NFL Preview - Detroit (1-6) at Seattle (2-5)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It has been many suns, moons, failed draft picks, dubious coaching hires, and at least one mustachioed general manager since the Detroit Lions have won a road game in the month of November.
The last time the Lions flew home to the Motor City a winner during the 11th month was Nov. 19, 2000, when Detroit defeated the New York Giants, 31-21, at the Meadowlands.
Gary Moeller was the coach that day, as a Lions team that would narrowly miss the playoffs defeated a Giants club that would represent the NFC in Super Bowl XXXV. Charlie Batch was the quarterback, and he threw touchdown passes to the likes of Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton that day.
Since then, the Lions are 0-15 on the road in November, a losing streak they'll be looking to wipe out when they head to Qwest Field to face the also- struggling Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
On one hand, the signs don't look very promising for Jim Schwartz's one-win club.
The Lions are just one week removed from a troubling 17-10 home loss to the formerly winless St. Louis Rams, a defeat that seemed to undermine the notion that Detroit was on the verge of recovery following a near-decade long stretch of mostly dismal football.
Rookie quarterback and No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford failed to build on a couple of promising efforts prior to suffering a knee injury against the Bears back on Oct. 4th, completing just 14-of-33 passes for 168 yards with an interception against the Rams, though he did rush for the Lions' lone touchdown, and completed a game-tying two-point conversion to running back Maurice Morris in the fourth quarter. Only two of the Georgia product's completions went to wide receivers, as the offense clearly missed wideout Calvin Johnson, who was absent for a second straight game with a knee problem.
Johnson will have a chance to return this week, which is the beginning of the good news for Detroit.
The rest of the good news concerns the Seahawks, who have lost five of their last six and are coming off a frustration-inducing 38-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Seattle managed just 308 yards and held the ball for nearly 10 minutes fewer than did the Cowboys, with wide receivers Deion Branch and T.J. Houshmandzadeh both expressing frustration with the inconsistency of the attack.
After catching a touchdown pass from Hasselbeck in the second quarter, Branch yelled into a television camera, "anybody who want me, come find me," a message that has been interpreted to mean that Branch wishes to play elsewhere.
Later, Houshmandzadeh was spotted on the sideline in what appeared to be a heated discussion with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, though both parties downplayed the incident earlier this week.
The Seahawks will be playing at home for the first time since a listless 27-3 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 18th. Despite their struggles, the Seahawks are just two games back of division-leading Arizona as Week 9 begins.
Seattle has a 6-4 lead in the all-time series with Detroit, including a 9-6 road win when the teams last met, in the 2006 season opener. Detroit is 0-2 against the Seahawks since beating them in Seattle in 1999, including a 35-14 defeat when they last visited Qwest Field in 2003.
Seahawks head coach Jim Mora was just 1-2 against the Lions during his tenure with Atlanta (2004-06). The Lions' Schwartz will be meeting both Mora and Seattle for the first time as head coach.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
After he struggled against the Rams, Stafford (1062 passing yards, 3 TD, 7 INT) must bounce back with an efficient performance in Seattle. The strong-armed signal-caller carries a poor 61.7 passer rating into Sunday's game, and has completed just 54.1 percent of his passes, though the potential return of Johnson (22 receptions, 1 TD) to the lineup certainly enhances his prospects for recovery. If Johnson isn't back, Bryant Johnson (18 receptions, 1 TD) and Dennis Northcutt (17 receptions, 1 TD) would likely see most of the action on the outside, with tight ends Brandon Pettigrew (14 receptions) and Will Heller (10 receptions, 1 TD) involved as well. Heller, who had two catches last week, played in 44 games as a member of the Seahawks from 2006 through 2008. There is also a Seattle connection in the Detroit running game, where Lions rusher Maurice Morris (106 rushing yard, 1 TD) will look to make an impact against his former team. Morris, who could see a greater number of carries on Sunday due to the continued struggles of Kevin Smith (393 rushing yards, 3 TD, 24 receptions), gained 2,612 yards as a member of the Seahawks from 2002 through 2008. The Lions offense is just 25th in the league (292.6 yard per game) as Week 9 begins, and a major reason for the weak showing is an offensive line that has surrendered 24 sacks thus far on the year.
