The Seahawks, fresh of their much-needed bye week, head to Miami to face a struggling Dolphins team in what I consider a must-win game for Seattle’s playoff aspirations.
At 6-4, the Seahawks need to find a way to get 10 or more victories in what is turning out to be a tight NFC West race to the top with the San Francisco 49ers. If the Seahawks can’t take the division the 10-plus win goal should put them in the playoffs as a wild card team. But to do so Seattle must shake off their horrendous road record and win one or two on the road to finish the year.
For the Dolphins, a rested and hungry Seahawks team is the exact opposite of what they need right now. During their current three-game losing streak, the team has begun to show signs of imploding under positive expectations brought on by some unexpected early season success.
Keys to the game: Russell Wilson
1. Manage the game. The Seahawks may be facing a team with issues but one thing they do well is rush the passer and stuff the run. Miami pass rusher Cameron Wake is going to be an issue for Seattle all day long if Russell Wilson doesn’t get the Seahawks into manageable down and distances with savvy checks at the line of scrimmage. Wilson must diagnose and get the Seahawks into the right play or he’ll be in trouble.
2. Expose Dolphins coverage. Miami Cornerback Nolan Carroll has struggled mightily this season and should be ripe for another beating. Russell Wilson would be smart to find Carroll and target him until he proves it’s not a good idea.
Bottom Line: Wilson doesn’t have to be a beast for the Seahawks to win, he just needs to be careful with the ball and smart with his reads. Football doesn’t have to be hard, just find the matchup to exploit and go after it.
Keys to the game: Seahawks offense
1. Find daylight. The Seahawks are well-rested and that’s a good thing. The Dolphins boast a run defense that prides itself with shutting down the run. That just happens to be what the Seahawks like to do most. Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks offensive line must fire out, and get movement on the Miami defensive front early on or it will have to be the Russell Wilson show.
2. Screen game. The Seahawks have shown that they can utilize the screen game and have success and this game may require it. What they must avoid is relying on the receiver “alley” screen and try to add running back screens in the mix. The last thing the Dolphins want is Marshawn Lynch on the outside with a head of steam.
3. Avoid turnovers. Road game failures usually come down to mental errors and the Seahawks seem to struggle with those away from Seattle. If the Seahawks can play error-free football this Dolphins team may crack under the pressure. Not doing so gives the Dolphins hope.
Keys to the game: Defense
1. Pressure. I’ve been saying for a while that the Seahawks late bye week was going to be rough for the defense. They have been asked to carry this team for the better part of the season and over the past few games the wear and tear had begun to show. This had a direct effect on the amount of pressure they could muster. With the Seahawks injury free and well rested, look for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to dial-up pressure and force Miami’s rookie QB Ryan Tannehill to fold under it.
Easy Pressure Target: Miami RT Jonathan Martin
2. Contain, Contain, Contain. Reggie Bush causes problems for teams because of his ability to bounce inside runs to the outside and beat contain to the corner. Seattle must play to the whistle and wrap and drive this man to the ground. When he bounces, the linebackers must be there to funnel Bush back into the teeth of the defense. If Reggie Bush gets free, he will put up yardage in bunches.
3. Avoid Penalties. Avoiding turnovers is paramount for road teams, but right up there on the list is penalties. When you play a team that struggles on offense like the Dolphins have been, you can’t extend their drives with mental errors. If the Seahawks play tough and clean this game should be decided by the third quarter.
Keys to the game: Special teams
1. Field position. This might be the biggest key for Seattle. If Seahawks stud punter Jon Ryan gets the opportunity to punt, his leg could be the difference in the game. The Dolphins are not designed to march up and down the field and pinning them deep gives the Seahawks offense even more opportunities to put points on the board.
Keys to the game: Coaching staff
1. Preparation. When you have two weeks to study yourself as well as your upcoming opponent the fact is there is no excuse for a poor game plan. Head coach Pete Carroll and staff must develop a plan of attack that exposes the Dolphins many offensive weaknesses.
2. Tempo. For many reasons, the Seahawks rank near the bottom of the league on offense but Darrell Bevell plays a part on game day. Quick play calling means quicker huddles and more time for Russell Wilson to diagnose looks at the line of scrimmage.
3. Be multiple. At this point the NFL knows what the Seahawks are. They are a powerful inside zone running team led by a savvy rookie QB and an elite level defense who specializes in coverage, run stuffing and pressure.
On offense, the coaching staff must not allow players such as DE Cameron Wake and DT Randy Starks to disrupt with their penetration and must do so by varying their play calling. Balance equals unpredictable.
On defense, Gus Bradley must ensure the one big Miami weapon never sees a clear lane to run and pays for attempts to bounce outside with several Seahawks defenders waiting to lay the hit.
Bottom Line: This is a game the Seahawks should win despite their past issues on the road and considering the playoff implications, they’d better.
Prediction: Seahawks 21-13