The Morning After: Seahawks Play Aquaman, Control Dolphins 31-23

The last time the Seahawks played in Miami, they gave up 17 points in the fourth quarter to Ryan Tannehill and lost by three on a field goal as time expired to drop them to 6-5. The time before that, Seneca Wallace and Julius Jones lost to Chad Pennington 21-19. The time before that, Jon Kitna, Brock Huard, Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander scored a combined total of zero points while losing 23-0 to Jay Fielder. The Seahawks 31-23 victory over the Dolphins in Miami was not artful, but aggravating victories are far better than aggravating defeats.

The truth is the Seahawks were in control of this game from the beginning. This was the first time this season they scored first and never relinquished the lead. Fourth-string safety Ryan Neal picked off a pass deflected by Cody Barton after Benson Mayowa hit Ryan Fitzpatrick’s elbow on the first series of the game. Russell Wilson quickly moved Seattle down the field for a Chris Carson touchdown.

That was the start of a day where the Seahawks defense made Miami work more than any other Seattle opponent this season. After giving up six passes of 28 yards or more to the Cowboys last week, Seattle held Miami to zero. Dallas had eight catches of 20+ yards, where the Dolphins had two. Overall, I had hoped to see the Seahawks bring their explosive pass play (16+ yards, per Pete Carroll’s definition) total down to five or less in this game after giving up 10+ in every game this season. They wound up giving up eight.

This was the first game of the year a quarterback ended with a passer rating under 90.0 against Seattle. It was also the first time a quarterback has not thrown a touchdown pass against the Seahawks. Fitzpatrick was picked off twice, and finished with a 66.4 rating.

This game would represent progress on that side of the ball no matter what. That they took the step forward without Jamal Adams, Jordyn Brooks, Quinton Dunbar, and Lano Hill makes it more meaningful.

Given the level of frustration for the defense so far, this may sound like gushing. It is not. This defense has a long way to go before it can prove to be more than a hindrance to the Seahawks Super Bowl aspirations. This game was a step in the right direction.

Neal, Ugo Amadi, and Shaquill Griffin all were solid contributors. Griffin had what was easily his best game of the year with two great pass breakups and a crucial interception. His second pick in two weeks already ties his career high in that statistic with 12 games left to play.

Griffing was targeted 6 times and gave up 0 receptions, while intercepting one for an opponent passer rating of 0.0. More of that please.

His battery mate, Tre Flowers continued to struggle, giving up seven receptions in eight targets, but for only 9.6 yards per reception. His number one job was not to get beat deep, and he succeeded. He was in position to make a tackle after each catch, as evidenced by giving up only 2.5 yards after each catch. That is a style of play the team can work with, if not excel.

K.J. Wright played a heck of a game. He blew up screen passes and had a series of pass breakups that proved he was not washed after being dusted a few times against the Cowboys. He had a chance at three interceptions, and two really should have been caught.

Cody Barton had one highlight, which was described above, in what was otherwise a forgettable performance. Barton does not appear to have upside at outside linebacker. I can see him in the middle, but Bobby Wagner is not leaving his throne anytime soon.

Shaquem Griffin came in and, once again, looked far more athletic and instinctive on the field. The hope here is the coaches consider giving Griffin even more snaps next week and move Barton down the depth chart.

It should also be the last week the team plays without defensive tackle Damon Harrison, who should be in Seattle and ready to sign with the team early this week. His presence could be a boon for linebackers playing behind him, and even help the pass rush a bit by requiring more double teams.

The goal for this defense is to make opponents earn their points. No more two or three play drives for 94 yards and a touchdown. Miami’s quickest scoring drive required eight plays, and one took 17 plays. That’s a winning formula when you have an offense led by Wilson.

It felt like a C+/B- game from the offense, but they finish with 31 points and over 450 yards. There were drops by D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and an endzone interception by Wilson. Each one of those plays likely cost the Seahawks points and more comfort for fans.

Thank goodness for David Moore. The once-up-and-coming-then-down-and-out receiver is once again proving to be a valuable weapon. He is on pace for nearly 700 yards and 8 TDs. He had two of the biggest plays in this game with a breakout 57-yard catch to setup a touchdown before halftime, and a gorgeous back-corner endzone catch for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Wilson had to work more in this game than in previous games. There were precious few deep shots to be had. The Dolphins defense played far better than expected, making Seattle take a more methodical approach. There were very few busted coverages or mental mistakes from Miami.

The Seahawks offensive line once again had a solid game, surrendering just two sacks and four quarterback hits. One of the sacks given up came on a fourth down when Seattle stubbornly left backup Cedric Ogbuehi and Jamarco Jones in the game in place of right tackle Brandon Shell and right guard Damian Lewis. Ogbuehi gave up the sack and ended the drive. Shell was mostly perfect on the day.

The other questionable coaching move on offense was elevating Travis Homer to backup running back after Carlos Hyde was left inactive. Homer is a fine rotational runner and special teams player. He simply is not a difference maker or playmaker.

DeeJay Dallas got his first snaps, and he showed more upside in his scant touches than Homer has in all the games he has played so far. Dallas flashed elusiveness that none of the other running backs on the Seahawks roster demonstrate. As good as Chris Carson is, lateral agility is not his strength.

Dallas broke tackles or evaded them entirely on rushes and receptions. This guy absolutely needs to be taking Homer’s snaps. He really should be taking Hyde’s snaps. According to ProFootballFocus, Hyde has yet to evade a tackle all year. After one game and a handful of snaps, Dallas ranks 6th in PFF’s elusive rating that accounts for avoided tackles per touch after he tallied three avoided tackles in his first action. Hyde ranks 92nd (dead last). Homer ranks 81st, having avoided just one tackle all year.

Let’s hope this isn’t one of those situations where the coaches don’t see what we see and we spend a season screaming at the TV when they do not make the obvious switch. Dallas can help this offense get even better. Play him.

It was nice to see the team finally throw a wide receiver screen to Metcalf. This guy is the Kam Chancellor of wide receivers. Give him the ball and let him truck these tiny corners like he did on Sunday. Moore is a good option for those as well as he showed some nifty elusiveness himself on an end around.

This was not a game Seahawks fans will think much about when the season ends. Seattle did what they were supposed to do without a lot of glitz or glamour. They are undefeated after four games for just the second time in franchise history, and have spent almost the whole season ahead of their opponents after requiring comebacks time and again last year.

They now play a one-win, but talented Vikings team on Sunday Night Football before a bye week. The only thing keeping this from being a truly perfect start has been a historically bad passing defense, and they just turned in their best game of the year. There is upside left to be found in what is already the top team in football.

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