Week 1 Preview: Key Matchups, Stats and Predictions for Dolphins vs. Seahawks
It is safe to say that we have all been waiting for this moment for a while: the moment we are once again graced with meaningful NFL football. Come Sunday at 4:05 p.m. Eastern time, the Miami Dolphins will take the field for their first regular season matchup under head coach Adam Gase. They will be facing the Seattle Seahawks, a team with annual Super Bowl hopes, who, in 2015, failed to reach the big game for the first time in three seasons.
This showdown will mark the first of a brutal stretch of Dolphins’ games to start the season. Not only is Seattle one of the league’s few true powerhouses, but also Week 1 will take place at CenturyLink Field (a venue famous for deafening crowd noise thanks to the “12s”). Considering the circumstances, the way they perform against Pete Carroll’s troops will be extremely telling after an uneven preseason.
Very few expect Miami to stick with the high-powered offense and defense of their opponent, but that provides them with the perfect opportunity to surprise their doubters. At the very least, this will act as our first chance to legitimately analyze the Dolphins’ progress on both sides of the ball since the additions of Adam Gase, Clyde Christensen and Vance Joseph.
Seattle Seahawks Breakdown:
Since the arrival of Carroll in Seattle, his team has been known for its defense. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor are just a few of the seemingly endless supply of star defensive players that have made names for themselves with the Seahawks, and they all remain with the team in 2016. However last season, the offense was the unit making headlines.
Russell Wilson had his best statistical passing season to date, totaling 4,024 yards, 34 touchdowns and a league leading passer rating of 110.1, each of which marked a new career high for the dual threat quarterback. His favorite target, Doug Baldwin, took his game to new heights as well. The 6th year wide receiver set career highs in receptions and receiving yards with 78 and 1,069, respectively, and shocked us by tying for the lead league in receiving touchdowns with a whopping 14. To say the least, there are plenty of people that have their doubts about Baldwin’s ability to repeat these stats.
There was also Thomas Rawls, who exploded onto the scene after Marshawn Lynch’s injury to tally 830 yards on just 147 rushes. With Christine Michael reportedly experiencing an “awakening” this offseason as well, Seattle’s rushing attack should be just as devastating as ever this season.
Of course, their defense was still a top-notch unit in 2015. If it weren’t for a historic campaign by Denver’s defense, much more attention would be being paid to Seattle. In fact, they ranked in the top two in total, passing and rushing defense. While the players named above garner most of the praise, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright proved once again to be one of the best and most underrated linebacker groups in the league. Each played a vital role in limiting opposing running backs to a league best 1,304 yards last season. Not only do the Seahawks have a ton of star power, but they also are one of if not the most consistent defenses in the NFL. With the talent Carroll has at his disposal year in and year out, Miami could understandably be overmatched come Sunday.
Miami D-Line vs. Seattle O-Line:
Miami’s biggest star, Ndamukong Suh, anchors the defense at defensive tackle. With Cameron Wake and Mario Williams wreaking havoc off the edges, it is understandable why one of Joseph’s most significant goals is to consistently produce pressure on the opposing quarterback.
In contrast, Seattle’s weakest aspect is offensive line play, and it isn’t particularly close. ProFootballFocus ranked the Seahawks’ linemen 30th in the league last season. Given Wilson’s spectacular ability to avoid pressure and extend plays, the fact that he was sacked 46 times (6th most in the league) is extremely eye-opening. To make matters worse, Seattle experienced even more turmoil at the position this offseason.
Their highest rated lineman in 2015, Russell Okung, is now with the Broncos and J.R. Sweezy is gone as well. Additionally, Garry Gilliam and Justin Britt have changed positions, and they are projected to start Germain Ifedi (a rookie that was seen as physically talented but raw coming out of the draft). While Miami has their own offensive line issues, this is the one area in which the Dolphins should have a clear advantage over their counterpart.
Bobby McCain vs. Doug Baldwin:
Admittedly, I initially had this section as “Byron Maxwell vs. Doug Baldwin”. I mistakenly assumed that the number one corner would be covering the number one wide receiver, but that was before I realized that Doug Baldwin played 80% of his snaps from the slot last season. Instead, it will likely be Bobby McCain that is tasked with slowing down Baldwin for the majority of the game.
