The Commanders finished 7-10 on third downs against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and if it wasn't for a pure drop by tight end John Bates, it should have been 8-10. Instead, their 70 percent conversion rate places Washington as the 2nd-best 3rd down offense coming out of week one, tied with the Detroit Lions opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles.
While statistically, the Eagles were successful against the Lions' defense, Jalen Hurts mobility also created a significant issue for Detroit. What is encouraging from a Detroit perspective is that they will not face Jalen Hurts for 17 consecutive weeks. This week will be another opportunity to present pressure and create mistakes against a less mobile Carson Wentz.
So what can we expect from the Lions' defense?
As stated before, the Lions' goal is to create pressure, and they do so with help from their linebackers and secondary. Detroit had one of the highest blitz rates in the NFL in week one, and while their pressure rate was one of the worst in the NFL, they blitzed on nearly 50 percent of the time against the Eagles. The Lions rushed at least five defenders most of the game, and at times, the Lions sent eight (!) defenders to the quarterback. On third down, the Lions primarily played Cover 1 and, on occasion, Cover 0 while disguising pressures upfront by showing six or more defenders at the line of scrimmage. The Lions will roll their coverage on a late rotation from a defender near the line of scrimmage and will also show double A-gap pressure looks, trying to get an easy one-on-one matchup with their linebacker and a running back. Ultimately, their goal is to create confusion and get a free-man unimpeded to the quarterback.
In addition to the coverage they're playing, what is also important is where their star rookie Aidan Hutchinson will align. While he is primarily their edge rusher, the Lions utilized Hutchinson up between the guard and tackle as a 3-tech pass rusher. So Hutchinson is not exclusively matched up against tackles; the Lions will try to find the weaknesses amongst an offensive line and put Hutchinson in the best position to win.
So how can Washington counter an aggressive defense like the Lions? First, avoid as many third downs as you can. But from a play standpoint, the offensive line is most important, allowing Wentz enough time and ensuring their protection calls are accurate. The interior offensive line had saw some issues in pass protection against the Jaguars; Chase Rouiller, in particular, struggled with defensive linemen who were head up on him or shaded. Will Detroit test him this week too? Wentz is not as mobile as Hurts, and while he has shown the willingness to use his legs, he would much rather throw the football to move the chains. The pressure that the Lions can create from the Lions' 3rd down pressure scheme can end drives as quickly as they start if Wentz becomes focused on the rush instead of looking downfield, potentially resulting in potential turnovers.
With the Press coverage that the Lions utilize on these third downs, the Commanders receivers will need to win early and often. Jahan Dotson has another opportunity for a big day; he and Terry McLaurin will be counted on to create instant separation and force the Lions to respect them.
One key for a Commanders victory against the Detroit Lions will be their third-down offense. What about you? What are your keys to a win?