Notebook: Can Lions Secondary Handle 'Hawks?

The Detroit Lions coaching staff has noticed improvements in their makeshift secondary. Seattle will test that theory on Sunday. More inside, including personnel moves, injury notes on Calvin Johnson, and much more ...

The Seahawks are 2-5, and folks in Seattle are squawking about ugly losses to Arizona and Dallas. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has struggled recently. Wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch have shown their displeasure in different ways.

But here come the Lions, who could make everything better, at least for a week. Seattle is a difficult place for any team to play, and the Lions have lost 15 straight road games -- not to mention 29 of their past 31 games overall. The Lions struggle against the pass, and they seem particularly vulnerable against the type of offense the Seahawks run.

The Seahawks are a West Coast team, meaning they should complete a high percentage of their passes. Hasselbeck hasn't done that so far this season. He is at only 55.9 percent. But there are reasons for that.

Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham thinks it's the broken ribs Hasselbeck had earlier this year.

"His completion percentage is way down, which is surprising," Cunningham said. "It's probably because of the injury. Usually you go 65, 70 in that offense."

Lions coach Jim Schwartz thinks it's the longer passes the Seahawks have mixed in.

"Seattle has worked some deeper routes into their concept, and they're taking more shots down the field," Schwartz said. "I think that's where you're seeing the reflection of the lower completion percentage. So they still have West Coast principles, but they also have some play-action deep balls that traditionally you're not going to complete as many."

Seattle coach Jim Mora Jr. thinks it's a poor performance against Arizona that skewed Hasselbeck's stats.

Whatever the reason, it might not matter against the Lions, who are allowing opponents to complete 70.5 percent of their passes, second-worst in the NFL. The Lions' secondary is a mess, and they don't match up well with the Seahawks' receiving corp.

The Lions have lost yet another defensive back, with Demarcus Faggins (groin) joining Daniel Bullocks (knee) and Eric King (shoulder) on injured reserve.

Will James and Phillip Buchanon likely will start at cornerback Sunday. Anthony Henry is still in the doghouse, practicing as a starter on special teams but not on defense.

But the Lions have signed a new cornerback, Jason David, and are trying to get him up to speed as quickly as possible.

"We get a new guy every week, it seems like," Cunningham said. "And it was funny, Jim asked last night or the night before: 'Has anybody talked to the new guy yet?' And both secondary coaches said: 'We met with him for five hours.'

"We're doing everything on the run. We'll see later on the week how we're going to use him."

The good news for the Lions is that they are coming off their best performance on pass defense this season. They held St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger to 17-for-35 for 176 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

"I think we're seeing improvement in the secondary," Schwartz said. "I think guys are learning the defense better. We've tackled better in the secondary. We had a couple incidents against the Rams where we didn't tackle well, but ... it took away from some really good efforts out there.

"Guys are settling in. We've dealt with a lot of injuries. We have a lot of IR guys from the secondary. We need to stay on that track and settle it down and move forward from the second half of the season."

SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 6-4. The Seahawks won the last meeting, 9-6, but it was a bit of a moral victory for the Lions. It was the Seahawks' first real game since playing Super Bowl XL in the Lions' home stadium, Ford Field.

NOTEBOOK:

  • The Lions have intercepted five passes, one more than last season, but still tied for 24th in the NFL this year. They have three interceptions by defensive backs, two more than last season, but still not good.
  • Quarterback Matthew Stafford said he never thought about his right knee injury Sunday against St. Louis -- even while pushing off during a four-yard touchdown run -- as he returned from a two-game absence. He said he was a little more sore than usual afterward, but that was to be expected. "I had played a lot more plays than I had been playing in practice and getting hit and stuff," Stafford said. "But it wasn't terrible, and I just keep after it, getting treatment up here at the crack of dawn every day, trying to make sure it stays good."
  • Although there is improvement in LB Ernie Sims, Cunningham said several people have struggled to adjust to the new system. "This scheme thing is really baffling them all, including some of the coaches," Cunningham said. "And what people don't understand, when you're trying to build something like we are, there's a whole new philosophy in town, and there is for coaches who have never coached this thing. So it does take time. But day by day, I see it getting better, and today's practice was probably one of the better ones we've had mentally."
  • Schwartz was pleased with rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew, though he had only two catches for 17 yards Sunday against St. Louis. Pettigrew struggled badly in the Lions' previous game, Oct. 18 at Green Bay. "He didn't get a lot of opportunities in the pass game," Schwartz said. "We tried to get the ball down the field to him a couple times. They had good coverage. He wasn't able to come down with it. But he made a nice run after the catch on one, and his blocking improved significantly over the last couple of weeks. I thought he had a really good bye week, and I thought he got back on the right track last week."

PERSONNEL:

Cornerback is one of a few positions still in flux. Phillip Buchanon and Will James are likely to start again this week. Anthony Henry remains in the doghouse, practicing as a starter on special teams but not on defense.

Left guard is another issue. The Lions tried Jon Jansen last week against St. Louis. It was his first game at guard, after playing his whole career at right tackle, and he said he needed to work on pass protection. Manny Ramirez might start in this game.

But the biggest question is whether wide receiver Calvin Johnson will return from a right knee injury. He has been practicing on a limited basis, but he has missed two games and coach Jim Schwartz said he probably would be a game-time decision again.

The Lions need Johnson on the field not only for the plays he makes himself, but also for how he helps others.

"He affects aspects of the run game," Schwartz said. "He affects the other receivers in the pass game. He's one of those guys that defenses scheme. Very rarely do we see a defense that just plays the way they did the week before they played us. They have a special package. They need to try to take care of his explosiveness, his ability to make a deep play, and that opens up other things.

"The respect that they show Calvin opens up some other things, and when he's not out there, it puts more stress on different areas -- more eight-man fronts, more press coverage, those kind of things."

PLAYER NOTES:

  • RB Kevin Smith did not practice Wednesday because of a shoulder injury. But he said he would practice Thursday and likely will play Sunday at Seattle.
  • QB Matthew Stafford was listed as limited Wednesday. He said he had more soreness than usual after returning from a right knee injury Sunday, but he said it was no big deal. He will play Sunday.
  • WR Calvin Johnson was listed as limited Wednesday, and coach Jim Schwartz said he would be a game-time decision Sunday. But he looked good in the portion of practice open to reporters and seems more likely to play.
  • DE Jason Hunter returned to practice Wednesday. He has missed two games with an ankle injury and was listed as limited.
  • DE Dewayne White was listed as limited Wednesday. He returned to the lineup Sunday from a hamstring injury.
  • FB Jerome Felton was listed as limited Wednesday with an ankle injury. He did not play Sunday.
  • DT Grady Jackson was listed as limited Wednesday. But that has been the routine for the 36-year-old who had knee surgery in the off-season.

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