Who: Dolphins (1-2) vs. Seahawks (3-0)
When: Sunday, October 4, 1:00 EDT
Where: Hard Rock Stadium -- Miami, Fla.
Weather: 85 degrees, 50% chance of rain, 15 MPH wind, 85% humidity
The Seattle-to-Miami trek is the longest possible travel between major cities in the continuous 48 states of America. Notorious headwinds make the flight going west six hours compared to the five-hour travel time behind tailwinds out of the west.
Meetings between the Dolphins and Seahawks are few and far between. Dating back to 2004, these cross-conference, cross-country foes have met four times with the home team claiming victory in each tightly-contested game. In all four, the final drive decided the winner whether it was the offense that ended with points, or the defense that got a last-minute stop to triumph.
The Dolphins are coming off a mini bye week with the benefit of three days of rest between the Thursday night victory and Seattle's Sunday showdown with Dallas. In that game, the Seattle defense – which has allowed a league-high 1,492 yards this season – was on the field for 80 snaps.
While the trend favors the home team in the early game window hosting a team from the Pacific time zone, the Seahawks have largely been impervious in recent years. Since 2015, Seattle are 9-1 in games that kickoff at 1 p.m. Five of those victories came last year in trips to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Carolina – all teams in the Eastern time zone.
In three of those games, Seattle had to overcome halftime deficits. Starting fast is important; but finishing is crucial, especially against this quarterback. Russell Wilson has 29 game-winning drives and 22 fourth-quarter comebacks in his brilliant nine-year career.
Current Injury Report
To find the latest injury report for Dolphins-Seahawks click here.
Preparing for the Seahawks presents many challenges, but none greater than stopping six-time Pro Bowl quarterback and the second-highest rated passer (102.3, behind Aaron Rodgers at 102.7) in NFL history. Wilson protects the football (1.8 percent career interception rate), piles up yardage on the ground (averages a career 31.2 rushing yards per game at 5.6 yards per carry), and has a penchant for explosive plays (149.3 passer rating on throws 20-plus yards downfield in 2020).
For the majority of his career, Wilson operated a balanced offense that emphasized the run game. In 2019, running backs carried the ball 396 times for an average of 24.8 attempts per game. This season, Seattle has run the football 61 times for an average of 20.3 running back rush attempts per game.
Chris Carson accounts for 61 percent of the running back carries; his status for Sunday's game is uncertain. His absence would leave Carlos Hyde (16 carries for 57 yards) and Travis Homer (8 carries for 39 yards) as Seattle's top backs.
Seattle's offensive line play has improved in front of Wilson. When they do run the ball, they are the seventh-highest graded run-blocking unit per Pro Football Focus. Last season, Seattle was 20th in the run-blocking department.
Bookend tackles Duane Brown and Brandon Shell, along with center Ethan Pocic, have missed only five snaps collectively. Shell has been charged with eight pressures while rookie Damien Lewis has the second-most with seven. Lewis and fellow guard Mike Iupati suffered knee sprains last week and did not return.
Defensively, Seattle could be without star safety Jamal Adams. The summer blockbuster trade acquisition hadn't missed a snap prior to the groin strain that forced him out of the Dallas game. Delano Hill stepped in for Adams; he's allowed better than 12 yards per pass target each of the last two seasons in 14 games and four starts.
Dolphins Pass Catchers vs. Seattle Back Seven
Rounding out that Seattle secondary are two primary fixtures and a mix of platoon players. Shaquill Griffin has been on the field for 97 percent of the defensive snaps and typically stays to one side of the field. He faced four targets against Amari Cooper and three against Michael Gallup last week vs. Dallas, forcing one incompletion on each, but a total of 96 yards, per PFF.
On the other side, Tre Flowers had been targeted 10 times in the passing game for 129 yards, 12.9 yards per target this season.
All three of Seattle's games have been shootouts this season. If that's the path this game takes, it's important for Fitzpatrick to relentlessly attack and finish drives in the end zone.
In Sunday's win over Dallas, Cedrick Wilson Jr. had a big day with two touchdowns including a 40-yard score that matched Wilson up with Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright. Wright was in coverage for eight receptions on 10 targets for 79 yards, per PFF. Three of the targets came against wide receivers – all completions for 54 yards. Wilson's only target against Griffin went for a 40-yard touchdown.
Seattle works out of Pete Carroll's classic Cover 3 the majority of the time. Miami went up against a former Seahawks defensive line coach in Todd Wash last week and attacked the Cover 3 defense of Jacksonville with success, scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions.
