The Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks have worked their way back to relevancy in the NFC. Both teams were written off early, after poor 1-3 starts, but both have won three of their last four and are looking to crack .500 for the first time this season.
Sunday’s matchup could be key for both teams, as it will not only be a confidence booster for either team, but a potential tiebreaker down the line. So who has the advantage on Sunday? Let’s break it down, on paper.
Lions pass offense (18th in DVOA) vs. Seahawks pass defense (3rd)
It’s been highly publicized that Matthew Stafford has five straight games with a 100+ passer rating—the longest streak of his career, and the longest in franchise history. While this is true, he has really shined in the past three games specifically, exceeding the opponent’s passer rating allowed in each by a substantial margin. But check out Stafford’s raw statistics in his past three games:
71.8 completion percentage, 9.1 yards per attempt, 6 TDs, 0 INTs, 125.3 passer rating
Stafford is on fire, and he’s done so against some pretty solid defenses.
Of course, a lot of Stafford’s success is owed to the offensive line, who has not only helped make him one of the least-sacked quarterbacks in the league, but has also made Detroit’s offense uncharacteristically balanced.
The Lions offense will have its hands full yet again this week, as they face off against a Seahawks defense that hasn’t allowed an opposing quarterback to hit even a 90 quarterback rating. That’s impressive no matter how you look at it. However, putting it into context, look at the opposing quarterbacks they’ve faced: only two (Mitchell Trubisky and Jared Goff) are averaging a passer rating above 90, which is a fairly easy target to hit in the NFL these days.
Still, it’s hard not to be impressed with Seattle’s defense, especially after all the roster overhaul this offseason. The Seahawks rank third in passer rating allowed (79.9), fourth in yards per attempt (6.8) but 20th in completion percentage (66.0). They’re an opportunistic defense, as they’ve tallied nine interceptions (t-sixth), however, they’ve struggled to create a lot of pressure. They only have 16 sacks on the year (t-18th), but according to ESPN they actually generate pressure quite often:
Player to watch: Kenny Golladay. Golladay is in the midst of a breakout season, but has a down week when he went up against shutdown cornerback Xavien Howard against the Dolphins. The Seahawks don’t have anything resembling a lockdown corner, so Golladay will be a mismatch against literally anyone they line up over him.
Advantage: Lions +1. The Seahawks defense is very good, I want that to be clear here. However, they still need to prove to me they can do it against better competition. Jared Goff completed 72 percent of his passes for 10.0 yards per attempt against this defense. It is true the Seahawks forced two interceptions in that game, but for the rest of the contest Goff had no problem moving the ball. The Lions aren’t quite as potent as the Rams offense, but they’re rolling right now, so I’m giving them the slight advantage.
Lions run offense (11th) vs. Seahawks run defense (12th)
It’s appropriate that there’s so much red and green in this chart, because it feels like Christmas now that Detroit actually the threat of a running game. They’ve averaged at least 4.8 yards per carry in four of six contests, and have had at least 90 rushing yards in five of six. In terms of outgaining opponents’ averages, Detroit has fared quite well. Outside of Week 1’s disaster, they’ve met or surpassed YPC allowed averages in four of their last five. The plan is finally working.
Overall, the raw stats are a little more modest. The Lions are averaging 4.9 yards per carry (t-fourth), but they’re only earning first downs on 24.8 percent of rushes (14th). Their overall stats are bolstered a bit by big plays. Their six rushes of 20+ yards are eighth-most in the NFL.
Still, as the DVOA ranking suggests, this is a rushing attack that is on the verge of being a top-10 unit.
After a somewhat promising start to the season, the Seahawks defense has looked vulnerable to the run lately. All four of their last opponents have been able to meet or surpass their YPC average against the Seahawks, and it’s fair to say that the Broncos, Cowboys and Rams all had successful rushing days against this Seahawks defense.
Seattle ranks t-25th in yards per carry allowed (4.7) and gives up first downs on 27.1 percent of carries, good for just 28th. This is all despite only allowing four rushes of 20+ yards (t-11th fewest), suggesting that they’re getting consistently beaten on the ground, not just giving up big plays here and there.
Player to watch: Bobby Wagner. If there’s a single player that can disrupt what the Lions do in the running game, it’s the All-Pro linebacker.
The highest graded linebackers in the NFL so far this season. pic.twitter.com/ogt5Pwi59F— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 24, 2018
Wagner is a well-rounded defender that can cover just as well has he can run-stuff. Detroit is going to have to account for him on literally every single running play, as Wagner has finished the past three seasons among the NFL’s top 20 tacklers (first in 2016).
Advantage: Lions +2. Maybe I’m foolishly riding the wave of optimism here, but this truly looks like a matchup the Lions can (and will exploit). With no Sheldon Richardson around to clog up space, the Seahawks defense is vulnerable up the middle and we saw how Detroit backs have exploited any and all holes up the middle of the defense.
Seahawks pass offense (15th) vs. Lions pass defense (28th)
This is a very typical Seahawks pass offense chart. No yards, but all efficiency. They’ve yet to be held below the defense’s passer rating average, yet have only outgained their yardage averages once—in the season opener.
Seattle doesn’t like to throw the ball all that much. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks have attempted just 165 passes—31 fewer than any other team in the entire NFL. In other words, don’t pay much attention to the left column.
