LIONS INSIDER

Twentyman: Start of make-or-break stretch for Lions vs. Seahawks

Posted Oct 27, 2012

The Lions host the Seahawks at Ford Field Sunday and it begins a three-game stretch that will make or break their season. After getting off to a 2-4 start, the hole can’t get much deeper before the ladder doesn’t reach to the top.

The Lions host the Seahawks at Ford Field Sunday and it begins a three-game stretch that will make or break their season. After getting off to a 2-4 start, the hole can’t get much deeper before the ladder doesn’t reach to the top.

Following the Seahawks, the Lions are back on the road against the Jaguars and Vikings.

“It’s the next game on our schedule,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of Sunday’s game. “It’s an NFC opponent and it’s a home game. We haven’t had very many of those and there are a lot of reasons for it to be important.

"We came back from the bye, had a victory, and then had a loss. We can’t afford two losses in a row.”

The Lions can’t begin a win streak without a win Sunday, so Schwartz and the Lions have the right mentality – one week at a time and one opponent at a time.

Make no mistake, though, this is a tough opponent at a critical point in a Lions' season that can’t afford any more missteps.

HISTORY

The series dates back to 1976 when the Lions won the first-ever meeting between these two teams, 41-14. Since then, though, Seattle holds a 7-3 series edge. The Seahawks have won the last three meetings, including a 32-20 win in 2009.

2012 REGULAR SEASON RANKINGS (Rank)

LionsSeahawks
Record 2-4 4-3
Points per game 22.2 (19) 16.6 (31)
Total yards per game 406.3 (4) 293.6 (30)
Rushing yards 99.7 (19) 131.7 (8)
Passing yards 306.7 (2) 161.9 (31)
Points allowed 25.0 (22) 15.1 (3)
Total yards allowed 319.3 (8) 297.3 (5)
Rushing yards allowed 108.8 (16) 85.0 (6)
Passing yards allowed 210.5 (6) 212.3 (8)
Turnover ratio -5 (25) -1 (18t)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lions

Ryan Broyles, WR:

Broyles was thrown to the fire last week when Nate Burleson broke his right leg in the first half and Broyles had to man the slot. The rookie receiver had three catches for 51 yards and scored the Lions’ only touchdown in a 13-7 loss at Chicago.

The Lions will also use tight end Tony Scheffler in the slot some this week and even Titus Young may take some snaps there, but the majority of work will go to Broyles.

He’ll get his first real opportunity to prove why the Lions took him in the second round of the draft in April.

Ashlee Palmer, LB:

Outside linebacker DeAndre Levy is listed as doubtful for Sunday and that means Palmer is likely to get the start alongside Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant.

Palmer is a physical linebacker who’s been one of the Lions’ better special teams performers this season. He’s a big hitter and he’ll get his chance to deliver a few shots to Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch.

Levy has been very good this season. Can Palmer keep pace or will we see a decline?

Calvin Johnson, WR:

Johnson is coming off his worst game of the season at Chicago where he had only three catches for 34 yards.

The Seahawks have big physical corners and play a lot of single-high safety, which could lead to some big plays in the pass game if Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford are on their game.

Johnson has a little extra motivation after Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman changed his Twitter name to Optimus Prime this week in a direct challenge to Johnson.

Seahawks

Russell Wilson, QB:

Wilson has won four of his past six starts and leads NFL rookie quarterbacks with wins (4) and ranks second in rush yards (119).

The one criticism on Wilson so far this season has been the discrepancy between his starts at home and on the road.

At CenturyLink Stadium, Wilson has yet to throw an interception and has six touchdowns. On the road has been a different story. Away from home, Wilson has only two touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Which Wilson shows up at Ford Field Sunday?

Marshawn Lynch, RB:

There isn’t a more physical runner in the NFL than Lynch and his bruising style has served him well over the last year. He is tied for second in the NFC with 652 rush yards and has 85-plus rushing yards in 14 of past 16 games.

Since November of last season, Lynch leads the NFL with 1,593 rush yards. He’s coming off a 103-yard performance last week against the 49ers.

Chris Clemons, DE:

Since joining the Seahawks via trade in 2010, Clemons has 29 sacks in 39 games. He’s had double-digit sacks the last two seasons, which is the first time a Seahawks player has done that since 1997 and 1998.

Clemons has 13 sacks in past 14 games and leads a very underrated Seahawks front four.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

Start of the game

The Lions have led after the first quarter just once this season (Eagles), and have yet to lead at the half. They’re being outscored 40-21 in the first quarter and 77-37 in the first half.

The fourth quarter has been a whole different story, though. The Lions have an 80-51 edge in the fourth quarter and Stafford leads the NFL with 870 fourth-quarter passing yards with five touchdowns.

Stafford talked about the slow starts this week:

“I'll let you know when we get a 10- or 13-point lead. I'm with you,” he said when asked how different it would be to play with a lead.

“We've made it hard on ourselves for sure. Just haven't put enough touchdowns on the board in the first half or even in the first drive or couple quarters so we have to do a better job of that, coming out and starting fast.

“Home game, only the third one this season for us so it's going to be nice to be back at home and hopefully able to start fast.”

Stafford needs to figure out a way to be more productive in the first quarter. Playing with a lead would be nice for a change.

Make the defense pay

The Seahawks are the biggest and one of the most physical defenses in the NFL and they don’t deviate much from what they like to do, which is stuff the run and play physical man defense on the outside.

“Yeah, they’re set up for the run because they play an eight-man front, technically, all the time,” Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “They’re very much a single-high defense until you get in maybe a long-yardage situation. So they’re set up against the run. They’re very big. This is one of the biggest defenses. I’d be shocked if there’s a bigger defense across the board from their front, linebackers’ length, and their secondary are giants.”

Teams have had success making plays in the middle of the field vs. the Seahawks -- particularly slot receivers. The Lions have to attack the middle of the field and get the Seahawks out of what they want to do.

Front dominance

The front seven has played particularly well the last two weeks, racking up eight sacks, 16 tackles for loss and nearly 30 quarterback hits. The Lions seem to be onto something with the combination of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley starting at defensive tackle. We’ll see how that rotation might change with Corey Williams back from a knee injury.

The Seahawks are starting a rookie quarterback and would like nothing better than to run the ball with Lynch and set Wilson up for play-action pass situations. The Lions need to continue a recent trend of making opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.

Wilson does have the ability to make plays with his feet (119 rushing yards), though, so they have to be disciplined, too.

Match the physicality

The Seahawks run hard and hit hard.

The Lions defense can come up and smack people in the mouth, too.

Suh, Tulloch and Delmas need to establish themselves early in the game and let Lynch know that he’s in for a long game. Lynch seems to get stronger as the game goes on, especially if he runs some guys over early and get that momentum going.

The Lions need to put him on his back a few times and have physical running of their own from running backs Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell.

Red zone count

In 23 chances this season, the Lions have scored 16 times (11 touchdowns and five field goals). To put that in perspective, the Saints have the best red zone offense, scoring on 20 of 21 drives with 15 touchdowns.

The biggest problem for the Lions has been the seven non-scores in the red zone. Three last week cost them a victory vs. the Bears.

The Lions can’t afford to waste those opportunities again this week and can’t settle for field goals, either.

Find the matchup advantage, deliver the football, and catch the football. Simple.