Joseph employs a ton of zone coverage, and you can bet that he will give McCain plenty of help over the top as well. Yet it remains to be seen if that will be enough to stop Seattle’s star receiver from taking over this game. McCain had an uneven preseason: making some big plays but getting burned on just as many. He has no choice but to be more consistent if the Dolphins want to avoid getting embarrassed by the Seahawks.
With Tyler Lockett creating space on the outside and the combination of Rawls and Michael drawing attention to the box, Baldwin is going to have plenty of room to operate from the slot. He caught 78.8 percent of his passes in 2015, and I don’t know if McCain has the ability to truly have an affect on Baldwin’s performance. With that being said, the defensive line should provide enough pressure to at least give him a chance.
Both players face questions heading into the regular season. Will McCain prove that his solid play from 2015 was not a fluke? Will Baldwin get off to a quick start in his quest for a second straight 1,000-yard season? The answers to these questions will be key in determining how close Miami can keep the score against Seattle.
Ryan Tannehill vs. “The 12s”:
Ryan Tannehill’s progression thus far under Gase has been well documented throughout the offseason. We have seen a more vocal quarterback develop in front of our very eyes, with the added authority to audible and a newfound confidence and sense of responsibility that has resulted in a leader unafraid to speak up to his teammates. Now, the only question is if he can execute the same leadership in a regular season game setting, and he will have no bigger test than at CenturyLink Field.
“The 12s” are by far the loudest, most hostile fans in the league. They are dead set on making a profound impact on the game and assisting their team in the search for a win. Plus, they will be especially pumped up for Week 1. Communication is indescribably important for offenses in football, and it will be significantly more difficult for Miami in Seattle. This puts a ton of pressure on Tannehill to take control and ensure that everyone is on the same page. This involves providing clear instruction to the wide receivers and linemen and avoiding critical mistakes that will instantly shift momentum in the opposite direction.
The crowd will surely play a key role in the turnover battle as well. If Tannehill becomes the latest victim of “The 12s” and continuously fails to put together sustained drives (especially in the first quarter), Seattle’s home crowd will make sure that the momentum never falls back into Miami’s favor.
The Dolphins have a lot going for them under Gase’s direction, but they don’t have the depth or overall talent to truly put a scare into the Seahawks. Tannehill and Gase’s offense will have its bright spots, as will Miami’s defensive line, but they simply have no room for error. In the end, Rawls and Michael will wear down Miami’s defense, the crowd will have a huge effect on the game and Wilson will make just enough plays outside of the pocket to ensure a comfortable win for his team.
Miami doesn’t have a chance in this game. While they could reasonably keep it close, they more than likely won’t. Seattle is a Super Bowl contender, led by an elite offense and a top three defense. It is an unfortunate start to the season for Miami, as both Seattle and New England have a legitimate shot at playing come February.
I consider myself pretty positive about this Dolphins team for the 2016 season. But due to all of the injuries, most notably Mike Pouncey and DeVante Parker, I’m not sure they have the talent to win in the most hostile environment in the NFL. Not to mention Adam Gase led offenses don’t have the best record against the Legion of Boom, but I don’t talk about that Super Bowl.
Adam Gase came into Miami being praised as one of the most innovative offensive minds in the National Football League. But he’ll find himself in the unpleasant position of calling plays against one of the league’s most punishing defenses. Even if the Dolphins’ big uglies can keep Tannehill safe, it’s unlikely that the Dolphins can stop Russell Wilson, who lit up the league in the back half of 2015. Though Adam Gase may do great things this season, I don’t see anything but a blowout this Sunday in Seattle.
The Seahawks are built perfectly to defeat the Dolphins. Expect them to jump out to an early lead, forcing the Dolphins’ offense to play catchup against the Legion of Boom. If this game is even close I would consider it a huge victory, given the fact that there is no task more difficult in the league than playing Seattle in front of the 12s.