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Danny O'Neil covers the Seahawks for The Seattle Times.

October 29, 2012 at 12:26 PM

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What we learned from Seattle's come-from-ahead loss in Detroit

Sunday's game in Detroit showed that Seattle's defense might not be as good as we thought while its offensive line is capable of pass protecting, and halfway through the season, we're still trying to understand where the Seahawks' offense disappears to in the second and third quarters.

Here's a summary of what we found out on Sunday and what we're still trying to puzzle our way through:

Three things we learned

1. Quarterback isn't the only improvement needed on this team.
A good chunk of the first half of this season was dominated by the worry that Seattle was wasting an elite defense by trying to break in a rookie quarterback this season. Well, that rookie quarterback played well enough for Seattle to win on the road against a team that won 10 games last season, and the defense gave up a fourth-quarter lead. Twice. Seattle's defense is good. It might eventually be great, but it is not the elite unit that can carry a team to the Super Bowl like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and the panicked cries about Seattle wasting this defense by starting a rookie quarterback should stop. Like, right now.

2. Seattle's secondary isn't bulletproof.
There were 10 quarterbacks in the NFL who passed for more than 4,000 yards last season. Seattle played five of them over its previous seven games, and Detroit's Matthew Stafford was the only one to defeat Seattle. However, the success Stafford and New England's Tom Brady enjoyed against Seattle aren't a red flag per se, but do merit some attention. Brady threw the ball 58 times, most in his career and second-most ever by a Seattle opponent and only two Russell Wilson touchdown passes in the final 9 minutes saved Seattle from a loss. On Sunday, Stafford threw the ball 49 times for 353 yards and had a hand in each of Detroit's four touchdowns.

3. Pass protection is not an oxymoron in Seattle.
The Seahawks didn't allow a sack Sunday for the first time all year, a fact made more impressive by the fact that Detroit has -- top to bottom -- the best defensive front four Seattle has faced. The Lions were keyed on stopping Marshawn Lynch, and they were able to stop him for a loss on three of his 12 carries, but Seattle's ability to give Wilson time to pass was the single biggest improvement for the offense on Sunday.

Three things we're still trying to figure out

1. Why does Seattle's defense struggle on third down?
Seattle allowed Detroit to convert a ridiculous 75-percent of its third downs Sunday, highest percentage for any Seattle opponent in eight years. Seattle ranks in the top five in the league in both yards allowed and points allowed, but No. 26 in third-down defense. Seattle needs to rethink its game plan in those situations, and before anyone assumes it means more blitzes, look at how quickly Detroit was able to fire the ball out to the edge, getting the pass off before the Seahawks had a realistic chance to get home.

2. What happens to Seattle's offense in the second and third quarters?
Seattle scored on each of its first three possessions, running a total of 17 plays and scoring 17 points in the first 20 minutes of the game. Their next five possessions yielded three punts, a missed 61-yard field-goal attempt and an interception. On the first three possessions Sunday in Detroit, Seattle passed 10 times, ran it on four plays and had a field-goal attempt. It's not like Seattle got uber-conservative after jumping out to that lead. On the next five possessions, Seattle threw it 16 times, ran eight times and never got the ball inside the Detroit 40-yard line.

3. Why did Pete Carroll challenge the Lions' third-quarter catch?
Coach Pete Carroll challenged a diving reception by Detroit's Titus Young, who was credited with a 9-yard gain on third-and-8. On its face, the challenge had merit. You could make a case the ball moved when Young hit the ground, indicating he did not complete the catch. The problem was cornerback Brandon Browner was penalized for defensive holding on the play, which meant the Lions would have gotten the first down even if the pass was incomplete. Carroll risked a timeout -- and used one of his replay challenges -- to gain 4 yards of field position in the third quarter when the opponent was already guaranteed a first down. That's a reward that is nowhere near worthy of the risk, and while losing the timeout didn't come back to cost Seattle, Carroll needs to recalibrate his rationale for challenging plays.

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