As much as any other professional sport, the NFL is a team game. No one player can be successful without the assistance of others. That said, individual matchups can and do determine winners and losers on a weekly basis.
Sure, superstars Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch could be called keys in every game but let's dig deeper. The goal here is to identify three critical one-on-one matchups (that few others are talking about) which will likely determine whether or not the Seahawks emerge victorious.
Most will highlight the anticipated matchup between All-Pros Calvin Johnson and Richard Sherman as the key one-on-one battle in this game and it is easy to understand why as we're talking about two of the game's elite players. Thus far, the Lions aren't using Johnson the same as in the past, electing to drag him across the middle or feature him on other quicker, shorter throws in an effort to keep Matthew Stafford from taking big hits. While getting the hands in the league's most imposing wideout is obviously a good idea from the Lions' perspective, it doesn't give the 6-5, 237 pound Johnson much room to stretch his legs or use his height - two of the traits that make him so difficult to defend. Sherman's length, route recognition and underrated open-field tackling make him better suited than most to compete against Johnson, meaning that the former Seahawk Tate could play a key role in his first return to CenturyLink as a member of the opposing team.
After earning a Pro Bowl nod a year ago in his first season in Detroit, Tate hasn't enjoyed the same production thus far in 2015. That's more a statement about his lesser opportunities thus far this year than a reflection of poor play from Tate, whose unique blend of power, elusiveness and body control make him a threat to score virtually any time he gets the ball in his hands. That's a significant concern for Seattle as the wiry Williams could struggle with Tate's running back-like toughness after the catch. Burley enjoyed his best game as an open-field tackler for the Seahawks against similarly dangerous slot receiver Randall Cobb of the Green Bay Packers in Week Two and he may be need another outstanding effort to keep Tate under wraps in this game.
There's no sense in sugar-coating things, the Seahawks re-shuffled offensive line has struggled thus far in pass protection and in paving holes in the running game and through the Lions are allowing an average of 3.7 yards-per-carry and have only four sacks in three games this season, their veteran defensive line does pose problems. The biggest - literally and figuratively is Ngata, who only has four total tackles entering this contest but is coming off the best game as a member of the Lions with a tipped pass (which led to an interception) and a couple of QB hits last week on Broncos' Peyton Manning.
Old school football fans who appreciate the power and precision of blocking along the line of scrimmage should get their popcorn ready for this one as Nowak and Sweezy possess the raw power to battle with the 6-4, 345 pound former All-Pro nose guard.
Rookie running back Thomas Rawls proved last week against the Bears that he's a tough, hardnosed runner. One of the knocks on him, however, is that he lacks top-end speed. If Ngata and the Lions are able to shut down inside running lanes, the Seahawks could wind up missing Lynch's underrated ability to get to the edge.
The Lions drafted Abdullah in the second round because of his big play ability. A similar athlete as former Detroit standout Reggie Bush, Abdullah combines vision, electric lateral agility and acceleration and excellent hands out of the backfield, making him a threat as a runner, receiver and even in the return game - where he's averaging 31.5 yards per kickoff return. Given that normal starting running back Joique Bell is out for Monday night due to an ankle injury, the Lions are expected to lean heaviest on Abdullah with receiving Theo Riddick and even fellow rookie Zach Zenner also likely to see significant time.
Wright and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner are likeliest to draw the coverage duties on Detroit's backs on most occasions. This typically means the traditional dump-offs in the flats and screens. Abdullah and Riddick each possess the body control and ability to track passes over their shoulder, however, so longer "wheel" routes up the sideline are also quite possible. Seattle has struggled with smaller, elusive weapons like the 5-09, 203 pound Abdullah in the past (Shane Vereen in the Super Bowl, Tavon Austin/Benny Cunningham vs. the Rams, etc.) and he presents a significant challenge. While Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon earned the buzz in the draft, Abdullah strings together moves very, very well. For as reliable as Wright and Wagner generally are tackling in the open-field, it is critical that Seattle swarms to the football. Not only can Abdullah's elusiveness have a demoralizing effect on defenders, he's fast enough to turn a little mistake into a touchdown, showed a knack at Nebraska for playing especially well on the biggest stages and his greatest weakness - ball security - is likeliest to be an issue if there are several Seahawks punching at the ball as they attempt to tackle him.