The most intriguing player in the Detroit Lions' Week 3 clash with the Washington Redskins is almost certainly Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, but he is being covered to no end by every sports news source, so I decided to go in a different direction. With that disclaimer, I do think it will be interesting to see how the Lions' defense does against the newly immobile RGIII and running back Alfred Morris. Both have had decent years on paper, but have benefited statistically from playing three quarters of each game against a prevent defense after the Redskins fell behind early.
Instead, this week I will focus on young Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. This third-year player has jumped out of the gate thus far with 3 sacks, 12 total tackles and a forced fumble (which was returned for a 75-yard touchdown) through two games. It's too early in the season to project Kerrigan's stats for the year, but he will have a career season in all three statistical categories even if his production is cut in half (in his first two years, Kerrigan collected 7.5 and 8.5 sacks and 41 and 42 tackles, respectively).
Despite Kerrigan's success this year, his effectiveness has deteriorated as games progress. Kerrigan had a fantastic first half in the season opener, with 6 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, but he contributed only 1.5 tackles in the second half before leaving the game late with concussion-like symptoms. Last week, per Pro Football Focus, Kerrigan started off the game red-hot with 2 sacks, but then was completely stymied with only 1 QB pressure in his next 38 pass rushes. I don't know how much of this was Kerrigan running out of gas and how much was offensive lines figuring him out, but it seems unusual to me. Kerrigan is known as a high-motor guy, so he may just be taking "leave it all on the field" a bit too far.
From his left outside linebacker position, Kerrigan will primarily be facing Lions right tackle Corey Hilliard unless starter Jason Fox makes a miraculous recovery. Hilliard has done a decent job filling in for Fox in the last two games after an inconsistent preseason. Overall, the Lions' offensive line has been fantastic at keeping Matthew Stafford clean this season by allowing pressure a league-low 22.9 percent of the time. That needs to happen again this week, as Kerrigan and his counterpart Brian Orakpo are a potent pass-rushing duo. Whatever the reason for Kerrigan's late-game declines, the offensive line has to be ready for Kerrigan's early-game onslaught.
While Kerrigan entered the league with a draft profile highlighting his prowess against the run, the Redskins defense has been gouged on the ground in each of the past two games. Last week's defensive failure against the Green Bay Packers was especially surprising. Getting beat by Aaron Rodgers is one thing, but allowing backup running back James Starks to end the Packers' 100-yard rushing drought is quite another.
Hopefully the Lions can continue that trend this week. The Lions' offensive line has shown that it is athletic enough to reach the second level of defenses for both runs and screens, so locking up the Redskins' talented linebacking corps will be key. I anticipate even more screens and draws than usual (and that is saying something) this week as the Lions try to keep Kerrigan and the rest of the 'Skins pass rushers guessing.
The formula to beat the Redskins so far this season has been to come out strong for an early lead and then just milk the clock while RGIII and company make fantasy owners happy. After the last two weeks of nail biters, that sounds pretty good to me.