O'Hara's Friday Focus: Now is the time to look at the standings

Posted Oct 26, 2012

"The won-lost record, and the fear of falling out of serious playoff contention, can motivate a team. It should, anyway."

Jason Hanson won’t whistle on the way past the standings, or turn a blind to where the Lions stand in the NFC North.

The record speaks for itself: 2-4, and last place in the division.

Hanson answered quickly and directly when asked when it was time for the Lions to start looking at their record and place in the standings to see where they stack up in the playoff race.

“I think now,” he said, without hesitation.

Now means Sunday – against the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field.

Not every player agrees, but Hanson’s voice carries weight because of his status on the team. In his 21st season – all with the Lions – he is the senior member of the team and in the league.

The season has been a struggle for the Lions, from opening day, when a touchdown with 10 seconds left gave them a 27-23 win over the Rams, through Monday night’s 13-7 loss at Chicago.

The Lions are the only NFC North team with a losing record.

Chicago leads the division at 5-1. Minnesota is next at 5-3. Green Bay is 4-3 and starting to resemble the team that many picked to go to the Super Bowl.

This week’s Friday Focus is on the Lions’ plight. To use Hanson’s words, now is the time to look at the standings.

The won-lost record, and the fear of falling out of serious playoff contention, can motivate a team. It should, anyway.

Hanson compared it to playing golf – when a birdie binge is needed just to make the cut.

“You’d better lose some sleep at night and have some nervous energy,” he said. “You can shoot yourself out of a round pretty quick. We’d better get some wins.

“You can definitely put yourself in a hole. You don’t want to lose games. It’s sports. You get motivation from different things. One of them should be to not lose.”

The Seahawks have motivation to not lose, too. They’re a half game behind first-place San Francisco (5-2) with a 4-3 record after last week’s tough 13-6 road loss to the 49ers.

The betting line favors the Lions by 2.5 points, but that’s a reflection of home-field advantage, not any faith that the Lions are the better team.

My prediction for Sunday: Take the home team. Ford Field has to be worth something. But the Lions have to outscore the Tigers.

Timed out: The Lions have had the lead for only 35:30 in the first six games.

They never had the lead in three games – losses to the 49ers, Vikings and Bears.

Matthew Stafford answered with a joke – without any humor – when asked what the effect would be of leading by 10 or 13 points.

“I'll let you know when we get a 10- or 13-point lead,” he said. “I'm with you. We've made it hard on ourselves for sure. We 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.”

The Lions’ biggest margin has been six points. Twice they’ve had 6-0 leads – in an eventual overtime loss to the Titans and in an overtime win over the Eagles.

Coach Jim Schwartz said the biggest impact is on the defense, not the offense. Leading by more than one possession allows the defense more freedom to rush the passer and less concern about the opponent running the ball or using play-action.

Sizing up: Calvin Johnson is the NFL’s best receiver and also one of the most physical at 6-5 and close to 240 pounds.

In terms of size at cornerback, the Seahawks come closest to matching him in size.

Richard Sherman is 6-3 and 194 pounds. Brandon Browner is even bigger – 6-4 and 221 pounds. Strong safety Kam Chancellor is as big as some linebackers at 6-3, 232.

Free safety Earl Thomas is the smallest of the starters at 5-10, 202 – and he might be the best player in the secondary.

Sherman and Browner have long arms, which allows them to get good jams on the receivers along with deflecting balls in the passing lanes. Sherman leads the Seahawks with 11 pass breakups.

Johnson is looking forward to playing a physical game against a defense that plays a single high safety as its base coverage. The Lions have been throwing against two-deep coverages most of the year.

“We're going to have a good challenge in front of us because we're going to see a lot of favorable coverages,” Johnson said.

“We're looking forward to that. That's what we're seeing on film.”

Titus Young (5-11, 174) and Ryan Broyles (5-10, 188) will have to beat the cornerbacks with quickness.

Stats splits: The records of the Seahawks and Lions aren’t necessarily reflected by their records.

The Lions rank fourth on offense and eighth on defense. The Seahawks are 30th on offense and fifth on defense.

On defense, the Seahawks are 13th in sacks per play. The Lions are ninth.

Seattle is minus one in turnover ratio. The Lions are minus five.

Both teams have lost the ball 11 times – six interceptions and five fumbles for the Lions, seven interceptions and four fumbles for Seattle.

Both teams are stingy against the run in scoring territory. Seattle has allowed two rushing touchdowns. The Lions have allowed one.

Quarterback class: For the first time this year, the Lions face a starting quarterback who was not a first-round draft pick.

Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson was a fourth-round pick.

Previously, Sam Bradford of the Rams, Michael Vick of the Eagles and Alex Smith of the 49ers were drafted first overall. Jake Locker of the Titans and Christian Ponder of the Vikings were first-round picks in 2011.