The Detroit Lions have traveled to Seattle to face the favored Seahawks for a Saturday night Wild Card tilt.
Entering on a three-game skid, the Lions aren’t exactly a trendy upset pick – especially when you consider the vaunted perception of the Seahawks.
Detroit vs. Everybody, right?
In reality, it’s hard to blame the slew of skeptics. Seattle has won eight playoff games since Pete Carroll took over as head coach in 2010. In contrast, the Lions have won a single playoff game in the Super Bowl era.
Simply put, Seattle has appeared in more Super Bowls during Carroll’s seven years than the Lions have playoff wins in the last 50 years.
I say all that to say none of that means anything Saturday night. In fact, look at Carroll’s first playoff win as an example.
It was 2010 and Seattle won the laughable NFC West at 7-9 earning them a first-round date with the 11-5 New Orleans Saints – the reigning Super Bowl Champs.
The Saints were 10-point favorites and no one gave the Seahawks a chance.
Everybody was wrong – Seattle knocked off the champs and moved on.
There are a bunch of undeniable differences between the 2010 Seahawks and the 2016 Lions but it's not inconceivable that the Lions steal a win on the road this weekend.
If you turn on the game film, you’ll see there are paths to a Lions victory. Here is how the Lions can pull off an upset at CenturyLink Field.
Take Shots on Offense
The Seahawks play a lot of single high safety and it’s not uncommon to find one-on-one opportunities in the secondary.
Green Bay was able to exploit this and drop 38 points on Seattle less than a month ago.
The Packers didn’t spend the whole game taking deep shots – they took only a handful – but they made a couple count, including a 66-yard TD bomb to Davante Adams on a double-move.
Seattle is a team that stops the run, rushes the passer and tackles soundly. The short passing-game will always take up the majority of the air attack but it won’t exclusively get the job done in this one. This isn’t a dink-and-dunk friendly matchup.
The Lions should look to force one of their quicker wideouts against slot-man Jeremy Lane and put Stafford in a position to have an extra second to throw – roll him out, max protect, etc… - the big play figures to be available if Stafford can hit it.
It’s not about taking shots all game but the Lions do need a home-run or two in this one to have a chance.
Respect the Seattle Front
With a talented defensive line and two high-end linebackers, this isn’t an inviting draw for the running game.
The rub is, the Lions need contributions on the ground if they are going to pull off the upset.
One way to do that is run out of passing formations. That, of course, limits an offense but it’s better than the alternative of slamming into Seattle’s daunting front seven with your heavy package.
Teams have been able to run out of the shotgun and pistol on the Seahawks (to an extent, anyway) and the Lions have shown the ability to rush out of those formations with Zach Zenner the last few weeks.
A matchup for the Lions to exploit would be right guard Larry Warford – who has played very well over the last couple of weeks – against defensive tackle Jarran Reed.
Reed is a rookie second-round pick and hasn’t been bad, still he is the interior defender to attack when the Seahawks move to their nickel look as he will often matchup against the Lions best interior lineman in Warford.
Zenner should also be targeted out of the backfield. The Seahawks showed some vulnerability to the San Francisco 49ers last week in this area. The 49ers were able to leak an RB out of the backfield uncovered and hit a couple decent-gainers on safe plays.
Practice Discipline on Defense
The Lions use a lot of stunts and twists up front with their defensive line. This can be great to generate pressure without blitzing but can create running lanes for mobile quarterbacks.
Look no further than last week’s beating at the hands of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers quarterback was able to escape the pocket far too often and create something out of nothing.
That’s not even mentioning the third-and-short QB-keeper on an option play where Ziggy Ansah failed to set the edge after incorrectly collapsing inside.
Simply put, the Lions need to keep things simple with the pass rush, own their gap assignments and accept the small gainers in order to prevent the big ones.
The good news is that the Seahawks offensive line is probably the weakest positional group on the team. So, the Lions don’t need to go crazy with creativity to get home.
Keep Russell Wilson in the pocket as a top priority and make the sack the next priority.