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Seahawks-Dolphins preview: Seattle must get more pressure with 4 man rushes

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks will put their nearly four-year winning streak in 10 am PST kickoffs to the test on Sunday as they head to Miami to take on the well-rested Fightin’ Fitzpatricks. The former AFC foes enter Week 4 under considerably different conditions. The Dolphins will stay at home and last played on September 24, a Thursday Night Football victory over the Jaguars, while Seattle will travel across the country just a few days after a long back-and-forth against the Cowboys.

Despite the unideal circumstances surrounding the banged-up Seahawks, they will be expected to find another win to improve to 4-0. Here’s what to know ahead of Sunday and how Seattle can get it done.

What the Dolphins do well

Miami is doing what the Bills and Jets have previously down for brief, glorious stints: enjoy the ride of Fitzmagic. When Ryan Fitzpatrick, the bearded Harvard man (have I hit on all the tropes yet?), is on, he is really on. Whether it was the six-game start to 2011, when he led Buffalo to a 4-2 record and received a six-year extension, or the entire 2015 season when he had New York on the verge of a playoff berth, Fitzpatrick is capable of leading fairly potent offenses.

It appears the 37-year-old is off to another one of those starts, completing over 71% of his passes, helped by an 18-of-20 night in Week 3 which saw Fitzpatrick finish with the highest completion percentage above expectation in a single game this year.

Whether it’s firing darts over the middle, trucking defenders beyond the line of scrimmage, or doing his best John Elway helicopter impression at the sticks, Fitzmagic is the embodiment of a backyard football force of nature doing everything in his power to will his team to victory.

Where the Dolphins can be exploited

Perhaps most impressive about Fitzpatrick’s positive start to the year is that he has done it with little help from his receivers. DeVante Parker has been carrying a hamstring injury that has clearly slowed him (though he is off the team’s injury report this week) and Preston Williams has been rusty returning from a torn ACL. In total, Miami’s receivers have accounted for just over half the team’s receptions this year.

With Parker and Williams slow out of the gate, Isaiah Ford has been a bright spot and could draw Ugo Amadi’s attention in Week 4. The Dolphins are not short on talent at wide receiver, but the impact simply hasn’t been there thus far in 2020. If Parker continues to be unthreatening and Amadi can win his matchup against Ford, the Seahawks could exploit Miami’s lack of difference makers around Fitzpatrick and limit what has been the driving force of the Dolphins’ offense.

Who to know on the Dolphins

Mitigating Miami’s lack of receiver production, however, is Mike Gesicki. The third-year tight end appears to be carrying his late-2019 breakout into 2020 and is establishing himself as one of the position’s biggest mismatches. An uber-athlete, testing in the 99th percentile, with rare size and length, Gesicki has begun to use his fantastic catch radius to his advantage more often—including in the red zone. The importance of Gesicki to the Dolphins’ offense is bad news for a Seattle defense who comes into this matchup at just the wrong time.

No stranger to matching up with Gesicki from his time on the Jets, Jamal Adams won’t have a chance to renew that battle as the superstar safety is out for Sunday. In a perfect world, Adams likely would have drawn that assignment often. Even worse, the Seahawks could be without their tight end stopper, Lano Hill, as well. Hill, who suffered through a dreadful 2019 as a result of lingering hip issues, missed Week 3 with soreness in the same area. It’s poor timing for the team and Hill, as the safety got off to a bright start against the Falcons and has previously acquitted himself well in matchups against George Kittle and Travis Kelce.

Should Hill be able to play on Sunday, expect him to draw the tough assignment of guarding Gesicki often. If Seattle finds themselves without Adams and Hill, Miami’s third-year tight end could enjoy a massive game against a defense without answers.

When Fitzpatrick drops back, the Seahawks must get pressure with 4

The loss of Adams will give Seattle a problem with defending Gesicki; sadly, it will also lead to questions about how they will create pressure. Through three games, the Seahawks are blitzing on 37.5% of passing plays, with Adams averaging nine pass rushes per game. With a depleted linebacker corps and secondary, Seattle will surely need to lessen the number of pressure packages they send.

As a result, the Seahawks absolutely must be able to create pressure with four-man rushes. While Shaquem Griffin and Alton Robinson made a few impact plays in limited roles last Sunday, and L.J. Collier has flashed positive moments, Seattle has to get more from everyone—especially Benson Mayowa and Jarran Reed. The two veterans, expected to be the most productive players upfront in 2020, have combined for just 10 pressures and two sacks so far this season.

If the Seahawks’ defensive line is going to get cooking, Week 4 is as good of a week as any to do so. The Dolphins have trotted out an incredibly suspect offensive line this year and currently rank 31st in ESPN’s pass-block win rate. Seattle’s pass rush, meanwhile, is 12th in pass-rush win rate despite registering just five sacks on the year.

The Seahawks’ defensive line is in a matchup they can absolutely win—in a week that they must, with Adams missing. When Ken Norton Jr. brings just the four upfront, they have to turn those opportunities into pressures, hits, and sacks.

Why the Seahawks will win

It is not a coincidence that the two passers who have carved up Miami this year, Cam Newton and Josh Allen, are incredibly talented at extending plays. The Dolphins play a ton of man coverage under Brian Flores and it’s simply too much to ask cornerbacks to stick in coverage for several seconds longer than expected. This is unfortunate for Miami, as Russell Wilson remains a phenomenal out of structure player.

Worsening matters for the Dolphins is a currently hobbled secondary, with Byron Jones carrying groin and Achilles injuries, while Xavien Howard has simply been poor through three games. The bright spot for Miami’s secondary in 2020 has been rookie Noah Igbinoghene, but even his strong start doesn’t offer much of a positive outlook in Week 4 as he will likely draw the thankless assignment of covering Tyler Lockett.

For as important as it is for Seattle’s defense to try and limit Gesicki, and maybe even jumpstart their defensive line, it may not matter. Wilson is as unstoppable of a singular force as there is right now and in Week 4, he will be able to carve up Miami’s defense with the aid of DK Metcalf and Lockett—whether it’s within the pocket or after it has broken down.