Miami Dolphins (0-0) @ Seattle Seahawks (0-0)
Sunday September 11, 4:05 EST – Century Link Field
Spread: Seahawks -10.5
Labor Day – the holiday where our country’s men say goodbye to their loved ones for the next five months. The opening college football weekend was absolutely enthralling, but it merely serves as an appetizer for the professionals kicking off tonight in Denver, Sunday for 26 other teams and the double header finale for four teams on Monday night.
The Dolphins travel to the Pacific Northwest to play as the league’s heaviest underdogs of the opening weekend in the first game of rookie head coach Adam Gase’s career.
As a member of the Chicago Bears, Adam Gase traveled to Seattle last September in week three and his offense didn’t score a point on the vaunted Seahawks defense.
Leading the NFL in points allowed for four consecutive seasons, Seattle promises to offer a stiff challenge for a Miami offense playing its first game under a new scheme.
I wonder how much of my film study I do on the Dolphins opponents will be relevant this year. It’s clear that his plan is going to change on a weekly basis as he attacks the defense’s weaknesses accordingly.
Early in this game, the plan was clearly to establish the run and avoid the Legion of Boom at all costs. The Seahawks feature one the league’s premiere cornerbacks, safeties, coverage linebackers and pass rushing ends.
The Seahawks defense loves to create third and long situations and then spread out the defensive line and put pressure on the edges forcing the quarterback to step up and make quick decisions. The corners on the perimeter will squat at the chains and drive on passes short of the marker.
It’s absolutely crucial to keep the third down distance at five or less and this is where the Dolphins are going to struggle. In the Chicago-Seattle game, when it was still a one possession game, the Bears were in variations of offensive packages that only included one wide receiver. 22 personnel (two backs, two tight ends) was the base look. The Seahawks shut down the running game and put the Bears in long down and distances and the game was over before it started.
This Dolphins offense figures to provide a different test for Seattle. Where the Seahawks have weak links on the defense is on the interior of the defensive line and its depth at the cornerback position.
Early in the game, trying to silence the Seattle crowd, expect some similar attempts to run the ball. I’m almost certain Miami will do this and attempt to sneak Kenny Stills onto the field in 12 (two tight ends, one back, two wide outs) personnel and take a shot down the field with one-on-one coverage for the burner.
The Dolphins would be best served to ignore the tight end position in this game. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are as good as it gets in coverage and Coach Gase’s lackluster tight ends don’t figure to have much of an opportunity to make plays.
The plan will be to get Stills, Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker (or Leonte Carroo should Parker miss the game) and the diminutive Jakeem Grant onto the field, spread the Seahawks out and keep that base package off the field. The more corners Seattle runs onto the field means less linebackers and their defense is stouter with the latter position.
A short controlled passing game keeping the chains moving and keeping Russell Wilson on the sideline is the best chance the Dolphins have at pulling the upset.
Richard Sherman typically doesn’t get much deep help as Earl Thomas is more prone to roll to the other side of the formation to help Jeremy Lane or DeShawn Shead (whoever plays on the perimeter.)
The Seattle corners don’t move across the formation so the Dolphins can choose the match-ups they prefer. Sherman isn’t going to get beat by a big bodied receiver so the best course of action is to have Stills play his natural flanker position on that side against Sherman and have Parker (or Carroo/Hunter) do his work over the smaller Lane from the X position.
Adam Gase is going to have to scheme points in this game. The best hope for Miami is the lack of tape on this group and his ability to continuously surprise the Seattle defense. Attacking this loaded defense straight up figures to be a poor recipe and there’s no doubt the offensive genius the Dolphins employ as a head coach knows this.
Then there’s the Seattle offense led by the electrifying Russell Wilson. The offense pivoted last year when Marshawn Lynch couldn’t stay on the field and backup Thomas Rawls broke his ankle.
Although a lot of the passing game operates off the run game, this is a passing team under Wilson. Their base set is just like Miami’s, one tight end and one single back. They love to run the play pass game and nickel and dime teams with short crossing routes before taking its shots down the field.
