bryant (ankle) and FB Cory Schlesinger (hamstring) are probable.
WASHINGTON - LB LaVar Arrington (knee), RB Chad Morton (knee), S André Lott (pectoral) and K John Hall (groin) are out. LB Mike Barrow (knee) is questionable. DE Phillip Daniels (groin), OL Chris Samuels (ankle), CB Fred Smoot (shoulder), DT Cornelius Griffin (back) and WR Rod Gardner (hip) are probable.

(ALLEN PARK) - Go figure.

After losing an NFL record 24 straight road games, the 2004 edition of the Detroit Lions sports a better road record (3-1), than they do at home (1-2). While it doesn't seem to add up, one thing is for sure, the Lions play the kind of conservative game plan that makes for success on the road.

But with the home field advantage, it would be nice to see the Lions open it up a little bit and take a few more shots down the field. The Lions have a real playmaking threat in wide receiver Roy Williams who, not coincidentally, has missed two games and the Lions have lost both.

Detroit is hoping Williams' sore ankle has calmed down enough that he can not only play, but start in this contest. The rookie has demonstrated big-play ability becoming only the second wide receiver in NFL history to collect five touchdown passes in his first five games, tying the Vikings Randy Moss.

"He conditioned, he ran back and forth a little bit today," said Lions head coach Steve Mariucci of Williams on Thursday. "We'll see how he feels doing that. We didn't cut with him much. I'm hoping that he won't be sore and that he will be able to practice much more tomorrow. He didn't do anything last week if you recall. He jogged back and forth a couple of times. He feels better this week than he did a week ago."

If Williams goes, it sets the stage for a match up of national interests; two of the NFL's rookie of the year candidates, Williams and Washington's Sean Taylor, going head-to-head.

WHEN WASHINGTON HAS THE FOOTBALL Washington traded two high draft picks to Jacksonville to acquire the aging Mark Brunell to run new coach Joe Gibbs offense. Brunell has struggled just as he did his last year in Jacksonville, leading some to call for backup Patrick Ramsey.

Mariucci thinks Brunell is a victim of a new offensive system.

"I think the world of Mark," admitted Mariucci.

"He's in a new system. He's with new players around him. It is a veteran bunch, with Clinton Portis there and James Thrash, (Rod) Gardner and Laveranues Coles. They've got some veteran skill guys there. They're all learning a new offense and they've got some talented guys. They've had a couple of injuries up front with their offensive line, as you know. Mark Brunell is a tough guy, he's a smart guy. He's a very good player. If you look at the career statistics, his pass efficiency rating is in the top 10 of all time. He's been very successful. He's a heck of a guy, too."

Washington's Gibbs agrees with Mariucci's assessment.

"I felt very comfortable with what was going on as far as Mark's play and I also feel like had I made that change in the first half the thing I would have said to everybody is then we would have missed those plays in the second half that really should have given us the win, because he made some great plays down the stretch there," said Gibbs.

Washington wants to use offensive coordinator Joe Bugel's conservative run-oriented attack that gives the ball to Clinton Portis (rank 9th in the NFL, 4th in NFC) 20-25 times per game, then taking advantage of play action to get the ball downfield. The problem has been the Washington's patchwork offensive line, led by ancient tackle and former Lion Ray Brown. The Skins have been unable to get a push against anyone which continually puts the offense in third and long situations.

"It's kind of like a signal-caller's nightmare," admitted Bugel. "Third and five [or more and] the guy in the stands can call what's coming, you know what I mean," Bugel said. "Those are things we're trying to overcome. To throw the deep pass in the NFL, you need 3.5 seconds, so our linemen have to understand that, also. It's a combination of things. The coach approaches the team in the right frame of mind and says its consistency, consistency, consistency, men. If the route says 12 yards, don't run 10; if it's 15, don't run 12. Those are the little nuances right now that we continue to work on."

Gibbs said the loss of former Michigan standout John Jansen has hurt the Redskins more than people realize. "It is a big deal for us. Our very first game of the year, nobody hit him, he just popped his achilles. Not only is it big playing, but also his leadership in the locker room. He's one of those key guys. I think it has been a big loss for us."

Detroit's front seven, led by Pro Bowl candidate Shaun Rogers will look to continue to stuff the run of Portis and then allow ends James Hall, Cory Redding and situational pass rusher Kalimba Edwards to pin their ears back on passing downs.

Still, Detroit must be weary of a Washington team that may throw caution to the wind and attempt to throw the ball downfield to a talented group led by Coles and Gardner.

The 'Skins acquired James Thrash to complete their trio. Detroit welcomes back corner Fernando Bryant to the starting lineup after missing two games with an ankle injury. Dre' Bly appears to be rounding into form after missing several game with an ankle injury.

Detroit will face a very tough defensive unit when the Redskins group is on the field. Washington (rank #1 in the NFC in defense, second against the rush and fourth against the pass) boasts a stingy secondary led by corners Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot and rookie of the year candidate Taylor, a tough linebacking corps led by Lemar Marshall and Marcus Washington and one of the best front fours in the league.

"(Fred) Smoot is a very good corner and Shawn Springs is too," noted Mariucci. "They lost Champ Bailey in the trade, but they've got two very capable guys playing. Then they drafted the rookie safety (Sean Taylor) who is very good. It is a very talented [defensive ]team."

Gibbs agrees with Mariucci's assessment. "I think our defense has played extremely well. I think a lot of it is when you have corners that can play like that you play a lot of man coverage. It certainly helps everybody else because it allows you to commit more people inside. Our style of play is attributed to having those guys play corner like that."

Lions' quarterback Joey Harrington knows he won't likley have many chances to score against the Redskins tough unit, but he has been making the most of his chances, scoring a touchdown 71% of their trips inside the red zone.

"Things happen a lot quicker in the red zone because you don't have a deep threat," said Harrington. "You pretty much have the back of the end zone to close everything off. The DBs don't have anything to bail them out. The windows are tighter, the coverages are tighter, so it's a lot quicker and I think the guys understand that now."

Detroit welcomes back fullback Cory Schlesinger, who will be a key component in this one. Schlesinger must be effective providing lead blocking for shifty Kevin Jones to be at least a little effective. In what figures to be a close game against a tough defensive team, the Lions must be bullheaded in their commitment to the run game to a fault.

If Detroit can't run at all and become one-dimensional, Washington will do what other teams have done, take away the short underneath passing zones and force Detroit to try to go long, thus allowing the Redskins' front four led by ends Renaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels to get after Joey Harrington.

Washington and Detroit both have woes in the kicking game. Washington is relying on backup kicker Ola Kimrin after losing John Hall, who they signed away from New York. Punter Tom Tupa has been solid. Detroit struggles with punter Nick Harris, but believes they have a solid franchise type kicker in Jason Hanson. Detroit's "X" factor is returner Eddie Drummond, the best in the conference, while Washington was forced to sign former Buffalo Bills receiver Antonio Brown to be their lead returner after they lost Chad Morton, brother of former Lions standout Johnnie Morton for the season. Brown is no slouch having averaged 21.7 yards per return as the Bills main man a season ago.

PICK: Detroit will have a dogfight on their hands with the stingy 'Skins defense, but look for Jason Hanson to earn his pay in this one.


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