Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Things I Think Heading Into Detroit

The beginning of this season has been a blur. Every week has brought a big division game, or a big-name opponent. There has already been two nationally telecast contests, and controversies ranging from last-second touchdowns to smack-talking cornerbacks. The season will be halfway done after Sunday, and Seattle will either find themselves at either 5-3 or 4-4. It will be time for a mid-season progress report, and a full assessment of where the team has progressed, stalled and regressed. The simplest evaluation of this game against Detroit is that Seattle has already beaten multiple opponents that are markedly better than the Lions. The Seahawks just lost a road game to a true Super Bowl contender by seven points, and Seattle did not even play their best game. The Lions are 2-4, and are on the brink of a failed season with the divisional success of Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago. Seattle should win. That is the simple evaluation. Get past the superficial, and the forecast is not nearly so clear.

Turnover Tales
Detroit was third in the NFL in takeaways in 2011. They are 29th in the NFL this year. They gave the ball away 1.5 times/game last year, and are giving it away 1.8 times/games this year. They have not won a game this season without winning the turnover battle. There was one game where they tied (@SF), and they lost that game as well. Seattle has given the ball away a little less, and taken it away a bit more. Seattle has won the turnover battle once all season. That was their 27-7 win over Dallas, and the only game all season decided by more than a touchdown. They are 2-2 in the four games when ending the game dead even in turnovers with their opponent. They are 1-1 in games when losing the turnover battle. Seattle is well off their takeaway pace from 2011. Detroit is tied for worst in the NFL with only two interceptions. The Seahawks need to find a way to win the turnover battle if they want to take this road win.

Chain Gang
Seattle may have finally met it's match when it comes to flags. Seattle has improved to 25th in total penalties and 21st in penalty yards. Detroit checks in at 29th in total flags and 31st in penalty yards. They had a 16 penalty game a few weeks ago. D-Baugh's comments this week about the physical play of the Seahawks secondary could have some short-term impact, especially on the road and against the marquee receiver in the league. Penalties that prolong drives for opponents or stall drives on offense are nearly as bad as turnovers. Discipline will be key.

Fools Rush In
The Lions have a fearsome defensive line that is built to rush the passer. They did that well last season, but surrendered a boatload of rushing yards (128.1/gm, 23rd). Only one team in the NFL allowed more yards per carry than their 5.0 number. They are at a more respectable 108.8 this year (16th), and 4.1 YPC (16th). Only three of the six opponents have eclipsed the 100 rushing yard mark. The Lions are 0-3 in those games. Seattle has gone over 100 yards rushing in five of their seven games. Interestingly, they are 2-0 in the games when they failed to reach the 100-yard mark (@CAR, NWE). In any event, the safer bet is to commit to a running game in Detroit that limits the potential for turnovers, and keeps the Detroit offense off the field. Look for Robert Turbin to get additional carries this week. His cutback style could play well against this penetrating and aggressive front four.

The Power Of Twenty
Seattle has played seven games. Opponents have have scored under 20 points in six of those seven games. The Lions have played six games, and have scored over 20 points in three of those games. They are 0-3 in the games when they fail to score 20 points. In fact, they are 0-8 when scoring fewer than 20 points dating back to last season. Seattle's defense has been the team's backbone thus far. They played a physical game against the 49ers last week, and need to find a way to match that intensity against the Lions.

Play Through Takeoff
This is not a team Seattle can expect to coast to victory against. The Lions lead the NFL in fourth quarter scoring at an eye-popping 13.3 pts/game. Seattle averages 16.6 points per game. As you might imagine with a 2-4 team that scores that many points in the fourth quarter, they struggle to score early. They are 30th in the NFL in first half points. Seattle has led in every game so far this season. They cannot afford to be inefficient with their scoring opportunities early. Equally importantly, they must maintain their intensity through the fourth quarter.

Chunk Likes Explosive Plays
Seattle has fallen in love with the deep ball. They are throwing it as much as anyone the past three games, at least as a percentage of pass attempts. Detroit's secondary is supposed to be a team weakness. Remember, a certain NFL back-up torched them for 500 yards and 6 touchdowns last year. They only have two interceptions, as mentioned above. The surprise might be that they are 2nd in the NFL in allowing explosive pass plays of 20+ yards, with only 12 all year. Seattle's vaunted secondary has given up 17. The Lions have not faced a quarterback as good as Tony Romo yet this year, let alone Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. That certainly plays some role, but Russell Wilson is not yet a player to fear. On the flip side, the Lions are 7th in the NFL in explosive pass plays on offense. Seattle could enjoy a big day if they find a way to crack the Lions coverage down-field.

The typical Seattle script would have the Seahawks lose this game, and ignite a panic among the fan base. A loss would wash away nearly all of the ground gained by surprising wins against powerhouse opponents. A win would put the team on pace for 10 wins, with a promising second-half schedule in front of them. To put it simply, this is a game that a playoff team wins. 

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