Returning from their bye week, the Seattle Seahawks will again head out on the road for a 10 AM kickoff, this time against the Detroit Lions at the terribly unkind Ford Field.
Through the first seven weeks of the Matt Patricia-era in Detroit, the Lions have occasionally looked uninspired, yet they are in the middle of a push both for the NFC North title and/or a wildcard spot.
With the Rams cruising to an NFC West title, the Seahawks matchup against Detroit could have massive playoff implications at the end of the season, should the two teams remain on the trajectory they are on.
Offensive and Defensive Primers
When he first stepped into the role mid-way through 2015, Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter was lauded for both his name and his refreshing approach to an offense that had grown stagnant.
Cooter’s offensive approach has remained relatively unchanged, even as he has drawn criticism. In the passing game, the Lions have a reliance on quick, underneath throws, limiting the potential for mistakes. Stafford has averaged just over .6 interceptions per game under Cooter, compared to just under 1.2 picks per game under previous coordinators.
In the running game, Detroit runs a man-blocking scheme and have seen a massive improvement in both their rushing attack and run blocking in 2018. After finishing dead last in adjusted line yards in 2017, they sit 12th in the NFL through seven weeks. Their running game, finally having come alive, has jumped from 30th in DVOA to 11th, despite playing LeGarrette Blount regularly.
On defense, Matt Patricia’s arrival coincided with the departure of the well-respected Teryl Austin. Patricia runs a defense that features multiple fronts, and a reliance on two-gapping defensive linemen. Speaking at the Scouting Combine, Patricia laughed off a question about whether he runs a 4-3 or 3-4:
I heard the question earlier, so I’m already just going to address it, whoever asked the 3-4, 4-3 question. I always laugh at that every single time because it’s all relative, right? It’s all the same. I think if you were to say, ‘Hey, we’re 3-4, we’re 4-3,’ trying to take a look at it and figure out what it is, the interesting part about all that is if you guys study film and watch the trends of football, 90 percent of it isn’t even regular defense anymore. It’s all sub, so trying to figure out what it is from there.
Patricia is bang-on with his answer here, and we’ve seen evidence of the same thinking in Seattle, where Pete Carroll has defined his defense as “A 4-3 personnel system that plays 3-4 looks.”
In Patricia’s final season with the Patriots, he used man coverage the second most in the entire NFL, on 45.6% of plays. That has continued with the Lions, where Patricia is gifted one of the best cover corners in the league, Darius Slay.
Numbers that Matter
7.5: Week 8 will see Ed Dickson make his Seahawks debut, and Nick Vannett return following a one game absence. For the first time since Will Dissly went down, Seattle has depth at tight end, and it’s coming at an advantageous time.
The Seahawks have lined up in 12 personnel (1 RB-2 TE-2 WR) on just 34 plays in 2018, the fourth lowest mark in the NFL. However, against Detroit, that number may grow significantly.
The Lions are allowing a league-worst 7.5 yards per play out of their base defense in 2018, 1.5 yards more than their per play average on the year. With Seattle having two legitimate options at tight end, they could rely on two tight end looks and force Detroit to stay in their base defense. The Seahawks could then exploit a defense lacking range at the second level by working horizontal passes over the middle of the field.
30: The Lions deserve a ton of credit for addressing a need so aggressively. Through seven weeks, Detroit’s run defense ranked 30th in both yards per game and DVOA. Enter Damon Harrison, the best run-stopping defensive tackle in the NFL.
Entering 2018, Harrison had led the league in Pro Football Focus’ run-stop rate in four consecutive seasons; in 2013, he finished second, and he currently leads the league again.
Harrison will provide the Lions’ interior with an immediate boost, and it comes at an important time. Seattle is significantly more successful running inside than outside—and do so far more often. The Seahawks’ recent success has coincided with the offense’s re-commitment to the rushing attack: Nearly 50% of Seattle’s offense has been on the ground in the last three games.
110.5: Patricia’s reliance on man coverage was touched on earlier in this column, and it could be a factor should the Seahawks and Detroit end up in a track meet.
Entering Week 8, Russell Wilson is the third-highest rated passer against man coverage in the NFL, with a rating of 110.5. In Week 8, he will be coming up against a defense that runs man coverage frequently, in a stadium that favors high volume passing.
In Week 6, Wilson became the first quarterback since 2010 to throw three or more touchdowns on less than 25 attempts in back-to-back games. The Lions’ addition of Harrison, combined with the favorable matchup Wilson will see, should end Wilson’s streak of putting the ball in the air fewer than 25 times. However, a matchup against a man-heavy defense should also see Wilson maintain the efficiency that’s marked his previous outings.
Matchups to Watch
Golden Tate versus Justin Coleman: This individual matchup is going to be extremely fun to watch, for various reasons. On the surface, it’s one of the NFL’s best slot receivers going up against an unheralded stud at nickel corner. But Tate and Coleman’s best traits matchup against one another in such interesting fashion, as well. Tate is one of, if not the most dangerous receiver after the catch, while Coleman’s ability to close on the football at the catch point is rare.
In 2018, Tate is 9th among wide receivers in production out of the slot, with 314 receiving yards. Nearly 53% of that production comes after the catch, where Tate is equal parts thrilling and infuriating.
As important as it will be for Coleman to stick with Tate in coverage, maintaining position and not allowing Tate to get into space after the catch will be absolutely crucial, if Coleman is to win this matchup.
Lions’ offensive line versus Seahawks’ defensive front: In their last game, Seattle’s defense put together its best game of the season rushing the passer. Granted, it came against an offensive line featuring two rookies tackles and an offensive line coach who, well, you know.
If the Seahawks are able to replicate that performance—or even pressure Stafford with some consistency—it would be highly encouraging. The Lions have allowed the least pressure in the NFL in 2018, on just 19.7% of Stafford’s dropbacks, and are ninth in adjusted sack rate.
Detroit’s offensive line will take on a Seattle defense that has seen its pressure rate, and pass rush, improve mightily in recent weeks. Despite relying so heavily on Frank Clark, the Seahawks are getting pressure on quarterbacks at the seventh-highest rate in the NFL, on 31.7% of opposing quarterback’s dropbacks.
If Seattle and the Lions showdown does turn into a high scoring affair, we’ll be gifted not just a Stafford-Wilson duel, but an exciting matchup at the line of scrimmage.
Opponent to Know
Da’Shawn Hand, DT: An already promising rookie season for Hand took another step forward against the Dolphins in Week 7. Hand registered eight pressures against Miami, and a pressure percentage 9.6% higher than Aaron Donald, who posted four sacks in the same week. Six games into his career, Hand has two sacks and 15 pressures while playing just 64% of the defense’s snaps.
Hand’s eight pressures in Week 7 more than doubled his output in 2018 and he now sits inside the top-10 in pass rush productivity among defensive tackles. As if that isn’t impressive enough from a fourth round rookie, Hand is also inside the top-10 in run-stop percentage.
Ziggy Ansah has been battling a shoulder injury in recent weeks and will likely be questionable for Sunday. Hand will again be depended upon to create pressure up front, and try to disrupt a Seahawks offensive line that has been well above average in recent weeks.
Detroit, like Seattle, has often been frustrating in 2018. However, like the Seahawks, they’ve largely uglied their way to 3-3 after six games. Neither team is likely to compete for a division title in 2018, but the winner of Sunday’s matchup could find themselves in the driver’s seat for a wildcard spot come January.