RENTON — Depending on how the Seahawks’ game at Detroit goes Sunday, they could do something they haven’t done since before Russell Wilson was quarterback — start 1-3.
The Seahawks head to Detroit as a four-point underdog, and if that holds and they come home with a loss, it would be the first time they were 1-3 since 2011, the year before Wilson arrived. The Seahawks were never worse than 2-2 after four games in Wilson’s decade as QB.
With trip next week to New Orleans, it’s fair to say the next two weeks are pivotal in keeping hope alive.
But first, Detroit.
Here are our weekly keys to the game and prediction.
Matchup to watch
Detroit’s offensive line vs. Seahawks front seven. On paper, this looks like a horrible matchup for the Seahawks with Detroit boasting the third-best rushing attack in the NFL (170.3 per game) and Seattle the third-worst run defense (157.0 per game). The big caveat is injuries — leading rusher D’Andre Swift may not play because of a shoulder injury and left guard Jonah Jackson is battling a finger issue. But even if Swift and Jackson don’t play, this is still a huge challenge as Detroit’s offensive line has been one of the best in the NFL this season, led by second-year right tackle Penei Sewell of Oregon. He has the fourth-best run-blocking grade of any tackle in the NFL per Pro Football Focus. Also per PFF, Detroit’s runners are averaging 2.8 yards before contract, second best in the NFL. The Seahawks will have to be much stouter and disciplined up front.
Player to watch
WR DK Metcalf. Metcalf finally had something resembling a typical game against Atlanta with five receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown. Still, he had just 5.33 yards per target, with his five receptions coming on 12 passes thrown his way, and his average of 5.4 yards per target for the season remains more than three yards off his career average. Detroit’s pass defense ranks 25th in yards allowed per game (265.7). But last week, the Lions held Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson to 14 yards on three receptions when he was mostly covered by Lions third-year cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, who usually traveled with Jefferson — according to PFF, Jefferson had just two catches for 9 yards on Okudah. Asked this week about Okudah, Metcalf said he’s a good corner, but “there’s a safety over the top of him, so he’s not really locking people down.” Who knows if the Lions will have Okudah travel with Metcalf since they also have to worry about Tyler Lockett. Either way, the Seahawks need to get more from Metcalf, who is averaging 45 yards per game compared to his career average of 63.
Coaching decision to watch
Defensive line rotation. As noted earlier, this looms as a tough matchup for the Seahawks up front on defense. But the way they have played, any team might at this point. The Seahawks coaches were fairly candid in their comments about their front this week, and coach Pete Carroll said the team is continuing to tinker with its rotations up front to try to get the best fit. That could mean fewer early-down snaps for Darrell Taylor, who has struggled against the run, and more for Boye Mafe and Darryl Johnson, who have played well in limited time. The Seahawks hope for a boost from the return of veteran Shelby Harris.
Can you win the game in the second half? So far this year, the Seahawks have been outscored 20-10 in the second half and they have scored just three offensive points in the final two quarters, which obviously is at complete odds with Carroll’s long-held philosophy. Of course, the first half hasn’t been a lot better — the Seahawks have been outscored 50-37 in the first half. But Sunday serves as a tale of two teams when it comes to second-half scoring. The Seahawks’ 3.3 points per game in the second half are tied for 30th in the NFL while Detroit’s 15.0 average is tied for sixth.
Player who could surprise
RB Kenneth Walker III. Walker, a rookie second-round pick out of Michigan State, has gotten his feet wet the last two games with 12 and nine snaps, respectively. He hasn’t helped himself earn more time with a few mistakes, such as going the wrong way last week resulting in a broken play and a 3-yard loss. But with Travis Homer on the IR, the Seahawks will need to fill his snaps as the two-minute/third-down back. DeeJay Dallas mostly filled those roles against Atlanta after Homer was sidelined. But could Walker get some of those too? He’d surely like to get the chance as he returns to the state where he had his greatest college success.
Third-down conversion percentage. One stat would indicate the Seahawks should be better than 1-2 — third-down conversion rate on offense. The Seahawks have converted 17 of 35, 48.6%, third best in the NFL and blowing away the 37.31% and 38.42% of the last two years when third downs loomed as a persistent problem. Detroit hasn’t been real good stopping third downs, at just 46.34%, 24th in the NFL (though ahead of the Seahawks defense, which is 29th at 48.65%). They will have to keep that going this week to keep Detroit’s offense and run game off the field.
Seahawks 24, Lions 23. The Seahawks of the Carroll era have always found a way to come back to life just when everyone was leaving them for dead. While Detroit’s offense on paper looks as if it could run roughshod, the Lions appear as if they’ll be without star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and Swift, with safety Tracy Walker already on IR — all injured in a stunning last-minute loss to the Vikings, all of which might be enough to allow the Seahawks to get a much-needed win.
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