Pull that Seahawks gear off the hangar. The two weeks off for the bye may have felt like an off-season, but the boys get back work tomorrow in what likely will be a season-defining performance. A win puts Seattle three games over .500, and three victories shy of the ten victories they will need to join the post-season party. A loss would leave them only a game over .500 and in the unenviable position of needing to win four of their last five. The Dolphins are the perfect opponent. They are talented enough to provide meaningful opposition, but vulnerable enough to leave victory a realistic outcome. I have spent the last two weeks reading and listening to all things Dolphins, and have come away with a few observations.
Bag the Dime
Walter Thurmond is due back this week after a year of rehabbing an injury. He is a major talent in the secondary, and Pete Carroll mentioned he may get some snaps in the team’s dime package. The problem there is that the Dolphins released Jabar Gaffney this week, and are barely comfortable with their two starting receivers, let alone adding a third and a fourth. They will play almost exclusively with two receivers, and often with two tight ends. The nickel package may not even see much of the field on Sunday. Thurmond will either need to wait another week, steal snaps from Marcus Trufant, or just get time on special teams. The return of K.J. Wright comes at a key time when discipline against the run and coverage against tight ends will be critical. Wright has not been especially strong in coverage this year. He needs to be on his game.
The Cowboy Slant
Tony Romo and the Cowboys are reliant on the slant pass an the hole shot along the sideline (over the corner, in front of the safety) to power their offense. Seattle devised a game plan in Week 2 that took away the inside slants by playing inside leverage, and pressing all day to disrupt the hole shots. Romo never really found the anecdote, in part, because Jason Witten kept dropping passes over the middle. The Dolphins offense were playing better than expected earlier in the year, largely because Ryan Tannehill displayed a great command of the slant pass. He delivers it quickly and accurately. Teams have started doing what Seattle did to Dallas, and take away those routes. The Miami offense has yet to find an effective counter-punch. Tight end Anthony Fasano is a fine player, but he is not a game-changer in the middle. Neither wide receiver is dynamic enough to go over the top or reliably nail other routes. Expect Seattle to take away the slant routes, and their corners are so good, that the outside should be largely taken away as well. Miami most likely try to get Reggie Bush in space via dump-offs, and screens. Seattle could see a dose of fullback Jovorskie Lane as well. Seattle has its biggest mismatch in their corners versus the Dolphins receivers. It could dictate the entire game.
Seattle’s run defense has been merely “very good” the last six games. The late bye week has taken its toll on this aspect of the team, but the Seahawks defensive line should come back refreshed and ready to battle. Fans should see the greatest difference in play this week along that line. The Dolphins have been struggling on both lines the last few weeks. Their yards per attempt has dropped to 3.5, and the scuffling running game has led to an increase in pass attempts, which has led to an increase in interceptions. Runners like Bush have given Seattle trouble in past years, because of their ability to bounce the runs outside. Seattle is built to funnel all the runs to the meat in the middle. Players who can break that contain can find some running room. The tough part for Miami is that their tight ends are below average blockers. They will definitely have a tight end to help their tackle against Red Bryant all game, but look for Bryant to have his most disruptive game of the year. Bryant’s ability, with the help of Wright, to force Bush back inside could make things ugly for the Dolphins. The better plan will be for them to attack Chris Clemons and Leroy Hill with Jake Long and whoever else they bring to that side. This is predictable, and the Seahawks should be waiting for it. Bobby Wagner will have chances to make plays behind the line of scrimmage on toss plays. He needs to be a sure tackler. The Dolphins only chance at offensive success is getting the running game going. The Dolphins are not built for 3rd and long situations in general, but could be in real trouble against a Seattle secondary that will be the best they face all year.
Psychology Favors Seattle
The last two weeks took a lot out of the Dolphins. They had been 4-4, heading into winnable games against the Titans and Bills. They were embarrassed by the Titans, and were talking about how happy they were to have a quick turnaround for a Thursday game versus the Bills, before getting beat up there as well. The Miami Herald has been running articles about free agency decisions the team will have. The local media is writing about playing young guys instead of veterans like Gaffney so they can find out what they have on the roster. They have played a very easy schedule so far, and now face three straight against Seattle, New England and San Francisco. There is general sense of acceptance that this team will soon be 4-9. They are searching for confidence, but see little reason for it.
Seattle, on the other hand, is more concerned with the team’s performance on the road thus far, the challenges of traveling across country and playing at 10AM PST. They have proven they can beat the best teams in football. They have improved on 3rd downs. They have improved in the red zone. Playing well on the road is the last place to prove themselves. The team and coaches have spent the last two weeks with that in mind. They should be primed to give their best road effort of the season. Effort does not always equal good result, but it certainly increases the chances.
Ready For Russell
The Dolphins feature a stout interior line that will make it hard to run up the middle. The guys that have been gashing Miami are quick backs like Chris Johnson and C.J. Spiller. It is not clear that Seattle will run effectively up the gut. The Dolphins secondary is suspect. This adds up to needing Russell Wilson to have a solid game on the road. Cameron Wake will be hell-bent on wreaking havoc in the back-field, and will likely swap over to go against Breno Giacomini on occasion. Look for Zach Miller to spend some time helping on Wake so that Wilson has some time to find receivers. This could be a great game for the Seahawks to utilize their new screen game, and also a good time for Doug Baldwin to find some open space as a release valve for Wilson. Wilson’s number one priority needs to be eliminating turnovers on the road. He can have a moderate day statistically, and still lead the team to a victory if he can avoid giving the ball away. The Seattle defense has enough advantages over the Miami offense that Wilson could have some short fields to work with, and possibly even some points he didn’t create. Wilson has shown he can play a professional game, and that’s what the team needs this week.