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Detroit Lions vs. Seattle Seahawks preview, prediction: On Paper

A statistical breakdown of the matchup between the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks.

NFL: OCT 28 Seahawks at Lions Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks are both looking to rebound after close losses in Week 3. With both teams standing at 1-2 on the season, this game feels pretty darn important for both squads. While there is only a game difference between 1-3 and 2-2, emotionally, it feels like there is a chasm between those two records. A 1-3 team feels like someone that’ll be in the hunt for the No. 1 overall pick. A 2-2 team has a legit shot at the Wild Card.

Of course, that’s all early-season hyperbole. Plenty can happen in the final 13 weeks of the season. Still, if you’re looking for a potentially pivotal point in the year, this could be it.

So how do the Lions and Seahawks match up against each other? Let’s take a closer look in our Week 4 On Paper preview and prediction.

Note: All statistics are 2022 based. No more using last year’s data. Of note, DVOA rankings are not defense-adjusted yet—meaning they don’t take into account strength of opponent until after Week 4. Thankfully, that’s what the charts are all about, so we are able to do that.

Lions pass offense (12th in DVOA) vs. Seahawks pass defense (31st)

  • Lions pass offense (11th in EPA) vs. Seahawks pass defense (32nd in EPA)

Jared Goff and the passing offense have enjoyed a pretty solid start to the season. Goff’s statistics are fairly pedestrian overall, ranking 20th in yards per attempt (6.7), 11th in passer rating (92.4), and eighth in ESPN’s QBR (63.7).

Still, the Lions have been mostly efficient in the passing game, including against an Eagles defense that has basically shut everyone else down thus far.

One big reason for the unit’s success has been the team’s pass protection. Goff has taken just four sacks for an adjusted sack rate of 3.9 percent (fifth). Protection isn’t perfect—the Lions rank 19th in pass block win rate and 28th in PFF’s pass blocking grade—but it has been improving, and Goff has done a good job navigating the pressure thus far, limiting the damage with surprisingly good mobility and not turning the ball over.

The question this week will be who the Lions rely upon given the injuries. D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown are trending towards missing this game and those two players account for 44 percent of the team’s receiving yards, four of Goff’s seven receiving touchdowns, and 42 percent of the target share.

Will this be the week DJ Chark steps up? What about T.J. Hockenson? Both have underwhelmed thus far despite each averaging six targets a game this year.

Well, this should help.

The Seahawks haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of quarterbacks in Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Marcus Mariota, yet all three of them had well above-average days against this Seahawks pass defense. They aren’t racking up a ton of yards, but the efficiency is off the charts.

Opponents are averaging 8.8 yards per attempt (32nd), completing 66.3 percent of their passes (21st), and totaling a 100.6 passer rating (26th) against the Seahawks.

Their failures are really on every level. When it comes to pass rush, they rank 22nd in pass rush win rate and 26th in PFF’s pass rush grade. Much like the Lions—more on that later—they use blitzing to compensate, as their 25.3 blitz percentage ranks 15th in the NFL.

They aren’t any better at coverage. They have the second-worst team coverage grade from PFF (41.7), have just eight passes defended on the year (30th), and just a single interception through three games.

The Seahawks are under a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme, and it shows. They are young and still learning.

Player to watch: DJ Chark. Chark has been a bit underwhelming thus far, but it’s not for lack of trying. He and Goff have just barely missed on a handful of plays, and Chark showed his potential early in Minnesota with 40 yards on the first drive alone. With a Vikings secondary that may be starting two rookies, this seems like a mismatch to highlight, especially under the assumption that St. Brown won’t go.

It’s worth noting Chark has been dealing with an ankle injury and missed Thursday’s practice, but coach Dan Campbell suggested he’ll be fine earlier in the week.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. This would be a much bigger advantage in the Lions’ favor if St. Brown was in, but the Lions’ have a lot of receiving options that should—in theory—be able to compensate. That all remains a theory at this point, however, so we’ll have to see who can step up on Sunday.

