The Miami Dolphins enter the 2016 season will the gigantic task of travelling across country to play a team that has dominated the NFL for the past four seasons and who’s noisy fan base has been known to produce earthquakes in downtown Seattle. The bookmakers and experts have Miami as the longest odds for this weekend and despite the Dolphins being the biggest underdogs in week 1; the NFL is a crazy league with upsets every week. So let us examine five things the Dolphins must do if they stand a chance of pulling off an upset in Seattle Sunday evening.
(1) Dominate the line of scrimmage on Defense
The old mantra of it all starts up front, holds true every single year. No matter what new schemes or trends take shape in the NFL, teams always have to win upfront to stand a chance of winning.
On defense the Dolphins need to bully Seattle’s weak offensive line. Along the defensive line Miami have 8x First-team All-Pro’s among Ends Cameron Wake and Mario Williams and Tackle Ndamukong Suh. This group would be a top-3 unit a couples of years ago, however, now there are certain question marks surrounding Wake’s recovery from injury at 34 years-old, Williams coming back from a down year at 31 years-old and whether Suh can refind his form from Detroit.
This talented group will go up against an offensive line that is ranked 32nd in the League by Pro Football Focus with every offensive linemen projected to start at a different position than they played last season. The Dolphins need to dominate the line on defense in order to force Russell Wilson, one of the most elusive QBs in the League, to be a purely pocket passer and not allow him to carve up Miami’s Defense by allowing him to extend plays with his feet.
The Dolphins also have large question marks and indeed gaping holes at Cornerback. They will start former Seahawk Byron Maxwell, who arrived via a trade with Philadelphia after underperforming and rookie 2nd round selection Xavien Howard. Both players are over six foot and it’s expected that Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph will utilise press coverage to allow his tall corners to bully the smaller receivers Seattle deploys. If the Dolphins can be aggressive upfront and force Wilson to get rid of the ball quickly, then the back-end should help out the front-end and vice versa.
(2) Dominate the line of scrimmage on Offence
Ryan Tannehill is the most sacked Quarterback in the NFL since 2012, yet in 2016 he will play with arguably the most talented offensive line of his career. A line that is projected to feature 4x 1st round picks and 2x Pro-Bowlers is ranked 20th by PFF entering 2016, however, against the Seahawks Miami will have to make do without Pro-Bowl Center Mike Pouncey. The Dolphins will have to rally around this loss and keep Tannehill clean in order to allow Head Coach Adam Gase’s Offensive playbook that utilises route concepts designed to create space and gaps to flourish. If the Dolphins can keep Tannehill clean and allow deep threats Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker alongside playmakers Jarvis Landry, Jordan Cameron and promising rookie Leonte Carroo to go to work through the middle, then Miami should be able to hold its own against Seattle’s “Legion of Boom”. The Dolphins need to be physical and aggressive upfront and prevent Ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril from getting home.
(3) Shut down the run
For years now Seattle have been a run first team which in turn opens up lanes in the passing game. The Seahawks ranked 3rd in rushing in 2015 and will face a defensive unit in Miami which ranked tied 28th in run defense in 2015. Yet the Seahawks no longer have Marshawn Lynch as a feature back and Thomas Rawls who put together a promising rookie performance last season is expected to see limited snaps as he recovers from injury and more recently illness (which side-lined him most of this week). If Miami can shut down Seattle’s run game and force Wilson to beat Miami through the air by trying to hook up with Seattle’s small receiving corps, it could spell good news for the Dolphins. The Dolphins need to limit the amount of 2nd and shorts they concede and not allow Seattle to run down the clock or grind down Miami on defense. If the Dolphins can use their power along the Defensive line and funnel the Seahawks RBs inside, Linebacker’s Kiko Alonso and Koa Misi should have a field day.
(4) Do not be intimidated on Offense
Yes it’s the Seahawks. Yes it is in Seattle with the twelfth man. Yes Tannehill will go up against the “Legion of Boom”. But first year Head Coach Adam Gase has got his group of players fired up and ready to compete against one of the League’s best defense’s. Star Wide Receiver Jarvis Landry told the media earlier in the week that when it comes to CB Richard Sherman and the “Legion of Boom”; “we’re definitely not going to shy away from [them].” The Dolphins have a talented offensive roster and Adam Gase is widely known in NFL circles as a quarterback whisperer and offensive guru who can game plan a successful winning strategy that could make a statement week 1. The Dolphins need to execute offensively and have sound fundamental technique in order to move the sticks and put up points Sunday.
(5) Let Arian Foster prove why he is a top 5 back when healthy
For years now the Dolphins franchise has been crying out for a feature back who can pounds the ball and move the chains. Many expected Lamar Miller to be just that back, however, for reasons unknown to most fans the franchise refused to deploy Miller as a franchise back and he often saw limited carry’s. Jay Ajayi had a poor preseason and the word around Davie is that he has sulked since the arrival of Arian Foster and has not travelled with the team to Seattle. Arian Foster when healthy is a dynamic one-cut back who when healthy can put up 1,300+ yards and 15+ TDs. If Miami can get Foster involved early against Seattle it should help open up even more lanes for the Dolphins and force the Seahawks to bring players down in the box to play the run.
It is never going to be an easy task playing at Seattle in week 1, however, this is a new Dolphins team and a new regime. Playing one of the NFL’s best in week 1 is certainly a good way to grab people’s attention and lay down a marker for the season if the Dolphins can follow these keys to victory listed above and come away from Seattle with a W.