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2021 Week 17 Key Matchups: Seahawks vs. Lions

Taking a look at three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions.

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The Seahawks' final home-game of the 2021 season will feature a visit from the Detroit Lions, a team that has shown some fight late in the season despite being the last winless team in the NFL with a 0-10-1 start. Of late, the Lions have won two of their last four, beating a pair of playoff contenders, Arizona and Minnesota. 

"Their record may not show it, but they are playing really tough football, they are playing really good football," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "They have played it in the past four weeks in particular. They have been battling, battling, and battling and they beat some good teams in terms of Arizona and Minnesota."

If the Seahawks are going to kick off 2022 with a win at Lumen Field, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in their Week 17 contest against the Lions:

1. Detroit's deep rushing attack vs. Seattle's stout run defense.

The Lions should be getting starting running back D'Andre Swift back from injury this week, but even without him they've been dangerous on the ground. Detroit is 4.5 per carry, which ranks in the top 10 in the NFL, and this is the first time they've had 1,600 rushing yards with a 4.5 or better yards-per-carry average through 15 games since Hall of Famer Barry Sanders was in the backfield. Detroit has run for 100 plus in four straight games and six of its last seven, and they're the only team in the NFL with eight different players who have a run of 20-plus yards this season.

With Swift out, veteran back Jamal Williams rushed for 213 yards in him past three games, while Craig Reynolds, a practice squad call-up, has 224, including a 112-yard game in a win over Arizona.

The Seahawks will counter with a run defense that has been one of the best in the NFL this season, holding opponents to just 3.7 per carry, the second-best mark in the NFL. Seattle has held six of its last nine opponents under 100 rushing yards, and seven of its last nine opponents to 3.5 per carry or less.

"Everybody wants to establish the run," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "Most times when you have a team that has a play action, you want to establish the run. It's always 'Stop the run,' then everything kind of runs around that. They want to run, and we want to stop the run. That's one of the things we do very well. It's best on best and we'll see what happens."

2. A surging Seahawks pass rush vs. Detroit's pass protection.

For most of the season, the Seahawks have ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks, but with Carlos Dunlap II and Rasheem Green heating up, the Seahawks have eight sacks in their past two games, five by Dunlap and three by Green.

"You can see how obvious it is a factor when a guys gets hot and gets going that he can affect other guys and help the whole group," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Dunlap's late-season surge after seeing his playing time decrease midway through the season. "We were just trying to make it a competitive situation, give other guys a shot that had some numbers that might give us a little inkling that we could get something out of L.J (Collier) or Rasheem if we moved them around. That was really what was going on. What is really, it couldn't be more clear, is how a guy responds to the competitive opportunity. He wasn't happy with that. He wanted to get back out there and he's torn it up in the last few weeks. It's given us a real boost. He's playing great football."

The Lions offensive line has been a team strength overall, as is evident in the running game, but they have been susceptible to giving up sacks, allowing 35 this season. With Jared Goff's knee injury making him doubtful for Sunday's game, pass protection will be even more vital for the Lions if they indeed are turning to backup Tim Boyle for the second week in a row. Last week, the Lions were able to keep Boyle clean in the pocket, allowing no sacks and only two quarterback hits.

3. Seahawks third-down offense vs. Detroit's third-down defense.

When it comes to Seattle's offensive struggles this year, the most obvious factor has been their inability to convert on third down. The Seahawks have had some solid stretches of play, but haven't been able to do it consistently, and the result is a 33.7-percent conversion rate on third down that ranks last in the NFL. And with those third-down issues comes the inability to stay on the field, which means the Seahawks have run the fewest offensive plays in the league this season, and by a large margin, and have the worst time of possession, which not only keeps the offense from getting to all the plays it wants to run and doing what it sets out to do, but also can take a toll on the defense.

While the playoffs are off the table at this point for the Seahawks, it would be good for the offense moving forward to build a little momentum and show what it can be if it convers a few more third downs to stay on the field.

"It starts with that crisp execution throughout four quarters, not having a couple of good ones like this last game where we started out doing well on those third downs," offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. "I think we were three of the first six, but then it tailed off there, so I think it really goes hand-in-hand with what we want to see from our offense as a whole, that crisp, clean execution throughout four quarters of football games."

If the Seahawks are going to get right on third down, this could be the time to do it. Detroit comes into the game ranked 28th in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing opponents to covert at a 43.3-percent rate, though last week they held Atlanta to just 2 for 8 on third down

The Seattle Seahawks take on the Detroit Lions for Week 17 of the 2021 season. Take a look back at photos from past games played between the two teams.

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