Lions run offense (5th) vs. Seahawks run defense (21st)

  • Lions run offense (3rd in EPA) vs. Seahawks run defense (17th)

The Lions run game has been fantastic thus far, led by an offensive line that is averaging 5.03 adjusted line yards per run (fourth). For whatever reason, some of the other advanced statistics don’t seem to like the Lions’ run blocking as much—they’re 20th in team run block rate and 15th in PFF’s run block grade—but they absolutely pass the eye test.

The question this week is who will provide the big-play threat with Swift almost certainly out? Jamaal Williams was a very effective back last week against the Vikings—PFF’s No. 1 back of Week 3, in fact—but he simply is not a big-play threat. Craig Reynolds was not effective last week (six rushes, 13 yards) and the speedy Justin Jackson has yet to carry the ball once for Detroit.

The Seahawks have ceded 100 yards and at least 4.2 yards per carry in each of their first three games of the year. Although much like the Vikings last week, it’s hard to decipher whether this is a bad run defense or simply a team that has faced a couple of really good rushing attacks. Both San Francisco and Atlanta are averaging over 150 yards per game—but is that a result of facing a Seahawks defense that allowed well over that?

There’s obviously a lot of noise to wade through this early in the season, but there’s simply not a lot to like about this run defense. They rank 29th in PFF’s run defense grade, 18th in ESPN’s run stop win rate, are allowing 4.9 yards per carry (22nd), and rank 31st in adjusted line yards.

It’s a bit odd to see the Seahawks struggle considering they were one of the strongest run defenses in the league last year, and much of the personnel up front remains the same. But perhaps the change in defensive scheme has limited their efficiency this season.

Player to watch: Poona Ford. Ford was one of the Seahawks’ best run defenders for the past four seasons, but he’s been off to a slow start. He can still be a hugely disruptive force, though.

Advantage: Lions +1. Again, it feels like the Lions would have a much more significant advantage here if they were just dang healthy. Explosive plays were a big reason this unit was so strong through two weeks, but last week against the Vikings proved they can survive without it, too. Still, I am concerned about the unit’s efficiency when they have to give Williams a break.

Seahawks pass offense (11th) vs. Lions pass defense (19th)

  • Seahawks pass offense (12th in EPA) vs. Lions pass defense (24th)

The post-Russell Wilson era hasn’t been quite the disaster some were expecting thus far. Geno Smith—who had started just five football games since 2014 before this year—has been, quite literally, the most accurate passer in football through three weeks:

(CPOE = completion percentage over expectation)

Now, this still is far from an explosive aerial attack. Seattle ranks just 18th in completed air yards per completion, so it’s not like Smith is chucking it downfield a lot. In fact, despite having two excellent outside options in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, nearly a quarter of Smith’s targets are going to his tight end corps. Still, Lockett and Metcalf are easily the most dangerous weapons on the field.

Seattle’s offensive line is improved from years past, but the reality is they are starting two rookie offensive tackles, rank 15th in team pass block win rate, 19th in pressure percentage, and 26th in PFF pass blocking grade.

The Lions pass defense has not been an absolute disaster. They seem to play well a half at a time.

In the first half of the past two weeks, they held Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz to a collective 22-of-39 for 178 yards (4.6 Y/A), one touchdown, and a 76.7 passer rating. The problem is this is what those two quarterbacks combined for in the second half: 32-of-48, 419 yards (8.7 Y/A), 4 TDs, 1 INT, and a 113.1 passer rating.

The only thing the Lions seem to be doing consistently well on defense is creating pressure on obvious passing downs. Though they struggle creating pressure in one-on-one situations —as evidenced by their 29th ranked pass rush win rate—they are fourth in blitz percentage (40.6 percent), and that has resulted in the fourth most pressures in the league (38).

The Lions are still figuring things out in the secondary. Jeff Okudah has been excellent and has slingshot into the CB1 spot. Last week, the Lions surprisingly entrusted him to follow Justin Jefferson—albeit with safety help—but it was the first time the Lions have used a corner to shadow in a long time. Meanwhile, the other outside cornerback Amani Oruwariye (29.5 PFF coverage grade) and nickel corner Mike Hughes (36.7) have struggled immensely.

