The Seattle Seahawks have won 10 straight home playoff games. The Detroit Lions have lost nine straight road playoff games, dating back to 1957. Which matters because — people need something to talk about.
We already know that home teams have an advantage over road teams. The Lions haven’t won a road playoff game in 60 years because they don’t regularly attend the postseason. Streaks are meant to be broken, and right now that’s exactly what the Seahawks rush offense and pass defense look like: Broken.
That being said, Detroit has problems of their own.
The Lions are 27th in DVOA and dead-last on defense. They’ve lost three straight games and will struggle if Matthew Stafford struggles because of a combination of a busted middle finger, porous o-line, and stout Seattle pass rush (if it shows up). But there are reasons that Detroit won eight of nine games during the middle of the season, like a solid special teams unit, a variety of good pass-catching weapons, and the heroics of Stafford to lead eight fourth quarter comebacks.
With the Seahawks not looking much like the Seahawks recently, now could be the perfect time for the Lions to take advantage of a team that lost at home just two weeks ago and advance to the division round for the first time since 1991. To find out more about their strengths and weaknesses, I sent five Qs to Chris Lemieux from Pride of Detroit and in return he sent me five As, ahead of the Seahawks and Lions kickoff on Saturday evening, 5:15 PST, on NBC.
Seahawks vs. Lions
Let's get ready for the playoffs! Seahawks vs. Lions!Posted by Field Gulls: For Seattle Seahawks News and Analysis on Friday, January 6, 2017
Q: The Lions lost the division but can thank their lucky stars that the Redskins lost, so they're in the playoffs. How despondent are fans over getting the six seed instead of the four seed, as opposed to how many fans are just happy to be in the playoffs? Is this "good enough" after decades of losing or does the team need their first playoff win in 25 years in order for it to be a successful season?
A: The Lions fanbase is a large and very diverse group of people, although certainly the loudest voices are the unceasing maws that scream and gurgle and claw up from the depths of hell, often emerging on the call-in lines of 97.1 The Ticket. Most aren't happy, but that's because they've been through three losses to end the season and it's got folks jittery.
Speaking as a fan, I'm fine with how the season has gone. I certainly didn't expect it, and I got plenty of games out of it that took years off my life. I know plenty who are not as happy. Some come from a legitimate complaint, like never really wanting Jim Caldwell as head coach to begin with, while others believe that since we got a general manager who used to scout for the Patriots that we should, uh, become the Patriots or something. But these things take time, I don't know what the Lions will do beyond letting Caldwell play out his contract (and he may be fine! I don't know. Coaching in the NFL is a game where it's really easy to say "I don't like that" and just eyeballing some stupid Patriots coordinator who will suck) or how this whole project will pan out.
But honestly, three playoffs in six years, with two in the last three. I don't know what else you can ask for with this roster, which remains in progress. As my editor pointed out, the fact that we're moving the goalposts and complaining about not going far in the playoffs vs. not making them means there's progress there.
Q: Ezekiel Ansah had 14.5 sacks last season and was the breakout defensive player of the year, perhaps. This season he has two sacks. What happened? Does he look better as of late or better than the sacks suggest?
A: He's been playing through an ankle injury he suffered during the middle of the season, which I'm not sure has fully healed up yet. Either way, he's alone when it comes to really bringing pressure so that probably hasn't really helped his stat line or whatever. I think teams have wised up to who he is as a defender and realize that Devin Taylor doesn't take that much to stop, so they can plan for him. In general this line as a unit has struggled in the pass rush and Ansah's been there in those struggles.
Beyond that, he's been on the end of a lot of bad luck for sacks. He's always half a step from taking down the quarterback when the bugger manages to throw the ball away. The worst had to come during that Packers game, where he leapt on Aaron Rodgers. He should have been dead to rights but the little sob somehow bobbed out and threw the ball down the field. That's just not right.
