Allen Park — Some days are easier to focus on film review than others. This wasn’t one of those days, with Golden Tate being shipped out in the middle of my study of the Detroit Lions’ 28-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
But the show must go on. Here are my five observations from the game.
Nightmare under center
When discussing the best quarterbacks in the game, the first three names that come to mind for most NFL fans are probably Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. But Russell Wilson has firmly worked his way into the elite tier of the league’s passers.
Wilson has it all: Arm strength, accuracy, mobility in and out of the pocket. He put all those tools to use and posted a perfect passer rating in the victory.
On Sunday, the Lions got Wilson at his best. His throws were pinpoint, fitting the ball into tight spaces against airtight coverage on multiple occasions and delivering his deepest pass, to David Moore in the third quarter, in stride for a 45-yard gain.
But what makes Wilson special, and sets him apart from most quarterbacks, is his feet. Despite preparing all week for his ability to move in the backfield, this game had to be so frustrating for Lions defenders. The team actually generated a reasonable amount of pressure but were rarely able to bring Wilson down.
Not only does he show exceptional ability to sense his pocket collapsing, Wilson has a variety of elusive maneuvers that allow him to escape pressure, including a spin move he deployed multiple times.
Once Wilson gets clear of the initial wave, he’s always a threat to take off. But more often than not this season, he resets his feet, quickly identifies an open receiver following their scramble rules and makes a play with his arm, saving his body from unnecessary hits.
Additionally, the Seahawks run a healthy amount of read-option in their run game, and Wilson’s quickness is enough to paralyze an edge defender. Plus, when he keeps the ball, good luck making the one-on-one open-field stop. Wilson hit the brakes and accelerated back to 60 in the blink of an eye when being pursued by linebacker Devon Kennard, netting an 11-yard gain.
I can’t imagine anyone had a more frustrating day than Kennard, who generated a decent amount of pressure with his rush but never got home.
In total, Wilson’s performance was probably the best I’ve seen from a quarterback in my seven years on this beat.
The Wright stuff
Another Seahawks player who jumped off the tape was linebacker K.J. Wright. Mind you, this was a player making his season debut after August knee surgery. Could have fooled me.
A former Pro Bowler, Wright is one of the few holdovers from Seattle’s Super Bowl teams. The eight-year veteran has always been a solid player, and what makes him so good are his instincts.
Throughout the game, Wright seemed to know exactly what the Lions were doing. On some of Detroit’s early run plays, he was charging downhill at the snap and disrupting the play in the backfield before the designated blocker could pick him up.
Wright and Bobby Wagner’s aggression against the run were a big reason why the Lions struggled to get the ground game going early in the contest, before the scoreboard dictated the offense needed to abandon it in the second half.
Yet Wright wasn’t equally as aggressive on play-action plays, showing more discipline and quickly dropping back into his zones.
The Lions don’t have a player like Wright on the roster — a linebacker with elite instincts. The hope is Jarrad Davis reaches that point.
There was one play, for both Davis and Wright, I wanted to highlight because of the similarities with the calls and the differences in the individual reactions. I understand the two are playing in different schemes, with different keys and reads, but the overlap is enough to highlight.
Both teams ran a version of a motion jet sweep, the Lions to Tate and the Seahawks utilizing Tyler Lockett. Wright recognizes it before the ball is snapped and is able to make a stop after three yards.
Davis, meanwhile, is slower with his diagnosis. He was left unblocked to the play side but isn’t able to get to Lockett, leaving cornerback Nevin Lawson to chase down the speedy receiver after a 10-yard pickup.
The Seahawks ran for 176 yards in the victory and did so without a gain over 12 yards. And it’s not like the team was extraordinary efficient. Of Chris Carson’s 25 carries, 12 went for a gain of two or fewer yards.
But when Carson was picking up his chunks — six, eight, 10 yards per pop — many of them were coming on similar style cutbacks. The designs appeared game plan specific, relying on drawing Detroit’s linebackers out of their lane assignments prior to bouncing to that vacated gap.
I won’t pretend to fully understand Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme, but whether it’s a 4-3 or 3-4 look, Davis likely has a gap responsibility. But if you go back to what linebacker coach Al Golden said earlier this offseason — about the position requiring problem-solvers and not robots — Davis’ willingness to overpursue based on his key reads would make sense.
Regardless, the Seahawks took advantage of something they identified on film and it’s a correction Detroit will need to shore up to improve the team’s overall run defense.
Sunday’s game confirmed what many of us already knew: Damon Harrison is going to be a good fit for the Lions. He plays with outstanding technique, particularly the use of his hands, often extending his arms to ward off two blockers at once and keeping his eyes in the backfield.
I already dipped into some numbers on Harrison’s impact on the run defense earlier this week — highlighting the Seahawks averaged 1.5 fewer yards per carry when he was on the field — but I did want to highlight a few specific plays to illustrate why Harrison is so effective.
First, a second-quarter run. You’ve probably heard about a defensive tackle’s role in freeing up the linebackers to make plays. This play illustrated that perfectly. Wilson took the under-center handoff and gave it to Carson, who was going left. The offensive line also flows that direction. Harrison mirrors the blockers, while putting one hand into the chest of the center and another into the chest of the right guard. This prohibited either from getting to the second level to put a body on Davis, who shot through the run lane unblocked and dropped the back after a 1-yard gain.
In the third quarter, the Seahawks try to block Harrison with one man, guard D.J. Fluker. The shotgun handoff to Carson again goes left and Harrison does an outstanding job maintaining his leverage, not allowing Fluker get cross his face. When A’Shawn Robinson’s backfield penetration forces Carson to cut his run inside, Harrison is waiting and wraps the back up behind the line for a loss of one.
Finally, I wanted to highlight Harrison’s sack in the fourth quarter. Working directly over the center, Harrison swats him aside and then bulls through the help block from Fluker. Robinson, rushing against left guard J.R. Sweezy, actually pressures Wilson first, but when the quarterback is able to dodge that rush, Harrison was there to clean it up for the 10-yard loss.
The game was largely in the bag when rookie punter Michael Dickson went rogue, scrambling for a first down from the back of his own end zone in the closing minutes. It wasn’t a great decision, because if he comes up short, the Lions are in business, down 14, inside the 10-yard line, with a chance for a quick score and an onside kick.
It wasn’t unusual for Dickson to be running laterally. Even though the Seahawks’ plan was to take a safety, as an Australian-style kicker, it’s common to run sideways before booting the ball away.
The reason he had the lane wasn’t due to the jammer, Cre’Von LeBlanc, who did a good job reading and reacting to Dickson’s mad scramble. The breakdown had more to do with what was happening on the edge of Detroit’s rush.
Safety Delano Hill, a wing in Seattle’s formation, popped outside Detroit’s widest rusher to his side, cornerback DeShawn Shead, and sealed him inside. Long snapper Tyler Ott came through the line and was in position to offer help with any backside pursuit but that proved unnecessary. Hill’s block was all Dickson needed to gain the nine yards and the first down.