Can they keep the run game going?
I don’t see why not. Really, it’s about the commitment to it and that’s been there the last four games (27.25 carries per game in that time). Some of that stems from being in favorable situations late in the game, but it’s also about the run game itself. It was telling that after Kirk Cousins’ interception against Philadelphia, the Redskins ran the ball five straight times. It’s not as much about the backs as it is about the blocking and scheme. The backs can make it work, but the reason all three backs performed well last week was because of the blocking -- from all over, not just the line -- and some well-designed plays. Detroit ranks 27th in yards per carry allowed. This trend should continue.
Why is the defense playing better?
They’re playing more sound in coverage and are tackling more consistently. Even some plays where they were beaten last week -- such as the downfield throw with slot corner Kendall Fuller in coverage -- took an excellent throw by a talented young quarterback. The Redskins have been more aggressive sending five-man pressures and using some creative looks to generate pressure. They’ve also done well on third down, holding offenses to 25.9 percent conversions in the last two games combined. It helps that they’ve faced 16 third downs of seven yards or more in these games (allowing just three first downs).
What is the big concern with Detroit?
Their passing game has some solid pieces with receivers Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been the ultimate tease in his career -- a player whom you keep waiting to have multiple monster years. So far, with Calvin Johnson retired, he’s thrown 14 touchdown passes compared with four interceptions -- the latter category has been a problem throughout his career. Jones in particular has been a big-play target, averaging 18.24 yards on 29 receptions. He’s been Stafford’s favorite target (47 attempts to Jones, 41 to Tate).
Is Cousins improving?
He’s slowly progressing and making several off-schedule plays last week was a positive step for a player who struggled to make such plays for much of last season. This is an excellent offense capable of more than what it’s shown. Some of that has been on Cousins’ inability to connect on more opportunities. Some of it has been due to costly mistakes. And some of it stemmed from a need to be less reliant on the pass. Cousins is not a carry-your-team quarterback so having other elements to limit pressure is a plus. Detroit’s defense has not defended the pass well. The Lions are last in total QBR by opposing quarterbacks; 27th in net yards per pass attempt and 23rd in total passing yards. There will be chances.
How good are the Redskins?
Good enough to win four straight, with two of those coming on the road and a fourth against a hot team coming off a bye. Say what you want, but each of those wins was pretty solid and revealing. They showed that the team should be in the NFC East race until the end. Beyond that? It’s too early to make big statements about the entire NFC. The Redskins also have flaws that could hurt them in the end, such as whether their run defense can hold up. Most teams don’t have big margins for error. But there are some games coming up that don’t look quite as difficult as before the season -- Cincinnati, Arizona and Carolina. The Redskins are used to finding ways to win -- they’re 11-5 in their last 16 games. There are concerns, but so far they haven’t consistently cost the Redskins.