It is only Week 4, but today is a big early-season contest for the Detroit Lions as they host the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field. After losing last week in Minnesota – a game both Lions players and coaches feel they let slip through their grasp giving up a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter – Detroit will certainly feel much better about themselves this afternoon with a bounce-back win and a 2-2 record, vs. the alternative.
Here are five things to watch out for in this contest:
1. INJURY REPORT
The Lions' offense will be shorthanded today against the Seahawks with leading running back D’Andre Swift and leading wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown ruled out with injuries. Wide receiver DJ Chark was downgraded from questionable to out on Saturday.
Swift's 231 rushing yards and 8.6-yard average per rush have paced a Lions rushing attack that enters Sunday ranked third in the NFL at 170.3 yards per game. Detroit's run game is top three in the NFL in yards (511), average (5.9) and touchdowns (5).
Jamaal Williams rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 20 attempts last week after Swift left the game. The Lions also have a lot of confidence in Craig Reynolds (112 yards last season vs. Denver) and veteran Justin Jackson.
St. Brown leads the Lions in receptions (23), receiving yards (253) and touchdowns (3), so his loss is a big one. His 23 receptions trail only Cooper Kupp (28), Stefon Diggs (27) and Marquise Brown (24) through the first three weeks of the season. The Lions will need tight end T.J. Hockenson and wide receivers Kalif Raymond and Quintez Cephus to step up in St. Brown's absence. Wide receiver Josh Reynolds is questionable, but seems to be trending in the right direction.
Kicker Austin Seibert missed practice all week and is ruled out. That means kicker Dominik Eberle will get the nod to handle kicking today. Eberle made 2-of-3 field goals and all five extra point tries filling in one game for Houston last season.
View photos of Detroit Lions players who will proudly wear a helmet decal of the country or territory's flag that represents their nationality or cultural heritage across Weeks 4 and 5.
2. RUN GAME KEY
These are two teams offensively that view themselves as tough, physical, run-first offenses that want to impose their will early on opposing defenses. The Lions enter the game third in the NFL in rushing at over 170.0 yards per game. It's something Detroit tries to establish early every week and build everything they do offensively off of it. It's worked three weeks in a row. Seattle's run defense is the third worst in the NFL, allowing on average 157.0 yards on the ground per game.
Seattle has struggled to run the ball offensively early on, but Lions head coach Dan Campbell is a big fan of Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny. Detroit's defense won't be lulled to sleep by the numbers, which have Seattle ranked 29th in rushing coming in. Detroit's run defense is 27th.
"Yeah, look it's still everything starts with the run game," Campbell said this week. "They're a strong unit there, man, this o-line will lean on you and I think Penny's one of the better backs in this League. He's up there, I think this guy's dangerous.
"He's real dangerous, and so, man, he can find the creases, he's got vision and this o-line will move you. They've got some tight ends that'll block on the perimeter, and so everything starts there."
3. CAN GOFF KEEP ROLLING?
Quarterback Jared Goff is coming off arguably his best game of the season in the loss to Minnesota. He made some big-time throws and put Detroit's offense in position to win the game at the end. Both Goff and head coach Dan Campbell wished afterward they would have given Goff and the offense one last chance on offense to win that game at the end instead of kicking the eventual missed field goal.
Goff's thrown seven touchdowns and two interceptions this season, though the interception last week was a desperation heave at the end of the game. He's got the third most 25-plus yard completed passes in the league after Week 3, and his quarterback rating is Top 10 in the NFL. He is 4-1 and has 14 touchdowns vs. two interceptions with a 108.8 rating in his past five home starts.
The one constant through some of the injuries the Lions have dealt with at the skill positions on offense has been the play of Goff and the offensive line. They should lean heavy on both later today.
4. RED ZONE DEFENSE
The Lions are last in the NFL is points allowed (31.0), and it's no coincidence they are also last in red zone efficiency (90.9 percent). Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn talked this week about three things in particular that have plagued Detroit's defense the first three weeks. He talked about cleaning up some of the miscommunication errors that continue to trouble them, he mentioned better execution from both players and coaches, and also finding a way to finish more consistently.
There's a lot to unpack there, but all of those certainly pertain to the red zone, which has been a point of emphasis this week. Detroit's opponents have scored a touchdown on 10 of their 11 trips into the red zone. Seattle comes in scoring touchdowns in the red zone just 25 percent of the time (ranks 31st), so something has to give today. Can the Lions find a way to get off the field in the red zone and save the four points on the scoreboard?
5. JEFF OKUDAH'S PLAY
Okudah's play through the first three weeks has been one of the good storylines for the Lions through the first month of the season. He's yet to allow a touchdown, is giving up less than 40 yards per game in his coverage area, and opposing quarterbacks have under a 75.0 passer rating when throwing his way.
He's got a good test this week with Seattle's DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett coming to town. That might be the best duo the Lions have faced all season. Will Okudah travel with one of those guys?
Lockett is one of two receivers (Cooper Kupp) in the NFL this season with two games with nine-plus catches.
If Okudah continues to play the way he has, and can lock down one side of the field or an opponent's best receiver, it will allow Glenn to get creative with his coverages and blitz schemes. Can Okudah make in four solid games in a row to start the year?