When it comes to efficiency statistics, this Seahawks pass offense can measure with the best of them. Seattle ranks sixth in passer rating (104.8), t-eighth in yards per attempt (7.9) and 15th in completion percentage.
While Seattle’s pass protection has undoubtedly gotten better, they’ve still allowed 19 sacks on the season (t-11th).
Passing may not be this offense’s identity, but when they do throw it, they’ve mostly been successful.
The Lions, on the other hand, haven’t been able to stop anyone this year—outside of Tom Brady. Every other quarterback has eclipsed their season passer rating average with at least a 108.0 passer rating.
Overall, the stats are pretty ugly. Detroit ranks 30th in passer rating allowed (107.1), 26th in yards per attempt (8.0) and t-16th in completion percentage (65.0). Their defense, which ranked fourth in interceptions last year (19), only has two through six games. But despite the lack in consistent pressure, Detroit has the fourth-most sacks on the year (21).
It’s clear the Lions value containment over pressure, and, at times, the Lions secondary holds up well enough for pressure to eventually get there. However, coverage units have been inconsistent at best, and this unit is desperate seeking more big plays.
Player to watch: Tyler Lockett. As I mentioned in Friday’s open thread, the Seahawks’ young receiver is in the midst of a breakout season and is just the kind of weapon the Lions have struggled with. His speed will give Detroit’s secondary fits, and his big play ability will test the Lions deep.
Advantage: Seahawks +1.5. Seattle would have a bigger advantage here if they simply passed the ball more often. However, they prefer to run the ball first and pass only when necessary. In fact, the more Wilson is forced to throw the ball, the less efficient he becomes. It should come as no surprise that his worst statistical outputs this year happened when he attempted the most passes. So despite the clear mismatch here, it should actually be the Lions’ goal to force the Seahawks to pass it more often.
Seahawks run offense (14th) vs. Lions run defense (30th)
Seattle’s run offense hasn’t quite been as dominant as it has been in the past, but it’s still the clear identity of this team. Though they’ve only outgained the opponents’ YPC allowed twice this season, they have the third-most rushing attempt per game (30.0).
That being said, power runner Chris Carson is having a breakout season, averaging an impressive 4.5 YPC and 70.4 rushing yards per game. As a team, though, the Seahawks are only averaging 4.3 YPC (t-14th) and earning first downs on 21.1 percent of rushes (23rd).
This is a rushing attack that will wear you down as the game goes on, but isn’t likely to dominate for all four quarters.
Now things are going to get very interesting. The Lions run defense has been one of the worst in the NFL. Last week was a step in the right direction... until the Lions allowed Kenyan Drake to bust out at 54-yard touchdown run. While I’d love to just completely throw out that rush, the Lions have now given up four rushes of 40+ yards, the most in the NFL. It’s unfair to call that an outlier, even if the Lions run defense was stellar for the rest of the day.
Overall, the Lions are last in the NFL in YPC allowed (5.3) and 23rd in percentage of rushes earning first downs (25.5).
Player to watch: SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS SNACKS.
In trading for Damon Harrison, the Lions have added the NFL's leader in defensive stops on the defensive interior in each of the past three seasons. pic.twitter.com/Oq3a8t0VpV— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 24, 2018
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Advantage: Seahawks +1. I’d love to sit here and tell you that Damon Harrison Sr. is going to immediately fix all of the Lions’ defensive woes, but I just can’t do that with any hard evidence. I’m hopeful, especially with last week’s small improvement, but I’m trying to be objective here, and the Lions’ running game problems were more complex than just poor nose tackle play.
Seattle’s running game isn’t as good as it’s historically been, so the Lions have a real chance to stop them, but I can’t completely ignore just how bad this Lions run defense has been in every single game this year.
Last week’s prediction: Despite my gut telling me that the Lions would pick up their first road victory of the season, On Paper said otherwise. My 26-20 Dolphins prediction severely underestimated the Lions’ rushing attack (or overestimated the Dolphins defense, based on Thursday Night Football’s results).
In the comment section, we had co-winners. Our own Jerry Mallory on staff shared a 31-20 prediction with commenter oldlionsfan. That’s quite the coincidence, since Jerry is the Old Man of the staff.
Your prize this week (which, reminder: you’re not actually getting. You just get a picture), is an actual NFL product avaiable for sale by the Home Shopping Network. The Lions have Snacks. But where are you going to put all those snacks? HSN has got you covered:
This week’s prediction:
Before I get into this week’s prediction, THIS WEEK WE’RE HAVING A CONTEST. Instead of a lame photoshop, the commenter that comes the closest to the actual score will win one of our new “SNACKS” t-shirts. You may only guess one score, and it must be in this comment section. Winner is decided by closest to the final scores of both teams with closest to the margin of victory used as a tiebreaker. International fans are welcome to apply. I’ll cover the extra shipping!
Anyways, the Lions come out with a mere +0.5 advantage. Seattle is a team that’s better than most gave them credit for, but they still have a lot to prove. Their wins came against some pretty poor competition (Cowboys aside), and though their defense is still good, their stats are bolstered by a slate of poor quarterbacks that, in my opinion, have inflated their interceptions numbers.
I don’t think the Lions walk away with a comfortable win, but they’ll head to Minnesota with a winning record. Lions 27, Seahawks 21.