Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez preview the Detroit Lions game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett breaks down Sunday’s game between the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field: 

Know the foe

Seattle Seahawks (3-3)

Coach: Pete Carroll (115-82-1 overall, 82-51-1 with Seahawks).

Key players: QB Russell Wilson, WR Doug Baldwin, RB Chris Carson, DE Frank Clark, LB Bobby Wagner.

Last game: Beat the Oakland Raiders, 27-3.

Last meeting: 2016 season: Seahawks won, 26-6 (playoffs).

The buzz: These aren’t the same Seahawks that made back-to-back Super Bowls in the 2013-14 seasons. They’ve dismantled the Legion of Boom, overhauled their running game and rebuilt their defensive line. And while the Seahawks are another in a string of middling teams on the Lions schedule, they’ve found a way to be successful thanks to an opportunistic defense and an offense that leads the league in red-zone efficiency. Carson and rookie first-round pick Rashaad Penny split time in the backfield, and the Seahawks try to control the clock with a downhill rushing attack that averages 30 attempts per game. Wilson isn’t running as much as he has in the past, but he’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL at buying time with his feet and making plays downfield. Baldwin is Wilson’s top receiver, but he has battled a knee injury most of the season. Coming off a bye week, though, the hope in Seattle is that he’s headed for his second straight big game. 

Defensively, the Seahawks’ no-name secondary was expected to be a weakness this season after parting ways with Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor and after Earl Thomas’ season-ending knee injury. But young cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers have given opponents trouble with their size, and Justin Coleman is one of the league’s more underrated slot defenders. Clark, the former Michigan star, leads the pass rush with 5.5 sacks, and Jarran Reed has played well inside. Wagner at middle linebacker is still the heart of the defense and one of the few recognizable names from those old Super Bowl teams.

The Lions will win if … they hold the Seahawks to 110 yards rushing or less. It has been a pretty simple formula for the Lions this year. Stop the run, as they did in games against the Patriots, Packers and Dolphins — none of those teams gained more than 107 yards on the ground — and the Lions win. Struggle against the run, as they did in games against the Jets, 49ers and Cowboys (all of whom had at least 169 yards rushing), and the Lions lose. Seattle relies heavily on a running game that rotates three backs in Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis. None of that trio is a home-run hitter, but the Lions have been especially susceptible to big plays. New defensive tackle Damon Harrison should make his debut Sunday and have an immediate impact on a defense that ranks 30th in the league against the run.

The Seahawks will win if …They finish plus-1 or better in turnover margin. The Seahawks are tied for second in the NFL with a plus-7 turnover margin through seven weeks, but they’re playing a Lions team Sunday that takes excellent care of the football. The Lions don’t get many takeaways — they have six; just three teams have fewer this year — but they’ve gone nearly 3.5 games without a turnover. Matthew Stafford, in particular, has taken good care of the football of late, so it will be up to Frank Clark and the rest of the defensive line to rush him in to some bad decisions.

Matchup to watch: Lions RB Kerryon Johnson vs. Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner

Johnson might be the Lions’ MVP at this point of the season. He’s averaging 6.4 yards per carry, has two 100-yard rushing games and regularly does his part to make defenses pay for overcommitting to Matthew Stafford and the passing game by playing just six defenders in the box. The Seahawks are a bottom-third NFL run defense, so Johnson should have opportunities Sunday. But Wagner at 28 years old is still one of the better middle linebackers in the league. He has six straight seasons with more than 100 tackles, and if he’s regularly getting to Johnson around the line of scrimmage Sunday, the Seahawks will be in good position to win.

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!