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Clayton: What to look for when Seahawks face Lions in Week 8

Seahawks' S Bradley McDougald has been one of the most productive safeties in the NFL. (AP)

The Seahawks are about to enter the toughest stretch of their season.

The Hawks can earn themselves some wiggle room with a win Sunday

Over the next five games, Seattle’s defense will face five franchise quarterbacks, starting with Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions Sunday at Ford Field. Following that game, the Seahawks have to meet Philip Rivers, Jared Goff, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton.

The debate is whether the Seahawks need to go at least 2-3 or 3-2 in those games. I’d say 3-2, because they’re facing NFC teams they’ll have to beat if they reach nine wins and need to figure out the tie-breakers down the road. The Los Angeles Rams are running away with the NFC West, so the Seahawks can’t afford losses to the Lions, Panthers and Packers, or any other NFC team vying for a Wild Card. If they can come out of that five-game stretch at 6-5, they will be in good shape to have a winning season and a possible playoff spot.

Here is what to look for Sunday:

Slowing down Stafford won’t be easy. He’s having one of his best seasons, and one big key is that Detroit’s offense isn’t turning over the ball. What’s helped is the commitment to the run game. Last week, the Lions ran for 248 yards against the Miami Dolphins, but some of that was because the Dolphins defense looked lost and played poorly. Still, like the Seahawks, the commitment to the run is there.

Kerryon Johnson leads rookie runners with 444 yards and a 6.4 average. LeGarrette Blount has 57 attempts but only a 2.9 yard average. Overall, the Lions are rushing the ball 24.5 times a game.

Stafford, meanwhile, has a 98.8 quarterback rating and is completing 67.6 percent of his passes. He’s also only been sacked 10 times in six games.

What will be fun is watching Seattle respond to three former Seahawks who went to the Lions. Golden Tate remains the Lions best receiver and one of the toughest receivers in football. He leads the team with 37 catches for 467 yards. Tight end Luke Willson hasn’t been involved much in the passing game — the Lions don’t throw much to tight ends — but he should keep things interesting. He’s only been targeted nine times and has six catches for 37 yards. On the other side of the  ball, Deshawn Shead has had limited playing time as a backup cornerback.

Lions coach Matt Patricia’s biggest concern on defense is trying to limit what Russell Wilson can do to extend plays. For weeks, fans and critics have been down on Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for not being creative enough.

As it turns out, the Seahawks offense is doing more than people realize. Would you believe the Seahawks are the most effective team in the league at run-pass options? According to ESPN Stats and Info, they’ve had 300 rushing yards on run-pass-options and have a 5.7 yard average. Only two teams have more than 200 yards, with the Panthers and Newton being second (284 yards and a 5.5 yard average).

The only difference is that Wilson isn’t doing the running — Seattle’s running backs are.

The improvements along the offensive line has made life easier for Russell Wilson in the pocket. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Wilson ranks eighth-best for time spent in the pocket at 2.3 seconds. He’s right behind Cam Newton, who has 2.32 seconds. On top of that, last week saw the Seahawks became the No. 1 team for touchdown scoring percentage in the red zone, topping the Cincinnati Bengals.

This is the healthiest the Seahawks have been this season. They are expected to get Ed Dickson off the NFI list and he’ll be available to start. K.J. Wright returns at weakside linebacker after missing six games with a knee injury. Defensive ends Rasheem Green and Dion Jordan should add more depth and speed for the pass-rush, while wide receiver Doug Baldwin (knee) should be running better now that he has had the bye week.

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• Wright, Dickson set to return — who could have the biggest impact?

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