A look at the numbers shows why the Seattle Seahawks are a pretty heavy favorite against the Detriot Lions in the Wild Card Round Matchup, being favored by over a touchdown on many betting lines in a game where neither team is expected to score more than 30 points. Seattle is 7-1 at Home, the Lions are 3-5 on the Road. Seattle is 9th in DVOA, the Lions are 27th in DVOA (2nd worst in the playoffs to Houston). Even momentum would seem to favor Seattle, because while we all are down on the team for looking sloppy as they skidded into the playoffs going 3-3 in their last 6, the Lions looked even worse dropping their last 3 in a row.
However, even with the Matthew Stafford hype train getting derailed a bit there are still things that 12’s are worried about. Here are the matchups to consider and what needs to happen for Seattle to see the Divisional Round of the 2016 NFL Playoffs:
1. Deep Middle
The loss of Earl Thomas has been everything we’ve feared it would be when it happened. Steven Terrell is doing his best, but he is trying to replace one of the five best defensive players in the NFL in a scheme that is built around him. Earl Thomas as a single high safety, as we have discussed on the podcast and Nathan showed in his Patreon video, is the straw that stirs the drink of the Cover 2 scheme the Seahawks employ. Terrell simply cannot cover the same ground Earl could, and does not have the same feel for where to go on a play. This means that everyone has to be on their game. Jeremy Lane’e Jekyll and Hyde routine needs to roll the dice and land on the good version of his game, and KJ Wright needs to keep up his suddenly stellar Pass Defense against Runningbacks (something the Lions like to feature heavily). Stafford is not the best QB in the NFL, but he is good enough to kill the team if they make mistakes, and an always chippy Golden Tate along with a savvy player like Anquan Boldin will exploit any issues the Seahawks Defensive Backs are having.
2. Feature the Best Weapons
This one is simple, and perhaps just something that I really want more than something that must happen. But, this is the time of year where the best players need to be given the chance to shine. For the Seattle passing game, that means getting the ball to Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham as much as possible. It will help that the Detroit Lions are 26th ranked team in covering Wide Receiver 1’s and the 29th ranked team in covering Tight Ends, but it is all about the targets and scheme. Doug can play outside or in the slot, so we should see him moved around. Paul Richardson is the team’s best deep threat, so he should be used consistently to threaten down the field and force the coverage to drop back, and Graham is a versatile player who can play in-line or flex out into the slot or out wide. If those players are used to their potential, it will be the best version of the Seahawks passing game that enters the playoffs, and that is a tough crew to stop. We all know the Offensive Line is not very good, but using every other player the best way should at least allow for good plays on those plays where there is time to make one.
3. Run That Ball
The Seattle Seahawks don’t necessarily have to run the ball successfully to beat the Detroit Lions. The Lions are the 32nd ranked team in DVOA against the pass this season. However, establishing the run and gaining some confidence and rhythm in that area would be a big benefit as that will be needed in order to make any kind of a deeper run into the Playoffs. The team’s leading rusher is still Christine Michael, who will be suiting up for Green Bay this weekend and has not carried the ball for Seattle since he was cut after the game against the Patriots. Thomas Rawls has shown when his body isn’t right he can’t really get the job done well, running to the tune of a Trent Richardson-esque 3.2 yards per carry. Alex Collins has come on well lately with a more respectable 4 yards per carry and a 55 yard performance against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17.
The team is strongest running off the Right Side of the Offensive Line, where they are averaging nearly 4 yards per carry for the season. A smart move would be finding ways to use Collins off the Right, and jet sweeps as both decoy and left leaning run plays. A respectable 4-5 YPC over 15-20 carries with Collins and whatever Rawls can give the team would be about the best run game the Seahawks have had all year. Additionally, with Russ ditching the knee brace and the Run-Pass Option as well as Zone Read on the table perhaps a little more, this is the week if any we’ll see a change made and a more effective run game. If not this week, we can likely bury it until 2017 and possible Conference Championship and Super Bowl aspirations with it.