The Seahawks have been a middle-of-the-road group defensively, ranking 18th in the NFL against the pass (244.4 yards per game) and No. 10 against the run (101.3 yards per game). The strength of the unit is probably a pass rush that has notched 18 sacks on the year, including four each for ends Patrick Kerney (14 tackles, 4 sacks) and Lawrence Jackson (17 tackles, 4 sacks). Linebacker David Hawthorne (35 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack), who has taken over in the middle due to a season-ending injury to Lofa Tatupu, had both Seattle sacks of the Cowboys' Tony Romo last week. The pass rush has not paid dividends for a secondary that has just two interceptions on the year, one to cornerback Ken Lucas (29 tackles) and the other to safety Jordan Babineaux (42 tackles). But the Seahawks could be getting stronger there, as cornerback Marcus Trufant returned to the lineup last week after missing the first six games with a back problem, and recorded four tackles. The run-stopping crew is led by Hawthorne, fellow linebacker Aaron Curry (40 tackles, 2 sacks) and defensive linemen Colin Cole (22 tackles) and Cory Redding (10 tackles). Redding, who was traded from the Lions to the Seahawks in March after playing six seasons in Detroit (2003-08), has come off the bench the past four weeks.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
The root of many of Seattle's offensive problems would seem to be along the line, where a rash of injuries have diminished the team's effectiveness. With Walter Jones (knee) out for the year and Sean Locklear (ankle) unlikely to return this week, starting tackles Damion McIntosh and Ray Willis will again be responsible for keeping Hasselbeck (978 passing yards, 9 TD, 3 INT) upright. The Hawks have allowed 18 sacks on the year, including three against the Cowboys last week, and the team ranks near the bottom of the league in both yards per carry (3.5) and rushing yards per game (88.7). Some of that has to do with the invisible play of Julius Jones (346 rushing yards, 14 receptions, 3 TD), who could begin to yield more of his carries to Justin Forsett (109 rushing yards) and local favorite Louis Rankin. The Seahawks cut veteran Edgerrin James earlier this week. The strength of the Seattle attack remains with the passing game, and Hasselbeck will have a tall task in keeping his main targets - Branch (15 receptions, 1 TD), Houshmandzadeh (35 receptions, 2 TD), Nate Burleson (38 receptions, 3 TD), and tight end John Carlson (27 receptions, 2 TD) - all happy this week. Burleson was high-man with six catches for 89 yards last Sunday.
A Detroit defense that ranks just 23rd in the league as Week 9 begins (369.6 yards per game) figures to have its hands full with Hasselbeck and the Seattle passing attack. Cornerbacks William James (22 tackles, 1 INT), Phillip Buchanon (15 tackles) and Kevin Hobbs (12 tackles) will be among those handling Seattle's bevy of receivers, and newly-signed ex-Colt and Saint Jason David could be involved as well. Emerging safeties Louis Delmas (42 tackles, 1 sack) and Ko Simpson (9 tackles, 1 INT) will lend support. The Lions have not been a consistent pass rushing team, but team sack leader and ex-Seahawk Julian Peterson (30 tackles, 3.5 sacks) will have a chance to break through against the makeshift Seattle o-line. The Lions did not manage a sack of the Rams' Marc Bulger last week, though end Dewayne White (6 tackles, 1 INT) intercepted a pass in the loss. Against the run, the club will need tackles Grady Jackson (13 tackles) and Landon Cohen (10 tackles) to provide a presence at the point of attack, with linebackers Larry Foote (49 tackles, 1 sack) and Ernie Sims (22 tackles) among those making plays behind them.
Unless you're absolutely sure that Calvin Johnson will be in the lineup, the fantasy options on the Lions are few. Stafford and some of his other offensive compatriots will likely put up a big game or two in the final eight weeks of the season, but trying to determine when those will come is a wildly inexact science indeed.
On the Seattle side, there are better options, though only slightly so. Hasselbeck will have a chance for a big game against a weak Detroit defense, but predicting which of his main targets - Houshmandzadeh, Branch, Burleson, and Carlson - will have the greatest success is tough to predict. And though Seattle should be able to run the ball, Jones hasn't gone over 100 yards or scored a rushing touchdown since Week 1, so relying on him could get you beat. Against a rookie quarterback, the Seahawks defense is a better play than usual.
There is some familiarity between these teams from a personnel standpoint, and the fact that both clubs feel they are better than their records indicate should ratchet up the intensity even higher for this date. After shaking off some of the rust against the Rams last week, look for a sharper performance by Stafford, who will also benefit from the probable return of Calvin Johnson. But look for the veteran Hasselbeck to come out firing as well, and expect him to show some extra focus after the much-publicized criticisms made by Branch and Houshmandzadeh last week. The Lions will be game, but Stafford isn't quite ready to win in the raucous setting of Qwest Field.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 27, Lions 19
11/05 16:10:31 ET