Not that any team performs exceptionally well in third and long, but the Seahawks offense has a very difficult time over coming this area. Because of this, and the Dolphins poor run defense, expect Seattle to establish the run early.
Wilson’s downfield accuracy is among the best in the league so it’s important for a single high safety (Isa Abdul-Quddus) to always have it in the back of his mind even as the Seahawks are doing everything underneath the linebackers. Jermain Kearse and Doug Baldwin are exceptional at getting vertical.
Baldwin emerged as an elite receiver last year and does the majority of his work in the slot. That will be the match-up of the game as Baldwin goes against sophomore Bobby McCain. McCain is a ball hawking jitterbug that plays very well in short areas before he passes him off down the field to safety help.
To continue on Wilson’s strong points, his ability to extend plays is typically where the Seahawks big plays come from. The Dolphins could look to spy Wilson with all-pro Reshad Jones. Shadowing the quarterback might open things up down the field, but the last thing Miami wants to see is Wilson breaking the pocket and making its suspect secondary cover for even longer.
The Dolphins linebackers have an opportunity to prove they are better than a year ago with a relatively weak interior offensive line of the Seahawks. Mike Glowinski (LG), Justin Britt (C) and Germain Ifedi (RG) are all playing new positions and have issues in the passing game.
Ndamukong Suh is back at home in his three technique and with Cameron Wake rushing that wide nine edge, the Seattle line is going to have to man up on Suh on the interior and he could have a huge game. Expect him to frequently be in the backfield, but it’s imperative that Wake and Mario Williams contain the edge on Wilson not giving him avenues to extend plays.
Five crucial match-ups:
1.) Doug Baldwin vs. Bobby McCain
Doug Baldwin did most of his damage last year from the slot and works both the intermediate and downfield portions of the field. He is a studious receiver that uses leverage and film study to always position himself in the right place. McCain is a feisty competitor that will challenge every catch Baldwin makes and pass him off to a deep safety when he bends his routes vertical.
2.) Ndamukong Suh vs Germain Ifedi
The Dolphins ability to shut down the run game will allow the team to expose the Seahawks biggest weakness on the interior of the line. Suh will be handled man up by Ifedi and Justin Britt and neither is capable of doing so. If the Dolphins keep Seattle in third and long situations, Russell Wilson will have to break the pocket nearly every such drop back.
3.) Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James vs. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avirl
Seattle’s ends are arguably the best duo in football but the Dolphins tackles are exceptional in pass protection. The Hawks will likely extend the edge and send blitzers in the A gaps to rattle Ryan Tannehill’s rhythm. I think Miami can handle this task, but it’s imperative that Arian Foster pick up those interior blitzes.
4.) Reshad Jones vs. Russell Wilson
I can’t promise that it will be the league’s best safety handling this duty, but someone needs to spy Wilson. When Wake wins the perimeter and Suh collapses the pocket, there’s still no guarantee the illusionist that is Russell Wilson will get dumped for a sack. Jones has elite closing speed and instincts and could put a damper in the Seahawks offensive plans.
5.) Home vs. visitor
This is the toughest trip in the NFL. Traveling the further possible mileage to play in a raucous atmosphere is going to be difficult for the Dolphins hurry-up offense. Luckily, the Seattle 12’s (or twenty-12’s) has only existed for four years and still hasn’t learned to shut up while the home team is on offense so both teams will struggle with communication.
There isn’t a more daunting opening weekend task in the NFL. The Dolphins have their hands full with one of the league’s premiere teams. A victory would send shock waves across the league.
The element of surprise and unfamiliarity should keep this game relatively close in the first half, but once the Seahawks have a chance to make some adjustments, it could get ugly.
Adam Gase is 0-3 in his last three tries against the Seahawks including a shutout last year while with the Bears and that embarrassing Super Bowl defeat as a member of the Broncos.
Devante Parker, Mike Pouncey and Jelani Jenkins all very likely could be sidelined as well and that would be a nightmare scenario for a team already short on talent.
I will not be live tweeting this game as I will be in attendance with Sam from the podcast. The post-game write up will be live Monday morning and I’ll try and share some of the pictures and experiences from game day.
Otherwise, catch me on Twitter @Travis_writes
You can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org