Q: A lot of fans will forever miss Golden Tate. He's averaged more than double the receptions per game in Detroit that he had in Seattle. But he was slow to start the year and appears to be on fire over the last 11 games. How great is Tate? Will Marvin Jones play and is that important given his recent struggles? Is Eric Ebron ever going to catch a touchdown again? And who is the "dark horse" offensive weapon for the Lions. This may be more than one Q.
A: I grew up watching a lot of Notre Dame football so I'm a big Tate guy. There's an excellent quality to anyone whose eyes can look like a distant goddamn killer when he's playing football, diving into a band, hitting someone with his butt, whatever. I'll take that guy. He'll probably bite the head off of a live rabbit if I give him one. Hot damn.
Marvin Jones has been hit and miss, but I'm starting to think it probably depends just who is put on him. The Lions do have the distinction of not having a clear #1 receiver, so depending who sees the heavier coverage, the Lions either throw to Tate or Jones, respectively.
Ebron hasn't been catching a lot of touchdowns, but he's made plenty of great plays where he needs to. He's been very helpful in the blocking game for the Lions and he's still making catches to convert downs, even if his touchdown output has been declining. Along with him, Anquan Boldin has been phenomenal in short yardage situations.
The real weapon is probably coming in Zach Zenner. He's the standard scrappy mc-scrapper of the Lions, but the last few games he's been proving his value making runs for a depleted Lions backfield that's down Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah. He's not a very sophisticated runner, but he does the power runs that the Lions need to (try to) balance their offense.
Q: Matthew Stafford's finger: Give it to me. Wait. Let me rephrase. What's up with Stafford's finger? Can it be the single force stopping the Lions from winning this game?
A: Well as far as stopping force, I wouldn't recommend using your middle finger. Not really that great of a deterrent.
But in all honesty, the hand injury hasn't been enough to send Stafford off the path of being a pretty good quarterback. During the Green Bay game, he still put the ball through triple coverage.
If there has been a change to Stafford, it's come more in the fact that his line is banged up and has little depth to it. He was missing Travis Swanson for several games, which means one of the starting guards had to come over to play center; in the Green Bay game the Lions were also down tackle Riley Reiff and Stafford was getting on average about 1.8 seconds to throw the ball. I think that has to do with it a lot more than his finger; which, to be fair, it sounds pretty grotesque to think about a finger that can bend 90 degrees.
Q: Detroit is 27th in DVOA. But they're here. It reminds me a little bit of the 2010/2011 Seahawks maybe. There's hope for the next few years with Stafford and a nice draft pick in Taylor Decker. How would you grade Bob Quinn's first year as GM? The rookie class, the free agent signings, all of it put together, are the Lions going in the right direction or the playoff appearance a mirage for a team that still has a lot of building to do?
A: I probably couldn't give it a letter grade. I don't know. Look, it's easy to get caught up in the draft stuff and free agency, and he did pretty well there. I'm not beyond thrilled on Marvin Jones but he's been competent. The Anquan Boldin signing, on the other hand, I just loved so much. He's great. Boldin is great. Everything about him.
Anyway, other than that, contract extensions, and the draft class has been decent I suppose. I really love A'Shawn Robinson and expect good things out of him. Decker is growing into the role but still gets beat at times. Other than those two a lot was spent on depth; I think Miles Killebrew is probably the one to stand out there.
That said I wasn't as big of a fan in some of the midseason meddling with the roster, but the goal was to shake things up and establish depth. I think Quinn came in treating this as a multi-year project (it is) and didn't really stop just because it looked like the team was hunting for a division title. That dampens it a little bit, along with my general wariness of anyone who comes out of that Patriots organization not named Belichick. However, everyone in Detroit expects great things from him, and early signs point to a good track to be on. We'll definitely see with the next offseason, especially when it comes to shoring up a disintegrating defense. If not, they'll try to run him out of town and we'll do this all over again in three, four years. It's no worry to me, I got time.