Turnovers, traveling and tight ends also could play a role as Seattle attempts to get over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
The Seahawks come off their bye week with a trip to Detroit on Sunday that begins a stretch of 10 games in 10 weeks to end the season.
Here’s a preview.
These are two really similar teams, each left for dead by more than a few observers around the league after 0-2 starts, each getting right back in the playoff picture by winning three of their past four, each doing so powered by an improving running game led by an emerging young running back (Chris Carson for Seattle, Kerryon Johnson for Detroit). The similarities – at least statisically — end there as the Lions have been throwing it a bit more than Seattle (258.2 yards per game to 197.2) while the Seahawks counter with a defense allowing the fifth-fewest points in the NFL (19.5) while Detroit is 24th (26.3).
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Detroit RB Kerryon Johnson vs. Seattle MLB Bobby Wagner
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Johnson was taken with the 43rd pick of the 2018 draft out of Auburn, 16 spots after Seattle drafted Rashaad Penny (not that anyone is counting). Johnson has proven the perfect choice so far to revive a Detroit rushing attack that has been one of the worst in the NFL the past few years but is rapidly emerging under first-year coach Matt Patricia, ranking ninth in the NFL this week in yards (444) while averaging a whopping 6.4 per carry. Wagner is always at the heart of Seattle’s run defense and will be again Sunday. He said this week there’s no secret on how to defend a running back like Johnson. “Like any other back, man, just hit him,’’ Wagner said. “… I feel like if you hit him, we’ll be fine.”
PLAYER TO WATCH
Defensive end Frank Clark
The fourth-year defensive end wreaked havoc on the Raiders in London with 2.5 sacks in just 28 snaps before sitting out late in the game while feeling ill. Clark now has 5.5 sacks on the season to lead the Seahawks and continue to show he’s one of the better young pass rushers in the NFL — his performance against Oakland only fueled the speculation of when and how he might get a contract extension. Clark said this week he’ll be heavily motivated to put on a show in front of friends and family in the area. He attended nearby Michigan. Clark will most often go up against Detroit left tackle Taylor Decker, who played at Ohio State. The two faced off against each other in college and again in a playoff game in 2017.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
Which tailbacks will Seattle feature and when?
Seattle’s sudden running game prowess — the Seahawks have averaged 172 rushing yards the past three games, second most in the NFL in that span — makes it even more intriguing how the Seahawks will divvy up the carries each week. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said this week it will depend on the matchup and hot hand. Carson will obviously start. But Seattle will try to continue to mix in Mike Davis and Penny, especially now with 10 games in 10 weeks and desiring to keep everyone fresh enough to handle the rest of the season. Penny’s status as a first-round pick makes it especially interesting how he is used each week. His bounce back game against the Raiders (nine carries for 43 yards) after he played no snaps on offense against the Rams figures to earn him more time against the Lions.
Yet another road game
Maybe the bye mitigates the fact that Seattle is again on the road, for the fifth time in seven weeks. The only other team in the NFL to also play five of the first seven on the road is Buffalo. The Detroit game also is the second of three 10 a.m. starts for Seattle this season, the others being the game in London and Nov. 25 at Carolina. The good news is that once Seattle gets past this trip it has to leave the Pacific time zone only once the rest of the season, the aforementioned trip to Carolina. More significant may simply be that the Lions have created some excitement among their long-suffering fan base with wins over New England and Green Bay in their past two home games with another crowd of close to the 65,000 capacity at Ford Field expected.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
Tight end Ed Dickson
Who can know how much to expect out of Dickson after he missed all of camp and the first six games with a quad injury. But he will make his Seahawks debut after being activated off the non-football injury list Saturday, and the assumption is he’ll be thrown right into significant playing time. And he has a good history in Detroit, catching five passes for a career-high 175 yards, including a career-long of 64, against the Lions at Ford Field last year.
9 and 2
Those are the interception totals for Seattle and Detroit, respectively, with the Seahawks having pulled in what is tied for the sixth most in the NFL and the Lions what is tied for the third fewest. But picks may be hard to come by for Seattle as Lions QB Matthew Stafford — benefiting from a more-balanced offense — has thrown just one interception in the past five games after throwing four in the opener. He also has a streak of five straight games with passer ratings of 100 or more, the longest current stretch in the NFL and a career high. Russell Wilson is likewise on a good stretch with just one pick in the past four games and with a passer rating of 104.8 for the year, which would be the second best of his career for an entire season.
THE FINAL WORD
Lions 21, Seahawks 16.
This looks like one of the toughest games of the NFL weekend to make a call on, both teams playing well of late, each having won three of the past four. Detroit, though, has beaten some pretty good teams in the Patriots, Packers and Dolphins, sandwiched around a close loss at Dallas. And the Lions look like a suddenly well-rounded team averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the ground. The home crowd may make the difference in this one.