Coach Joe Gibbs is convinced that major problems with matchups will make it difficult for the Redskins to beat the Detroit Lions today.
"The things we do well, they defend the best," he said about the 1 p.m. game at RFK Stadium (WDMV-TV-9). "The things they do the best on offense, we have the most trouble stopping on defense.
"I've been comfortable with our matchups the last few weeks, but not this time. I'm really concerned about some of the situations. Besides, they know if they want to remain a playoff contender, they have to win this one. I'm sure that has them excited."
Some of this is the usual coaching rhetoric aimed at inspiring his own players. But Gibbs, whose team is a two-point favorite, also can point to some telling statistics to back up his claims.
Until Wendell Tyler of Los Angeles gained 136 yards last week, Detroit had been ranked first against the rush in the league. And the Redskins' ability to run the ball has been a major reason they've won three of their last four games.
Detroit (4-5) also is the third-best rushing team in the NFL, thanks mostly to Billy Sims, who has gained 728 yards despite missing two games with a sore toe. And Washington has had problems all season stopping the run, especially the last two weeks, when both Tony Collins and Ottis Anderson went over the 100-yard mark.
Many of the Lions' opponents, however, haven't had to run that much because they've had great success passing on Detroit, which is giving up 226 yards a game, the worst in the NFC.
"We are going into it hoping to be able to both run and pass," Gibbs said. "We want to keep things balanced, because that's what has worked best for us lately."
In a game full of intriguing matchups, two stand out. Joe Jacoby, the Redskins' rookie left tackle, goes against Bubba Baker, the Lions' all-pro defensive end. And Sims, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma, must contend with linebacker Monte Coleman, the Redskins' best athlete who has been struggling since returning from a shoulder fracture.
Jacoby, a free agent, will be starting his second game at the difficult left tackle position. Line Coach Joe Bugel said Jacoby played magnificently in his first start, against the Cardinals. But his opponent in that game, Curtis Greer, is hardly as talented as Baker, one of the three or four best pass-rushing ends in the league.
Baker, who has seven sacks, is expected to play after sitting out two games with a sore toe. Jacoby has a sore right wrist, but Bugel was almost certain he will start.
Sims gained 185 yards against Denver's tough defense the last time he was completely healthy. He seems certain to concentrate on the left side of the Redskin defense, which has been highly vulnerable recently to sweeps. Coleman is the left-side linebacker now that Brad Dusek has been sidelined with an assortment of injuries.
The Redskins need to stop Sims before they can force Eric Hipple, the Lions' inexperienced quarterback, to pass into Washington's secondary. Gibbs also says he fears the Lions will use their running game to play ball control, something he'd rather have his team do.
Detroit, which has lost all five of its road games this year, still is only a game behind Minnesota and Tampa Bay in the NFC Central race. With those two teams, plus Dallas and Kansas City, remaining on their schedule, the Lions realize they must win this game. That's why the players held a meeting this week, without coaches present, to discuss the rest of the season.
"Every time we've played the Lions when I've been with other teams, they've had a young quarterback starting and they've killed us," Gibbs said. "Maybe that's why I'm so paranoid about this one."
Fred Scott is the Lions' leading receiver, with 28 catches, but tight end David Hill (23) has been impressive lately . . . Detroit's Tom Skladany leads the NFC in punting . . . With fullback Wilbur Jackson and guard Melvin Jones available after being injured, this is the healthiest the Redskins have been since early in the season . . . Mel Kaufman will start again for Dusek at right linebacker.