The injury report this week paints one hell of a picture, one that’s somewhat bad for the Seahawks but potentially disastrous one for the Lions. (In the interest of saving the best for last, I've put the worst of the news first.)
Doug Baldwin suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half of last week’s game, so he’ll be out for the next few weeks. Yes, there are plenty of other receivers on the roster and Baldwin has had some drop problems this season, but no one else on the roster has his feel for the middle of the field. Unlike flanker or split end, where speed, moves, and size tend to separate the great receivers from the average ones, good slot receivers don’t have to be outstanding physical specimens (a little extra toughness doesn’t hurt though, since they tend to take a lot of hits from linebackers). The best guys in the slot have almost a sixth sense for soft spots in coverages and know where to settle in and make themselves a target without giving defenders an opportunity to jump in for an interception.
Finding talented slot receivers is harder than you’d think, and the Seahawks have had a few fail to produce over the last few seasons.. Remember Deon Butler, the speedy little Penn State wideout who was supposed to be the next Bobby Engram for Seattle? He lacked that innate feel for the position, which is why he’s currently a street free agent. Golden Tate also took a shot at the position, and his struggles throughout his first two seasons were due in large part to his inability to find holes in the middle of the field.
Baldwin may not be a starter, and he definitely isn’t the biggest, fastest, or trickiest guy on the field, but he has the same natural feel for the slot that made Engram Hasselbeck’s go-to security blanket in the middle of the field for so many years. The only other receiver currently on the roster who’s shown a hint of being able to handle the job is Charly Martin, and he’s been inactive for several games this year. Let’s hope he’s up for the job.
Thankfully, the Lions’ receiving corps is in even worse shape. Star receiver and all-around athletic freak of nature Calvin Johnson was limited yesterday by knee injury after being unable to practice at all on Wednesday, and anything that slows him down a little is a good thing for Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Detroit also lost its #2 wideout Nate Burleson, and the next guy up appears to be Titus Young, who’s faster than Burleson but a far less dangerous receiver. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who is second on the team in receptions behind Johnson, is listed as questionable after being a limited participant this week with a knee injury, which makes Burleson’s absence hurt even more.
The rest of the injury report for this week is much less troubling. Byron Maxwell’s hamstring injury continues to keep him from participating in practices, but that’s been a problem most of the season. Marshawn Lynch’s is listed for back problems, but he’s pretty much always shows up on the report for back problems and he’s been a full participant all week. John Moffitt has been a limited participant while he nurses a knee injury, so I’d expect Paul McQuistan to continue starting at right guard for the time being.
Jason Jones also hasn’t participated this week due to an ankle injury. Losing his pressure up the middle on passing downs hurts a little, but so far this season he’s tallied just 2.5 sacks and 3 quarterback hits, and most of those stats he earned just last week against the 49ers. Seattle’s pass rush still succeeds or fails from the defensive end position, as Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons account for well over half of the team’s sacks and QB hits. If the team can at least constrict the pocket enough with some combination of Clinton McDonald, Jaye Howard, Alan Branch, and Brandon Mebane to make things uncomfortable for Matthew Stafford, the DEs should take care of the rest.
But compared to the Lions’ injury problems on defense, the possible loss of a situational pass rusher isn’t much to worry about. For starters, their top pass rusher, starting defensive end Cliff Avril, has been unable to practice all week and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Joining him on the injury list are starting linebackers Stephen Tulloch (limited, knee) and DeAndre Levy (no participation, hamstring), starting defensive tackle Corey Williams (limited, knee), and starting cornerbacks Jacob Lacey (no participation, concussion) and Bill Bentley (limited, shoulder). That’s six defensive starters, and all of them are currently listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Russell Wilson may be in for a bounce-back win on the road.
UPDATE (3:40): The final injury reports for both teams are now available. For Seattle, CB Maxwell has been ruled out, DT Jones is doubtful, RG Moffitt is questionable, and RB Lynch is probable. For Detroit, CB Lacey is out, LB Levy is doubtful, DE Avril, CB Bentley, and WR Young (i.e. Burleson's probable replacement) are questionable, and WR Johnson, TE Pettigrew, LB Tulloch, and DT Williams are probable.