The Seattle Seahawks have battled back into playoff contention by winning three of four following a pair of season-opening losses.
But, given that the Seahawks are already four games back in their division and do not face a team with a losing record until Week 13, Sunday's matchup at the resurgent Detroit Lions looms large for Seattle's hopes of making the postseason.
The immediate problem for the Seahawks is facing a team that has mirrored their success. Detroit also lost its first two games of the season, but responded by winning three of four to climb to .500 and stay in the title hunt in the NFC North.
While strong running games have sparked the turnaround for each team, Seattle's defense also has made a dramatic improvement, allowing 33 points in its three wins and holding the Oakland Raiders to a field goal in a 27-3 win at London heading into last weekend's bye.
The Seahawks have held four of their last five opponents to fewer than 200 yards passing despite a major overhaul on defense that no longer features a member of the Legion of Boom secondary.
"To me, it looks aggressive," first-year Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of Seattle's defense. "It looks like they've come into kind of their own as far as what they are this year and what they are doing right now in the last several games and I think it's a real dynamic group, a very dangerous group.
"They do a great job with the turnovers and that's the biggest thing, is getting the ball back to the offense and giving them a chance to score. Just a real impressive group from my standpoint."
The rushing attack has complemented the stellar defensive play. After struggling on the ground in losses at Denver and Chicago to open the season, the Seahawks have averaged 157 rushing yards over the past four games.
Detroit also has thrived on the ground with the additions of rookie Kerryon Johnson and veteran LeGarrette Blount. The Lions finished last in the league in rushing in two of the past three seasons but have averaged nearly 150 yards over the past four games.
Johnson, a second-round draft pick out of Auburn, rushed for a season-high 158 yards on only 19 carries in last week's 32-21 win at Miami. Blount contributed 50 yards and a touchdown as Detroit churned out 248 yards rushing.
"I think, in the run game, it's more than just Kerryon Johnson. You've got to look at up-front first," said Patricia, who also has a powerhouse run blocker at guard in rookie Frank Ragnow. "I think it's the offensive line. I think those guys did a great job with their blocks."
Both quarterbacks have benefited from the improved running attacks. Seattle's Russell Wilson has just 17 carries through six games -- he had nearly double that total at the same point a year ago -- but Detroit defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni stressed his defense must be prepared for his dual-threat capabilities.
"I think you have to pay attention to it and I think you have to go in there on every down and you have to defend Russell Wilson's ability to run the ball," Pasqualoni said. "The plays are designed that way, so whether he hands it off or keeps it is really not the issue. You have to be in position to play him because at a critical moment in the game, he may pull it and run. So you certainly cannot fall asleep on him."
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has had to carry the offense over the past few seasons. With the balance provided this season, Stafford has posted a 100-plus passer rating in five consecutive games. He also has matched Wilson with eight touchdowns and one interception over the last four contests.
"We've had great respect for his ability to throw the ball and he's been a guy that has, over the years, relied on big passing days, big passing games, big emphasis that way and coming off this game last week, where they just tore it up on the ground, it really makes it difficult to figure out what to do against them," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. "He's playing really efficiently, he's really sharp, you can't sack him, his numbers are great, his completion numbers are up -- he's doing everything well."
Detroit bolstered its run defense Wednesday by acquiring 355-pound Damon Harrison from the New York Giants.