The Seahawks will kick off the 2016 playoff campaign this Saturday when the Detroit Lions visit CenturyLink Field for Wild Card weekend.
This season, the Seahawks have had their fair share of issues. Seattle’s offense has looked anemic most games, thanks to inconsistent protection from a young offensive line. The defense, though still ranking 3rd in the league in scoring defense, has struggled late in part due to the loss of All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas. Between season ending injuries, locker room distractions, and unmet expectations, 2016 didn’t necessarily go as planned for the Seahawks.
However the Seahawks are eight point favorites heading into Saturday’s game, and for good reason. Detroit lost the final three games of the season to the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers to slip to from the No. 2 seed with a first round bye to the No. 6 seed. The Lions were also 0-5 against playoff teams in 2016, which could mean an early exit from the playoffs.
With Seattle’s deficiencies in mind, Detroit may just be the ideal opponent to get the playoffs started. And here’s why…
1. Detroit’s defense is ranked 32nd in the league in completion percentage
This wasn’t a clinical year for the Seahawks offense. In their first season post-Marshawn Lynch, and plagued by running back injuries, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and head coach Pete Carroll were forced to game plan with a pass heavy offense. And it hasn’t necessarily worked out.
The drop off from losing Lynch, a top running back in the NFL since joining the Seahawks, was expected. The severity wasn’t. The Seahawks went from a top-5 rushing team in the league and averaging 153.1 yards per game over past four season, to 25th in the league with 99.4 yards this season. As a result, Wilson and the passing game have been forced to adapt. While Wilson has set a career high in passing attempts (34 per game), his completion percentage was down in 2016 (64.7), as was his TD-INT ratio (22-11). He also posted 92.9 quarterback rating, the lowest of his career.
The Seahawks offense have been terribly inconsistent throughout the season, averaging 22.1 points per game, the lowest in the Pete Carroll era.
BUT, Detroit has been awful this season at defending the pass. Quarterbacks average a 106.5 rating against the Lions, as well as a 72.7 completion percentage, both league highs. While the Seahawks have had problems passing the ball this year, Seattle needs to continue with their “pass to run” mentality to exploit Detroit’s weakness in the secondary. Wilson’s ability to extend plays, both on the ground and through the air should give Seattle ample opportunities to score.
2. Detroit’s offense is ranked 30th in the league in rushing
Most defensive coordinators in the NFL would love to have the kind of year the Seattle defense had. But introspectively for the Seahawks, 2016 was a step backwards. Seattle saw their four year streak of being the best scoring defense in the NFL come to an end, finishing third in the league, behind New York and New England, with 18.3 points allowed per game.
While the Seahawks allowed more yards both through the air and on the ground, opponents took a significant step forward in rushing the ball against Seattle this season. Opponent rushing attempts were up from 22.6 per game in 2015 to 27.5 in 2016, often resulting in teams keeping the Seahawks defense on the field longer. The Hawks ended 2015 as the No. 1 rushing defense team in the league (allowing just 81.5 yards per game.) However, this season the Seahawks have given up on average 92.9 rushing yards per game. While the Seahawks still rank inside the top-10 (7th) in the league in rushing yards allowed, the drop off is a result of opponent’s commitment to grinding in the running game.
BUT, Detroit won’t push their run game on Seattle because they don’t have one. The Lions are near the bottom in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 81.9, and their commitment to the run is dead last in the league with just under 22 rushing attempts per game. They’ve seen a surge from second-year back Zach Zenner, who had 100+ combined yards in the season finale against Green Bay, but nothing the Seahawks won’t be prepared for. For Detroit, this game rests squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Matt Stafford, who is dealing with a torn ligament in his middle finger. Between a front-four of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Ahtyba Rubin and Frank Clark, paired with top NFL talent at the linebacker level, expect the Seahawks to be in the Lions backfield frequently and force a number of three-and-outs.
3. Detroit’s defensive line ranks 31st in sacks, 18th in rush defense
It’s no secret the Seahawks offensive line has been the team’s biggest weakness in 2016, and it’s not much of a surprise either. Aside from being the lowest paid O-line in the NFL, the Seahawks starting five features a rookie, a former Penn State tight end who transitioned to tackle in his senior year, a 300 pound, undrafted mid-major college basketball player, a former high school wrestling state champ, and a second year guard picked in the fourth round in 2015.
Quite the motley crew when it comes to starting NFL lines.
Much of the inability to establish the run, find success in the passing game, and take advantage of red zone opportunities stems from the O-line issues. The Seahawks 42 sacks surrendered in 2016 are the sixth most in the league, and the most among playoff teams.
BUT, Saturday could be a bit of a reprieve for the Hawks. Despite fielding a front four that features Haloti Ngata, Ezekiel Ansah and A’Shawn Robinson, the Lions have struggled to control the line of scrimmage from the defensive end. Their 26 sacks on the season puts them next to last, with just the Raiders at 25 having less. Due to the pass rush deficiency combined with allowing an average over 105 yard per game on the ground, the Seahawks young offensive line should be able to establish themselves in the trenches with a confident performance.
PREDICTION: Russell Wilson throws for a pair of early touchdowns, the Seahawks secondary bends but doesn’t break as Matthew Stafford is under pressure all night, and Seattle moves on to face Atlanta in the NFC Divisional round.