The Detroit Lions are back home in Week 4, hosting the Seattle Seahawks in a battle between one-win teams. Both teams’ defenses are struggling right now, and this game may come down to which team has the better offense.
Let’s take a closer look at the key things the Lions need to do against the Seahawks in order to get their second win of the season. Check out the odds for this game courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Seahawks’ base scheme
To best understand why the Seahawks' defense has struggled, let’s take a look at their scheme. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired this past offseason and Clint Hurtt was promoted from defensive line coach to the role.
Hurtt switched the Seahawks to a hybrid 3-4 front, that will look eerily similar to the defense Matt Patricia during his time in Detroit. They will run a variety of coverage schemes, like most NFL secondaries, but their bread-and-butter is a single-high (most often Quandre Diggs) concept.
The basic cover package uses a single-high safety with the corners in man, taking outside positioning, and directing the receiver's path inside. The linebackers live in the 5-10 yard zone and try and close the zone over the middle. In short, they try to force things inside to help, thus creating small windows to throw to.
Against the run, they typically send just four players, three down linemen, and a pass-rushing linebacker. The problem they have run into is, with the linebackers staying in a 5-10 yards zone, there is a lot of room behind the defensive line, and if (when) they get blocked, offenses pick up big chunks of yardage. When the linebackers adjust and come downhill to stop the run, it widens the gap over the middle, leaving that part of the field vulnerable.
And that leads up to the Lions’ biggest key.
Get Jamaal Williams running downhill on weak IDL
D’Andre Swift is likely out and the Lions will turn to Jamaal Williams to carry the load. When Williams took over last game, he rushed 20 times for 87 yards and two scores, earning PFF’s highest running back grade (86.7 overall) in Week 3.
Checking in fourth on PFF’s running back grades for Week 3 was the Falcons’ Cordarrelle Patterson, who set a new career-high with 141 rushing yards... against the Seahawks.
Cordarrelle Patterson shakes loose for the Falcons TD!— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2022
: #ATLvsSEA on FOX
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Patterson had some huge holes to run through as the Falcons offensive line created big rushing lanes. In the clip above, he gains 18 yards before running through minimal contact for the score.
The Seahawks defensive line has struggled to hold its ground through three weeks, and their PFF grades reflect that. The defensive lineman with the highest run defense grade is Shelby Harris, who has been out with a quad injury and barely clears average with a 60.3 score. The current starting three down linemen, nose tackle Al Woods (57.5), Poona Ford (45.4), and Quinton Jefferson (34.6) all have below to very-below average grades.
The Lions offensive line has the ability to replicate the same style of rushing attack the Falcons did last week and could get back to dominating the trenches as they did in the first two games. Look for the Lions to get Williams—Craig Reynolds or Justin Jackson—running downhill on the Seahawks defensive line.
Help T.J. Hockenson break his funk
Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson hasn’t achieved the level of production Lions fans are used to seeing out of him. Through three weeks, he has 10 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. But offensive coordinator Ben Johnson isn’t worried about the production and believes Hockenson could be due for a break-out game very soon.
“Who knows when that’s going to happen, but these things go ebbs and flows,” Johnson told the media on Friday. “Sometimes those catches come in bunches. The touchdowns come in bunches, so I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future he does have a more productive game.”
If the Lions get the running game going, the Seahawks linebackers will eventually pinch up and that will open up the middle of the field for Hockenson—he just needs to be sure to keep his head on a swivel for a lurking Quandre Diggs.
It’s Chark week
If the Lions can get the running game going and/or start drawing the safety's attention to Hockenson, that will free up some one-on-one matchups on the outside. Chark’s savvy route running and speed should give the Seahawks corners problems, regardless of which one lines up across from him.
The Seahawks current projected starters consist of two Day 3 rookies—fourth-rounder Coby Bryant (at nickel) and fifth-round pick Tariq Woolen—and Michael Jackson, who you may remember was with the Lions for a brief stint in 2020, went they traded him to the Patriots at cutdowns. All three are in their first year as starters.
The corners will try and maintain outside leverage and keep Chark inside of them but the Lions have ways they can attack. First is to simply outrun them. Despite running a single-high coverage, the safety won’t always travel deep, which creates one-on-one opportunities with an inside track to the ball. When this happens, Jared Goff needs to let it fly. Another way to attack the coverage is with deep crossers. If the Lions can keep their past protection long enough for Chark to get 15 yards deep and across the middle, he could easily be running free.
Take away Geno Smith’s security blankets
Despite having two excellent wide receivers in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, when Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith needs a quick outlet, he targets tight ends and running backs at a high frequency.
Against Atlanta, Smith completed all 15 of his passes to tight ends and running backs, targeting three players at each position. Collectively they accounted for 139 of Smith’s passing yards.
This isn’t to suggest the Lions disregard Lockett and Metcalf, quite the opposite, they’ll need to have a game plan in place for that. But if they want to get Seattle in poor down and distance situations, they’ll need to disrupt the flow of the ball to the tight ends and running backs.
Smith is smart with the football and because he likes to throw underneath he leads the NFL with a completion percentage of 77.5 percent through three games. His 74.1 overall PFF grade is the highest of his career, and when he works out of a clean pocket, that number raises to 82.9, per PFF and his completion percentage jumps up to 81.9 percent.
When pressured, Smith’s PFF score drops to 57.3 and his completion percentage drops to 66.7 percent. That’s a pretty big difference.
Per PFF, the Lions continue to lead the NFL in pressures and have now registered 68 according to their tracking numbers. Rookie Aidan Hutchinson leads the team with 11, followed by John Cominsky (who is injured and likely won’t play) with 10, Charles Harris with eight, and Alim McNeill with six.
The Seahawks pass protection weakness is on their interior, specifically with center Austin Blythe and right guard Gabe Jackson. If the Lions can get McNeill over that combo, that’s a potential advantage for Detroit. But they should also advance their creativity, working Hutchinson and Harris on stunts where they can loop inside, or end simply lining up Hutchinson at the 3-technique—like they do in sub-packages—and lean on Julian Okwara to hold the edge.
Pressure Smith up the middle and take away his security blankets and Detroit will put themselves in a great spot to keep the Seahawks offense subdued.