The Detroit Lions head up to Seattle to try to crack the nut that has been the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. They have been indomitable at home, both during the 2016 season and in the playoffs for the past few years. To get a better view for what the Lions are in for, we spoke with Kenneth Arthur from Field Gulls.
1. The defense has really been missing Earl Thomas. How have the Seahawks attempted to fill the rather enormous hole he's left behind? In general, how would one plan to attack this Seattle defense?
They've attempted to fill it with a dump truck of dirt and instead found a Play-Doh-size cup of dead leaves. The free safety now is Steven Terrell, a former undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, who the Seahawks have kept around since 2014 because he's one of the only safeties in the NFL who is as fast as Earl Thomas. Maybe faster. But the reasons that he was a UDFA and Thomas an elite prospect out of Texas are numerous and vital. He doesn't have the instincts of Thomas, the football IQ, the impact hits, the fear driven into the hearts of opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators to simply not test centerfield, the ability to change direction and shoot to the ball like a heat-seeking missile.
Yeah, Seattle misses Thomas quite a lot. The difference in the pass defense with and without Thomas is a lot bigger than anyone expected, which is quite scary considering that you'd expect a major difference already after losing a perennial All-Pro. Terrell may be a fine backup, but he is probably not a starter. That being said, the Seahawks defensive woes can also be attributed to a pass rush that's been lacking any push recently and a slot corner in Jeremy Lane who is just tough to watch this year.
The Lions just need to keep attacking deep middle and getting the ball to Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin. I expect that Tate will have a huge game, including a couple of game-breaking long catch and runs to make Lane and Terrell look silly. I wouldn't worry much about trying to run the football, not that Detroit really would.
2. Russell Wilson threw five interceptions in a game this year, and while I'm not expecting that to happen again, I am curious on your overall thoughts on where he's been as a player this year. Has his vital essence been sapped because he has given up volcel lifestyle?
Fans who don't watch the Seahawks games will Tweet me after a game like that and say, "Ha! You said Wilson was great and he's clearly not. Career is over! He's not one of the NFL's best players, you idiot!" and so on. Okay, even some Seattle fans have been doing it this year. But in Wilson's "career-ending season" he's thrown 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, a franchise record 4,219 yards, and he's playing behind the worst offensive line in football. The 15 games besides the one you mentioned against the Packers, he had 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. He had roughly the same season he had in 2014, which was followed up by one of the best quarterbacking seasons of all-time in 2015. He played with a sprained MCL and a high ankle sprain. There are more than a handful of starting quarterbacks in the NFL who would've sat out 2-4 weeks. He played through it. It hurt his ability to run, scramble, move inside the pocket. He's thinking of playing without a knee brace in the playoffs, which could leave him vulnerable but give him back some mobility.
I would say that 2-3 times per game right now Wilson makes a bad decision that we didn't see him make last season. He may feel rushed to make split-second decisions because of how often he's sacked or because the games are closer due to the losses of key defensive players, and then he tries to do too much. For that, Wilson deserves blame because he is usually the coolest cat on the field. But overall, he's still one of the NFL's great players. I'll stand by that. He's had a historically-incredible first five seasons so far and threw more touchdowns in the last three weeks of the season (8) than any other player.
3. How much of a difference has Jimmy Graham made for this offense? What are the expectations for his usage going into Saturday?
Graham's gonna be a huge difference maker on any offense, I think. There was a great example of that vs. the 49ers on Sunday, when Wilson just chucked it up 40 yards through the air for a jump-ball to Graham at the goal line and he just went up and got it like he was hooping at Miami again. He had a franchise record 923 yards by a tight end. He did so while not really playing many snaps at all in Weeks 1 and 2 while he returned from a knee injury that was supposed to threaten his entire career. Graham also had a career-high 14.2 yards per catch and he's honestly just as good/valuable now as he was for the majority of his career with the Saints.
I think you've got to give him credit for opening up Doug Baldwin to a repeat 1,000-yard season when a lot of people expected Baldwin to go back down to the 700-yard range.
Fans want to see Graham thrown to a lot on Saturday and Jermaine Kearse thrown to never. Unfortunately we see the opposite too often it seems. Maybe teams focus a lot on Graham so that's what forces Wilson to put it into Kearse or someone else, but honestly there are also too many times where All-22 shows that he did just overlook an open Graham. If one day Wilson, Graham, Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and CJ Prosise are able to all put it together and get on the same page, look out. But Lockett and Prosise aren't playing this weekend, so Seattle needs to get the first three humming along and hope that maybe Luke Willson, Paul Richardson, Kearse, or Tanner McEvoy do something special.
4. This core that Seattle has had probably won't be together for too many more years, at least not with the current price tag. Is there anyone that Lions fans could be watching that could end up hitting the open market that would be interesting to keep an eye on?
Actually, the majority of "the core" is already among the highest-paid players at their positions: Wilson, Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett (extended), Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, Graham, Baldwin are all well-paid and most signed through 2018 or longer. Kam and Graham may be up for extensions in 2017, but the team can afford it. They have something like $30 million in cap space as is, even after giving Bennett a huge raise. They will most likely give center Justin Britt an extension, he's a free agent after next season. They don't have a single key player hitting free agency except maybe kicker Steven Hauschka. As long as the cap keeps rising, the Seahawks should keep these guys together.
In 2017 or 2018, they have to make a decision on cornerback DeShawn Shead, see where things are at with Avril, but no, not really. It's not a concern, believe it or not. It's more concerning to lose young players, not expensive ones. They lost guys like Spencer Ware and Jaye Howard when they were only in their first or second season because they didn't have the roster spots for them anymore. Willson will be a free agent after the year but as a poor blocker and an unproductive receiver, I'm okay with it.
5. Not much else, I was hoping you'd give your thoughts about the Seattle-style hot dog and why people should or should not attempt to eat one. If you're familiar at all with Coney Islands, could you tell us which one is better? You should also tell us whether you think a hot dog is a sandwich or not. This is all extremely important to a Lions-Seahawks matchup.
I don't know much about the Seattle-style dogs. Is that with salmon or something? I grew up in the Seattle area and all, but we didn't eat many dogs. I live in LA now and so I'd prefer a bacon-wrapped hot dog. I've not had a Coney. I'm definitely not someone that anyone would respect when it comes to eating hot dogs because when I was a kid I just wanted a cheese-infused Oscar Meyer.
A hot dog isn't a sandwich in the way that a pizza folded in half isn't a calzone. Technically does it have the same taste, consistency, and ingredients of a bologna sandwich? I'd argue that it does, usually. But terms and definitions are around for a reason, so a hot dog is a hot dog, a sandwich is a sandwich, and we all know the difference. It's not a type of sandwich either, but it may be a cousin.