Detroit will also have to figure out one of their safety spots after losing Tracy Walker last week for the entire season with an Achilles injury. The job is apparently between JuJu Hughes, rookie Kerby Joseph, and second-year defensive back Ifeatu Melifonwu. None of those three have ever started an NFL game at safety.

Player to watch: Aidan Hutchinson. The Lions have gone up against a lot of good offensive tackles thus far, and it’s put a little bit of damper on the hype surrounding Hutchinson. This week, he’ll mostly line up against third-round rookie Abraham Lucas. Lucas has not allowed a sack yet and has earned a solid 69.4 PFF pass blocking grade, but he has also allowed at least two pressures in each game.

Advantage: Seahawks +1.5. The Lions could win this matchup, especially with the improved play from Okudah, but it’s hard to have a lot of confidence based on previous performances. Smith has been good, but not electric, so even if the Lions defense struggles, I don’t expect a 300+ yard, 3 TD game from Smith. But I do expect the Seahawks to be somewhat efficient in their passing game Sunday.

Seahawks run offense (22nd) vs. Lions run defense (24th)

  • Seahawks run offense (22nd in EPA) vs. Lions run defense (26th)

The Seahawks running game hasn’t really emerged quite yet. Rashaad Penny has been one of the better backs in the league when healthy, but he’s had just 141 rushing yards on 32 carries (4.4 YPC) through three games. Part of the problem has been the Seahawks just haven’t run the ball much. Their 56 rushing attempts are second-fewest in the league.

The other problem is the offensive line. Seattle ranks 28th in yards before contact (1.9), 18th in adjusted line yards, and rank 31st in team run block win rate. While the tackles have been playing well, the Seahawks’ three interior offensive linemen have run blocking grades at 58.1 or lower.

The Lions run defense had one solid game this year, but it just so happened to come against one of the worst rushing attacks in the league in the Commanders (25th in rush DVOA). In the other two games, it’s fair to say they were thoroughly gashed.

Of course... the Eagles (10th in DVOA) and Vikings (third) happened to have two of the best rushing attacks in the league thus far. So, again, we find ourselves in the same conundrum: is the Lions run defense bad because they’ve faced good run offenses, or are those run offenses “good” because the Lions run defense is bad.

The advanced stats paint a mostly-bad picture. Detroit ranks 23rd in run stop win rate, 30th in PFF run defense grade, 24th in adjusted line yards.

Player to watch: Alim McNeill. While the Lions’ defensive tackle hasn’t racked up the stats thus far, he’s done a lot of the dirty work, occupying blockers and allowing the linebackers to run free. He has a favorable matchup this week, so it’s possible he finally starts making some plays on his own.

Advantage: Draw. I don’t have much confidence in either group here. The Lions, theoretically, should have the advantage in the trenches, but Detroit’s defensive front has been somewhat disappointing thus far. Plus I believe Penny to be a very good back capable of winning the matchup on his own. But I also feel the matchup is good enough that Detroit should be able to replicate some of the success they showed against Washington.

Last week’s prediction

Though I picked the Lions over the Vikings, it’s hard to feel bad about last week’s preview when Detroit had double-digit leads twice against Minnesota. I did, however, completely blow the Lions run defense matchup, which I thought would be even against the Vikings. Everything else felt right.

In the comment section, no one could beat out the prediction of Pride of Detroit editor Kyle Yost, whose 30-24 prediction was extremely close to the 28-24 final score. Per tradition, when a staffer wins the On Paper challenge, I let them request the photoshop. Kyle deferred to me, and so I offered him—a huge University of Michigan fan—the best thing I could think of:

This week’s prediction

The Lions come out with a +1 advantage, which feels about right. It’s unfortunate that they’re so banged up, because otherwise, this could be a +3 or +4 advantage. Still, they’re the better team with a clearer identity. Their offensive line is stronger than any other unit between both teams, and even though they’re missing some key skill position players, their depth there is so much better than it was in previous seasons.

Like we’ve seen for a lot of these matchups, it’s the offense with the advantages in all of these matchups, so prepare for another shootout. Lions 31, Seahawks 24.

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