NFL Wild Card Preview: Seahawks vs. Lions
The playoffs are here. The Seattle Seahawks kick off the postseason by hosting the Detroit Lions on Saturday night. After an erratic regular season, the goal is definitely to get a win, while establishing some semblance of positive consistency. I say “positive consistency” because inconsistency is a type of consistency itself, and that’s not what we want. Anyway, the Lions may be the sixth seed, but they are no easy out by any stretch, and they certainly have the wherewithal to make this game interesting; from the quarterbacking, to the skill players, to the pass rush, which (not very) coincidentally, will be my keys for this tilt:
PASS RUSH: While the days of Ndamukong Suh anchoring the Lions’ pass rush are over, Seattle hasn’t earned the privilege of sleeping on any group of pass rushers. Ezekiel (Ziggy) Ansah is a year removed from a season that saw him rack up 14.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Despite having a down season by his standards, only managing 2.0 sacks, he managed those sacks across the last three games. He is questionable with an injury but after being a terror the last time these two teams met, Seattle does not want him establishing any rhythm. Another player to watch out for will be Detroit’s leading sack artist in Kerry Hyder (8.0 sacks). Tackles George Fant and Garry Gilliam have been playing better football since the second half of that home loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Here’s to that being more than a blip on the radar.
It’s safe to say pass rush is a source of strength for the Seahawks. Where the Lions have just three players with 3.0 sacks or more, the Seahawks have six. Despite a dip towards the latter part of this season, defensive coordinator Kris Richard’s group has been reliable at bringing the heat, whether through simple four-man rush or more aggressive blitz packages. The strength of the Lions’ offensive line has been on the edges, though tackle Riley Reiff is questionable with an injury. With Michael Bennett regaining his form and both Cliff Avril AND Frank Clark enjoying double-digit sack seasons, that strength will definitely be tested. An effective pass rush game makes a win that much more likely, and kicking off the postseason with that will be a great look.
SKILL PLAYERS: The Lions have adapted to the loss of a legend in Calvin Johnson by utilizing a scheme heavy on short passes, courtesy of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. What also helps is having reliable playmakers in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Jr., and Anquan Boldin. They also have Eric Ebron at tight end to really challenge the defense. With the Lions down to Zach Zenner at running back, they might not have much of a run game. However, with Seattle’s run defense regaining form (outside of the goal line), they probably wouldn’t have had much of one to begin with. Richard Sherman and DeShawn Shead may have their hands full if they end up matched against some of the Lions’ shiftier wideouts.
With Tyler Lockett out for the season, the most intriguing matchup comes down to Doug Baldwin versus the talented, but injured Darius Slay. Slay has been a bit banged up as of late, but he’s the Lions’ best cornerback, and Baldwin enjoys making a mockery of lesser defensive backs (greater ones, too). Jermaine Kearse is… there. Paul Richardson has been producing in an expanded role, and with the lack of depth at WR, I’d love to see more of Jimmy Graham lining up in the slot and out wide. Marcel Reece is an interesting player at fullback, and I’d love to see him get on the field and mix things up a bit. The big question with this group is a very simple one: can they get the run game going? If Thomas Rawls can get his head back in the game and Alex Collins continues to produce, it’s a real possibility.
QUARTERBACKING: Matthew Stafford injured the middle finger on his throwing hand in a win against the Chicago Bears last month. Stafford is adamant that the finger is no longer an issue, but in the three games since, he has completed just 60% of his passes and thrown two touchdowns to three interceptions and a lost fumble. In an offense where the quarterback drops back to pass as much as this one, those numbers are concerning. Regardless of his health, the Seahawks would be wise to play smart and disciplined defense, unlike some of the moments they had in the season finale against the 49ers. But if Stafford can’t shake his funk, this has the potential to be a feel-good game for the Seahawks’ defensive backs.
Russell Wilson may not regain his mobility completely while he’s wearing that knee brace, but he’s certainly got enough to be a playmaking threat on the move. His arm seems to be solid. His brain seems to be solid too (aside from throwing to Jermaine Kearse a bunch). What remains to be seen, is if the Seahawks can get enough of a rush attack going for the zone read to be a viable move. If they can, Wilson will be the dual-threat terror he always has been. Even if they can’t, he has shown a willingness to take the yards on the ground, and then some. The Seahawks’ offense will likely need a big day from Wilson to stay afloat. He’s not the kind to wilt under pressure – figuratively or literally, so I am sure he will bring what’s needed to the table.
I don’t know what to expect from this team. They’re missing key playmakers on both sides of the ball, but they don’t have an ounce of quit in them. Do they finally come together after a season packed with adversity and force their way through the Super Bowl? Do they lose to the Lions at home? I just don’t know. I’ve said before that when this team plays at its peak, they can blow out anyone in the league, and I stand by that. Will they?