Dolphins Secondary vs. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett
Both Metcalf (4.33 combine 40 time) and Lockett (4.40 combine 40 time) can scoot, evident by their deep-ball prowess. Metcalf is the NFL's leader in yards per reception (24.8, min. 10 targets) with the most yards (220) on passes that travel 20 or more yards. Last season, Lockett finished 11th in that category with 379 receiving yards on deep throws.
A quick glance at NFL Next Gen Stats' route charting shows Metcalf running mostly vertical and crossing routes without sudden breaks or change-of-direction. Lockett runs his fair share of both styles of routes. Metcalf averages 2.4 yards of separation (with Lockett creating an average of 3.7 yards per route run, 15th-highest in the league.
Contrasting styles gives the Dolphins options for how they choose to defend the Seahawks' two skill players who rarely leave the field. Xavien Howard's numbers in the early going are reflective of his 2018 campaign. He's limited quarterbacks to 54.5 percent completion with a passer rating of 72.9 (50.9 percent and 62.6 in 2018). In consecutive weeks that year, Howard held Green Bay's Davante Adams and T.Y. Hilton to a combined two receptions for 44 yards and an interception, showing his ability to adapt to different styles and body types.
Byron Jones returned to practice on Thursday in a limited capacity. In his brand new Dolphins tenure he's allowed only 11 receiving yards on three targets.
Rookie Noah Igbinoghene saw a variety of receivers stylistically in college and now three weeks into his NFL career. At his Combine workout, courtesy of the Relative Athletic Scorecard, he scored in the 90th percentile in the explosive scoring metric. How the Dolphins decide to match up on Seattle's dangerous duo is a fascinating sub plot.
Dolphins Run Game vs. Bobby Wagner and Company
To claim a trope, the best way to keep the Seahawks from lighting up the scoreboard is limiting Wilson's snaps. Seattle has allowed 1,303 passing yards through three weeks. That's the most in the history of the league through three games, but context could help explain the gaudy number. Seattle has raced out to 14-3, 28-17 and 30-15 leads in their first three games against Atlanta, New England and Dallas. Opposing offenses have thrown the ball 155 times compared to 67 rushing attempts.
Ideally, the Dolphins can even that number by limiting Seattle's early scoring and effectively running the ball; but it won't be easy. Pro Football Focus has Seattle as the top-graded run defense, spearheaded by star linebacker Bobby Wagner. Wagner has 26 tackles, 11 run stops with only one missed tackle attempt. He's one of the game's most instinctive and physical players.
The Seattle defense, in total, has 17 tackles for loss on those 67 rushing attempts. Committing to the run and forcing the Seahawks to honor it for four quarters and stretching the rotation of the defensive line will be imperative. Seattle's top five snap-takers on the defensive line have combined for 735 snaps but only 219 snaps against the run.
The Dolphins' 85 rush attempts are 15th most in the NFL with Myles Gaskin leading the team in rushing (152 yards) and average yards after contact (3.08).
Under Brian Schottenheimer, the Seahawks make no bones about who they are offensively. Of Seattle's 188 snaps on the season, 180 come out of either 11- or 12-personnel (1 RB with 1 or 2 TEs). Metcalf and Lockett are on the field for 98 and 96 percent of the offensive snaps, respectively. The third most-frequent snap-taker at wide receiver is David Moore at 48 percent.
Typically, this means matching the heavier personnel with more linebackers and defensive linemen. How Flores and Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer call this game to match Seattle's personnel is an intriguing battle within the game.
The aforementioned matchup between the Dolphins pass catchers versus Seattle's back seven on defense can be further explained in Seattle's defensive deployment. Seattle ranks 16th in the NFL in utilizing dime packages on defense (six defensive backs) at an 11 percent clip. The Dolphins more than double that number at 23.8 percent.
When Miami spreads goes 11-personnel (99 of the 198 offensive snaps this season), that will, in all likelihood, give the Dolphins a linebacker matched up on one of the three receivers or tight end Mike Gesicki.
Seattle blitzes on 36.4 percent of their defensive snaps, per Pro Football Reference. They rank 22nd in sacks, 21st in hurry rate, 16th in pressure percentage and seventh in QB knockdown rate.
Final Thoughts and Game Notes
The Dolphins lead the all-time series with the Seahawks with a 9-4 record. Each of the last five meetings have been one-score games, with the Dolphins winning three.
Linebacker Jerome Baker can become the first Dolphins linebacker since Channing Crowder (2005-2007) to notch 250 tackles in his first three seasons; he'll need a big game with 20 tackles to reach the landmark this week.
Sunday's start for Ereck Flowers will make it 75 in his career. Bobby McCain will make it 75 career games played when the ball he steps on the field Sunday.
With 53 receiving yards, Mike Gesicki will eclipse 1,000 in his career.
We will recap the game Sunday evening both on MiamiDolphins.com and on the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield.