The Hit Job editors Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week four match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and the Detroit Lions.
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When: 5:30 p.m. PT, Monday, Oct. 5
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Rogers: The Seahawks may have started out slow, but they managed to blow out the worst opponent they’ll face at home this season to get their first (overdue) win. Two games in a row the Seahawks failed at getting first-half touchdowns, but came alive in the third quarter.
Jess, what do the Seahawks need to do to jump-start the offense a little sooner? Seahawks fans would very much appreciate it if you would personally deliver your answer to Darrell Bevell.
Ridpath: The key to jump-starting the offensive attack will be demonstrating stout pass protection early in the game. Despite allowing four sacks last week (by a team that logged zero sacks before arriving in Seattle), the offensive line showed moments of inspired protection where Russell Wilson had time for second and third looks down the field. And that’s when tight end Jimmy Graham shines — when he has a few seconds to create separation, as he did on the Hawks’ only offensive touchdown last Sunday.
With Seattle’s receiving corps looking sharp — Doug Baldwin has 17 catches on 20 targets this season, while Graham and Jermaine Kearse have each caught 14 of 18 — it makes sense for Bevell to build his young offensive line’s confidence in protecting their quarterback. Not to mention that NFL quarterbacks seem to be dropping like flies lately, and it’s imperative that Wilson stay healthy if Seattle is to stay playoff worthy.
Before Sunday, beefing up the pass protection may have seemed like a no-brainer for a team that’s unsure of Marshawn Lynch’s playability in their upcoming home game against the 0–3 Detroit Lions. But with a breakout performance by rookie running back Thomas Rawls, it seems Seattle could be poised to attack by both air and land. And if that’s the case, they will have effectively dealt with two of the three weaknesses that stymied them in weeks one and two.
Julian, after watching Seattle’s defense beat up on the Chicago Bears last week, do you think their third weakness (the unfashionable lateness of strong safety Kam Chancellor) has already resolved itself? Or was the blue birds’ defensive dominance more about the abysmal state of Chicago’s offense?
Rogers: The Seahawks’ 26–0 blowout of the Bears had far more to do with the state of the Bears than the Seahawks, but that’s OK. I participated in a live game blog with several “fans” of the team on a local media site. Comically aghast through the first three quarters, they collectively fired the Seahawks’ coaches and general manager multiple times. I think Darrell Bevell was fired about 36 times alone.
Ultimately, talent won out. The Bears were as punchless as advertised. They were, as I previously suggested, the perfect get-well opponent for the blue birds. The visiting Detroiters are looking like an only slightly improved version of the Bears, so the Seahawks may well find themselves on the winning end with yet-another less-than-perfect defensive effort.
Not surprisingly, returning hero Chancellor didn’t have much of a direct impact has he re-oriented to the defense. But overall, the Seahawks displayed far fewer defensive breakdowns which has to be taken as a positive. True, the Bears were quite predictable and missing their No. 1 receiver, Alshon Jeffery.
I expect Chancellor to have a greater on-field impact against the Lions, which will help neutralize the Lions offensive attack. While the Lions are as winless as the Bears, they do bring more offensive — if erratic — firepower with Calvin Johnson, old pal Golden Tate, Matthew Stafford and exciting rookie running back Ameer Abdullah.
Based on my eyeballs, I further expect the Lions to rank significantly higher than the Bears in total offense. My eyeballs are lying: the NFL lists the Lions 27th and the Bears 28th. Perhaps Tate is onto something when he says Lions opponents know what plays the Lions are running.
Jess, I saw two nice developments for Seattle: Graham is now officially back in the swing of things (8 targets, 7 catches, 83 yards, 1 TD), and Rawls (104 yards on 16 carries) is a keeper. Did we just get a glimpse of the new-look Seahawks: running back-by-committee with a large tight end carrying the mail?
Ridpath: I, for one, like this look for Seattle, and I think it makes sense for them to wear it often and with pride. To stay relevant, teams must stay dynamic. And with new talent on board, Seattle needs to shift its focus to where the light shines the brightest. Right now, it’s clearly Rawls, Graham, Wilson, and the Hawks’ receivers who are bringing the spark.
Wilson has always been known as a dual-threat quarterback — typically receiving more accolades for his quickness than for his arm. Recently he’s taken some flak for holding on to the ball too long and contributing to some of his many sacks. With Seattle’s new receiving and running depth, I’d like to see him throwing the ball more and taking advantage of his well-honed play action fake. It’s also important to note that, so far this year, he’s throwing a significantly higher percentage of completions than in years past (70.3% compared to 63–64%) — putting him up among the ranks of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
The question is, will the offensive line provide more than mere moments of solid protection this Sunday? Pete Carroll commended center Drew Nowak for his performance last week and noted the group’s overall improvement. The degree to which they improved is debatable. But improve they must — otherwise Seattle’s new look won’t be fashionable for long.
The good news for the Hawks this week is that the Lions aren’t doing a great job of protecting their quarterback either. Stafford has taken quite a beating already this season, and he looked visibly rattled after a few big hits early in last week’s loss to the Denver Broncos. And when Stafford gets rattled or is forced out of the pocket, his decision-making and accuracy suffer. Not so for Wilson. Advantage: Seattle.
Julian, will Stafford’s out-of-pocket shakiness influence Kris Richard’s approach on Sunday? The obvious danger of focusing too much on the pass rush is a wide-open Megatron downfield. How do you think Seattle’s newly reunited secondary will match up against the towering Lions receiver?
Rogers: The Seahawks have not yet faced a receiver like Megatron. I’ve heard whispers that Johnson is past his prime, but the Seahawks will certainly not go into this game with this assumption. Johnson’s 2015 average of 10.0 yards per reception is a full six yards below his career average, so it bears watching. I say he is still the straw that stirs the Lions’ drink.
Tate will also be fired up in his return to Seattle. He nearly single-handedly carried the Lions to the playoffs last year as Johnson missed multiple games due to injuries. I’m actually more interested in how the Seahawks match up with Tate. Do you think there will be some jawing between Tate and the LOB on Sunday? I hope the cameras cover him tight.
I’ve grown to be less enamored with Stafford than I used to be. Against Denver, he rolled out and threw passes in the dirt. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t do that. Russell Wilson doesn’t do that. His fundamentals have not degraded to Kaepernickian levels just yet, but as long as he remains inconsistent and rattleable, as you noted, the Seahawks’ front seven, probably more so than the LOB, will have a positive impact on this game for the blue birds.
If the Seahawks are to continue their upward trajectory, we need to see more (and better) use of Graham, like the way he was cleverly deployed on his 30-yard touchdown. His intersecting pattern with Tyler Lockett left an already overmatched safety trailing behind. Result: six points.
Lynch is not done yet, but he is already battling calf, back and hamstring issues three games in. The Seahawks are about to be much more of a running back-by-committee team than before. This is a good (and necessary) development that will hopefully keep Lynch fresher for a late-season run.
The Lions’ No. 2 defense of last year is firmly in the past. They currently toil at 27th in the league — the same ranking as their offense. Give them points for consistency. They’ll remain consistently winless in week four, as well. Prediction: Seahawks 30, Lions 20.
Ridpath: While I agree with your prediction of the game winner (and who wouldn’t), I don’t think we’ll see Detroit put more points on the board against Seattle than they did in last week’s 24–12 loss to Denver. The wild card, as you mentioned, is Tate and his desire to send a message to his former team. But even if he brings the heat, it won’t be enough to make up for Stafford’s spazziness under pressure. Prediction: Seahawks 27, Lions 13.
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: The game winner. I was only off by two points in what I predicted for Seattle, but I gave Chicago too much credit for scoring … anything, as it turns out. I’m 2–1 on the season. I called the Seahawks’ pass rush “feckless,” with only four sacks two weeks in. They only added two more against the woeful Bears. Not lousy, but not typically Seahawkian.
What he got wrong: I said the Seahawks’ rushing prowess mystique was disappearing. It may just be changing hands.
What she got right: The game winner. I also predicted (wished for?) a good performance from Wilson, which he delivered. Thanks to him and Graham — and the not-yet-mentioned stellar performance from the Hawks’ special teams — I’m 1–2 on the season.
What she got wrong: While I was correct in thinking Wilson would perform well, I was wrong to predict that he’d gain significant rushing yards off the read-option. I also expected the LOB to pick off Jimmy Clausen. The drought continues.