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Lions vs. Washington preview: Rein in Cousins

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

James Hawkins of The Detroit News breaks down Sunday Lions-Washington game at Ford Field (1 p.m. Fox/WJR).

Former Michigan State standout Kirk Cousins is 147-of-226 for 1,695 yards, including nine TDs, this season. He has also six interceptions.

Washington players to watch

Kirk Cousins, QB: The former Michigan State standout is leading one of the league’s hottest teams. Washington has won four straight, and Cousins has eight TDs and one INT the past four. Overall, Cousins is completing 65 percent of his passes (147-for-226) and ranks in the top 10 for passing yards (1,695), TDs (nine) and INTs (six).

Matt Jones, RB: The second-year pro rushed for a career-high 135 yards and a score on 16 carries in last week's win over the Eagles. A one-cut downhill runner, Jones has thrived behind a stellar offensive line led by Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams. Jones ranks ninth in the league with 433 yards rushing and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

Josh Norman, CB: The highly coveted free agent established himself as one of the top corners last season. He can make plays in either zone or man coverage and helps anchors Washington’s defense. Norman leads the team with eight passes defensed to go with 26 tackles, one forced fumble and one INT.

Intangibles

Get healthy: The Lions run game has struggled after losing starter Ameer Abdullah, and injuries haven’t helped. Ankle injuries have sidelined Dwayne Washington two weeks and Theo Riddick  last week. Second-year pro Zach Zenner  has seen an increased workload, and another week of practice should benefit Justin Forsett.

Detroit News predictions: Lions vs. Washington

Keep gambling: Lions coach Jim Caldwell is 4-for-4 on fourth-and-short situations the past two weeks, with three leading to TDs. The Lions are tied for second in fourth-down conversions (five) and are one of three teams who have converted all their attempts.

Living on the edge: The past three games have been decided by three points or less, and all three Lions victories have ended with a winning drive led by Matthew Stafford and a Matt Prater FG in the final two minutes. The past two have featured a sealing INT in the final 1:30 by Rafael Bush and Darius Slay.

Contain Cousins: One of the glaring weaknesses for the Detroit defense has been its lack of pass rush. Washington is fourth  in passing offense (276.8 yards), so making Kirk Cousins uncomfortable will be key.

Facts and figures

■ QB Matthew Stafford is coming off one of the best games of his career. His 139.8 passer rating against the Rams is his second-highest game rating and set a game franchise record among passers with at least 30 pass attempts.

■ The Lions rank in the top half of the league in scoring offense (25 points, 12th) and third-down offense percentage (46.5, tied third) and in the bottom half in scoring defense (25.5 points, 22nd) and third-down defense percentage (49.3, 32nd).

■ Washington ranks in the top half in scoring offense (23.7 points, 15th) and third-down offense percentage (40.8, 11th) and in the bottom half in scoring defense (23.7 points, 18th) and third-down defense percentage (45.9, 30th).

■ The Lions are fourth in offensive TD drive efficiency, scoring 16 in 56 drives (28.6 percent). They trail the Saints (32.8 percent), Falcons (31.3) and Cowboys (30).

■ After a favorable early schedule, the Lions enter a three-game stretch against teams over .500, including two against division leaders in the Texans and Vikings.