Any Given Sunday
The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Seahawks over Lions

Any Given Sunday: Seahawks over Lions
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

What fills an offense's heart with neutrality, and why are the Lions so against it?

The Lions have the second-highest offensive variance in the NFL, ahead of a team that lost its starting quarterback for the season and is coached by Kyle Shanahan. Part of that was a disastrous loss to the Jets in the opener that only looks uglier as the Jets continue to get trounced without Trumaine Johnson. But it's hard to ignore -- and I'm aware I'm stepping on touchy subject matter on this website -- that the Lions have put up their two best rushing offense DVOA scores in their two best offensive games.

Kerryon My Wayward Back
Split Average Rush DVOA Average Offense DVOA
Week 4, Week 7 16.6% 37.4%
Week 1-3, 5 -14.4% -10.6%

The shift from Jim Caldwell to Matt Patricia has been marked by three wideouts catching most of the balls and an emphasis on the run game. The Lions have done the whole "spend draft capital on a running game" thing before. Laken Tomlinson and Ameer Abdullah say hello. But this year, with Frank Ragnow and Kerryon Johnson, they really mean it. Fresh off pulverizing Miami for 248 rushing yards and three scores, the Lions ran right into the Legion of Who? and learned that Seattle's defense isn't quite dead yet.

The Seahawks smothered the Lions at the line of scrimmage, allowing just 34 rushing yards, 28 to running backs. Only one team has managed a positive single-game DVOA score against Seattle's rush defense: the Cowboys in Week 3.

Once they went deep enough into the game script hole, the Lions simply had a tough time moving the ball more than a couple of yards at a time. Both Marvin Jones touchdowns were end zone darts that Seahawks safeties misplayed into points over the top. Other than that, Golden Tate was wearing K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner as capes on every underneath catch. Every time they tangled, Tate would get up grousing. Wright and Wagner wound up allowing 9-of-12 passes to be completed, but the Lions only found 66 yards on those catches. Kenny Golladay was held to just one target. Johnson delivered some big yardage as a screens and checkdowns guy.

Every time the Lions were about to get going, they hit midfield, and that's where things fell apart. The Lions ran 16 offensive plays between the 40-yard lines and averaged 1.1 yards per play.

Where the Game Swung

Per EdjSports' Game-Winning Chance Metric, here are the plays that changed the game entirely. Or, in other words, the second-quarter surge:

  • Q1, 2:24, third-and-10 -- Matthew Stafford's 39-yard touchdown throw to Jones -- 43.3% GWC to 28.9% GWC (-14.4%)
  • Q2, 14:23, second-and-5 -- Russell Wilson's 24-yard touchdown throw to Tyler Lockett -- 35.9% GWC to 43.3% GWC (+7.4%)
  • Q2, 14:15, kickoff -- Ameer Abdullah fumbles, recovered by Seattle at the Detroit 34 -- 43.7% GWC to 57.0% GWC (+13.3%)
  • Q2: 12:47, second-and-8 -- Wilson's 15-yard touchdown throw to David Moore -- 59.9% GWC to 66.1% GWC (+6.2%)
  • Q2: 2:34, third-and-4 -- Wilson's 12-yard touchdown throw to Ed Dickson -- 81.8% GWC to 87.8% GWC (+6.0%)

Seattle's GWC never dipped below 89.4 percent for the rest of the game. Yes, even though Seattle ran for a grand total of 28 yards on 11 non-punter carries on their last three drives of the fourth quarter. Even though Detroit made it to the Seattle 4.

By the DVOA

SEA 20.5% -3.3% 6.9% 30.7%
DET 10.7% 27.7% -4.6% -21.6%
SEA 33.3% 0.6% 6.9% 39.6%
DET -1.4% 30.8% -4.6% -36.8%

As you can see, DVOA thinks Detroit didn't do too bad as an offense overall. It just ran into some key issues. It's not normal to score 14 points converting six of 10 third downs.

Seahawks Receivers Dunk On Lions Defensive Backs: A Photo Essay

Sometimes words are not necessary. Here are all of Seattle's touchdowns and a couple of other catches.

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Seattle's Offensive Line: Not Bad!

Seattle's first step towards fixing 2017's abysmal offensive line took place in-season, when they traded future picks to the Texans for stalwart left tackle Duane Brown, a deserving All-Pro in the twilight of his prime. The second step was letting Tom Cable go back to Oakland.

In the offseason, the Seahawks cut bait on Luke Joeckel. Joeckel received a one-year, $8 million deal from Seattle in 2017. In 2018, he remains unsigned. Former Seahawk J.R. Sweezy was reacquired after Tampa Bay let him go following an injury-filled tenure there. Seattle was able to go back and sign D.J. Fluker, a tackle who should have always been playing guard, to play guard for one year and $1.5 million. It has gone much better than the Joeckel experiment.

The one player that still started off the year playing poorly was right tackle Germain Ifedi, but even he has picked up the place lately.

The Seahawks still have a high Adjusted Sack Rate of 9.9%, because Wilson is going to try to make plays with his legs. But the pressure rates have drastically changed. Last year's 36.9% pressure rate was tied for worst in the NFL. This year, the Seahawks ... are 24th! They're functioning almost like an honest-to-goodness real offense. Here's how that splits out since the first two games:

Weeks 1-2: 29 pressures
Weeks 3-8: 41 pressures

It has been kind of funny to watch Wilson deal with the extra time, because he's so not used to it that sometimes he plays like people are pressuring him when that's not actually happening:

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The Seahawks successfully built a good run offense off of Chris Carson, who was not a first-round pick, and a massive changeover in personnel around Wilson and a healthy Justin Britt.

As much as most of the national football media left them for dead after a bad start and an offseason of bad ideas around Brian Schottenheimer, this team is knocking on the NFC playoff door yet again. There'll be a team or two from the NFC North to give them a run for the second wild-card spot next to Carolina, but the Seahawks appear to have generated enough good things to keep pace with where they were last year.


8 comments, Last at 31 Oct 2018, 2:35pm

1 Re: Any Given Sunday: Seahawks over Lions

I thought Any Given Sunday was supposed to be about upset wins. I had to go back and double check: Yup, Seattle is 10th in DVOA, Detroit is 28th in DVOA and about 30% separates them. Meaning Seattle should be easily favored to beat Detroit at Detroit.

sooo, what's the big upset here?

2 Re: Any Given Sunday: Seahawks over Lions

I thought that too, but there weren't really any upsets this week, and the Lions *were* at home.

Also, for what it's worth, the half-dozen or so pundits on the podcasts I listen to (Bill Simmons, Dave Dameshek) all predicted the Lions would win.

It wasn't actually an upset, but I think a lot of the non-nerd football watching public thought it was.

4 Re: Any Given Sunday: Seahawks over Lions

Some breakdown of Seattle's pass protection numbers:

Week 1 vs. DEN: 11 QB hits, 6 sacks allowed.
Week 2 vs. CHI: 8, 6

(At this point D.J. Fluker enters the lineup.)

Week 3 vs. DAL: 7, 2
Week 4 vs. ARI: 3, 2
Week 5 vs. LAR: 3, 2
Week 6 vs. OAK: 3, 1
Week 7: bye
Week 8 vs. DET: 4, 2