Detroit Lions vs. Seattle Seahawks: Dave Birkett’s scouting report, prediction

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions (2-12-1) at Seattle Seahawks (5-10)

The coaches: Lions — Dan Campbell (7-19-1 overall, 2-12-1 with Lions); Seahawks — Pete Carroll (150-104-1 overall, 117-73-1 with Seahawks).

Last game: Lions lost to Atlanta Falcons, 20-16. Seahawks lost to Chicago Bears, 25-24.

Last meeting: Oct. 28, 2018: Seahawks won, 28-14.

Key matchups

Seahawks WR DK Metcalf vs. Lions CB Ifeatu Melifonwu: The Seahawks passing game has looked out of synch much of the season. Russell Wilson missed time with a finger injury, and he and Metcalf have been a tad off in their timing since his return. Metcalf has caught just 25 of 53 targets for 266 yards the past seven games, though he did catch his first touchdown since Halloween last week. Melifonwu will make his second straight start in place of the injured Amani Oruwariye. He’s a matchup player because of his size, but in Metcalf he will have his hands full with one of the biggest receivers in the NFL.

Lions RB D’Andre Swift vs. Seahawks LB Jordyn Brooks: Swift will be back in the lineup Sunday after a four-game absence due to a sprained shoulder and should not face any limitations when it comes to workload. He won’t get 30 carries, like he did against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but 20 touches isn’t out of the question as he remains an integral part of the passing game. Brooks, who was taken eight picks ahead of Swift in the 2020 draft, has emerged as one of the NFL’s best linebackers in his second season. He’s third in the league with 155 tackles but will be tested in coverage and by the Lions screen game.

Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Seahawks run defense

Swift’s return adds another dimension to a Lions running game that has had three of its six best performances of the season the past three weeks. He is a home-run threat with fresh legs who was playing the best football of his career before he sprained his shoulder in a Thanksgiving loss to the Chicago Bears, and he should get plenty of work on what looks like a rain-soaked day.

Power backs Jamaal Williams and Craig Reynolds should benefit from the conditions as well, but the Lions could have some challenges blocking. Tommy Kraemer is in line to start at right guard with Halapoulivaati Vaitai on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and while Matt Nelson returns as a sixth lineman, the Lions are breaking in new tight ends after injuries to Jason Cabinda and Shane Zylstra, and with Brock Wright on reserve/COVID. Running backs coach Duce Staley said the Lions will use Williams and/or Reynolds to help fill Cabinda’s role.

The Seahawks are second in the NFL at 3.75 yards allowed per rush. They don’t give up many big plays and have two tackling machines at linebacker in Brooks and perennial Pro Bowler Bobby Wagner. Seattle has held three of its past four opponents under 90 yards rushing after an uncharacteristically bad stretch to open the year. Edge: Lions

Lions pass offense vs. Seahawks pass defense

Injuries and illness have severely depleted a Lions passing game that struggled much of the season before showing signs of life in recent weeks. Tim Boyle is expected to make his second straight start at quarterback in place of Jared Goff (knee), and the Lions will be without receiver Kalif Raymond (COVID) and are on their fifth- and sixth-string tight ends.

More: Jared Goff doubtful to play vs. Seahawks; Detroit Lions preparing to start Tim Boyle at QB

Goff’s absence should not limit the Lions playbook in any way, but if weather is a factor, expect Campbell to err on the conservative side like he did against the Browns. Amon-Ra St. Brown has 35 catches and three touchdowns the past four weeks and has emerged as the Lions’ go-to receiver. Both he and Swift should get a healthy dose of targets given the Lions’ personnel issues, though Josh Reynolds is expected back after missing the week with COVID.

The Seahawks secondary is a far cry from their Legion of Boom days, though DJ Reed has emerged as a reliable cornerback. Reed has allowed completions on less than 50% of the passes thrown his way and will present a good challenge for St. Brown. Carlos Dunlap has five sacks the past two weeks, but Seattle ranks near the bottom of the NFL in sack percentage. Edge: Seahawks

Seahawks run offense vs. Lions run defense

The Seahawks struggled to run the ball while dealing with injuries throughout November, but they appear to have gotten their ground game on track the past four weeks. Rashaad Penny has games of 135 and 137 yards rushing since returning to the starting lineup, and DeeJay Dallas has been effective in a change-of-pace role.

The Seahawks’ biggest issue on offense has been their inability to sustain drives. They’re last in third down percentage and have the fewest offensive snaps in the NFL (826; the Houston Texans are the only other team with fewer than 900). Russell Wilson still must be accounted for on scramble plays, but as big and physical as the Seahawks are up front, their offensive line has underperformed this season.

The Lions have given up an average of 171 yards per game on the ground in their last three outdoor road games and will be without starting defensive lineman Michael Brockers because of COVID. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn prefers to play out of two-high safety looks, while Seattle’s gameplan has been to run enough to entice defenses to bring a safety up in run support and then try and throw deep. Edge: Seahawks

Seahawks pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

Wilson has had a down year by more than just his lofty standards, but the seven-time Pro Bowler will have emotion on his side in what could be his final home in Seattle. That’s a dynamic Campbell said should not matter to the Lions.

“Because the fact of the matter is, whether it’s his last game or a normal game, he’s dangerous so I don’t think that has any bearing on it,” Campbell said. “The crowd’ll be loud. They’ll be into it and this player is good no matter what the scenario is. He’s dangerous.”

Wilson missed four games with a finger injury earlier this season that still appears to be affecting his play. His bad throw percentage has ticked up to 18%, according to Pro Football Reference — Goff is at 16%, for comparison — and most other passing numbers are near career lows. The Lions don’t have much speed in their secondary, so keeping up with Tyler Lockett could be an issue if they don’t get good pressure up front. Edge: Seahawks

Special teams

The Lions have been fearless on special teams this season, faking three punts and trying a pair of surprise onside kicks, and in Seattle they will face an opponent with a similar mindset. The Seahawks scored a 73-yard touchdown on a fake punt last month and clinched their last win over the Lions in 2018 with a fake punt (that wasn’t called from the sideline) out of their own end zone. Travis Homer also scored on an onside kick return earlier this season, and punter Michael Dickson is a Pro Bowl alternate and owner of one of the strongest legs in the NFL.

More: Detroit Lions mailbag: How Brad Holmes, Dan Campbell should proceed at QB in 2022 & beyond

The Lions rank eighth in Football Outsiders’ composite special teams rankings, two spots behind the Seahawks, but have a more stable kicking game with Riley Patterson a perfect 10 for 10 on field goals. Jack Fox is Dickson’s equal as a punter, but the Lions will be without Raymond, their top punt returner, and have seen their coverage units depleted by injury. Edge: Seahawks

Prediction

The Lions have played good, competitive football in most of their seven games since the bye despite injuries and a COVID outbreak that have ravaged the roster. I would not expect anything less this week, even though a trip west and bad weather on a holiday weekend is a less than ideal setting for a win. Both the Lions and Seahawks want to run the ball, and the Lions have the better personnel on their line and in their backfield to get that done. But Wilson is the wildcard in this one. He seems to be down to his final two games in Seattle and could have one of those special days where he wills his team to a win. Another factor: The Lions are 1-11-1 in road games against NFC or AFC West opponents since the start of the 2012 season. In what likely will be Boyle’s third career start, that’s a lot of history to overcome.  Pick: Seahawks 19, Lions 17.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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