While this game isn't like the having the NFL team from Miami play in Green Bay on the tundra in December, it still seems like a bad road trip for the Dolphins. The home field advantage feels a little more significant this week. This hardly remains a game that the Packers can take lightly, as the Dolphins are tan, rested, and ready to hit something after their bye week and two tough divisional losses at home.
Meanwhile the Packers are limping home after the OT loss to the Redskins left them minus their best receiver (TE Jermichael Finley), their best pass rusher (LB Clay Matthews), their best special teams performer (S Derrick Martin), their franchise tag player (DE Ryan Pickett), and left their star QB Aaron Rodgers in a concussed state, though he appears to be a go on Sunday. And obviously I'm skipping all the key players lost before this game. The players left standing are going to have to step up and make plays.
Despite all the injuries, the Packers entered the season with depth at nearly every position, and the backup players are all good enough (in RT Bryan Bulaga's case, the backup is even better) that it doesn't leave them with any major problems that the Dolphins could exploit. The Dolphins won't be able to stop the Packers offense all game long, and the Dolphins aren't winning any games once their opponent scores over 20 points. This matchup still favors the Packers. Continue reading after the jump.
The battle for the bottom: the special teams suck. The Packers have been dealing with bad special teams play for the last three weeks (and in 2009, and 2008...) but the Dolphins are down for the challenge. Football Outsiders has both teams ranked solidly in the bottom five, and the Dolphins are fresh off firing their coach and promoting his assistant. The Packers tried that trick almost two years ago, and we're still waiting to see some improvement. As a result, I don't expect to see much of an impact here as each team's shortcomings will cancel themselves out.
Packers offense against the Dolphins defense. According to Football Outsiders, the Dolphins come in ranked at No. 16 against the pass and No. 21 against the run, which is very similar to the Lions', who just came to Lambeau two weeks ago, current defensive statistics. The offense should be able to move the ball and score, especially with Rodgers likely to play, but the current pattern of getting shut down for a stretch of the game should continue against a solid defense. Losing Finley does not help, but, as he showed last week, TE Andrew Quarless has some game. He can't block, but the rookie's receiving skills are legitimate, and he'll help make up some of the difference.
They could try and run the ball more since RB Brandon Jackson is coming off 115 yard rushing performance and is now averaging 4.6 yards/carry on the season (with zero fumbles). Football Outsiders has the run offense ranked No. 6 overall, but they still don't run it much and only 5 teams have attempted fewer carries per game (and that's with 3 to 4 scrambles/game added in). Maybe it's an element of surprise: it works so good because the defense isn't expecting it. If they attempted more carries it would sure to be less effective. The complaint isn't that they don't run the ball well (they do), but that they just don't run it often. I don't really care how many rushing attempts they have per game. I just want the running plays to work when they're called.
How good is QB Chad Henne? He's certainly had a mixed bag of games this season. A blah game at the Bills, followed up with only 15 pass attempts in Minnesota. He then attempts 44 passes against the Revis-less Jets, before throwing 3 INTs against the Patriots' weak pass defense. The addition of WR Brandon Marshall hasn't hurt, but this is not a fearsome passing attack. Despite all the injuries, the core of the Packers pass defense remains intact (CB Charles Woodson, FS Nick Collins, and CB Tramon Williams). Henne could easily throw for big yards like QB Shaun Hill did a couple weeks ago, but it's probably going to take a lot of attempts with few big plays. But what the Packers defense did right against Hill was that they capitalized on Hill's mistakes.
Maybe the Dolphins need to run the ball more. Good luck with that. The Dolphins are currently ranked as the No. 21 overall rushing team according to Football Outsiders. The Packers defense is currently allowing an ugly 4.7 yards/carry this season, but if you pull out the 103 yards from QB Michael Vick and 53 yards from QB Shaun Hill, it's a more manageable 3.8 yards/carry allowed. Since the Packers play a lot of man coverage, they can give up big yards when the quarterback scrambles, but Henne's totaled zero yards rushing through the first four games. Also, they haven't given up a running play of over 20 yards to a running back this season. The Dolphins can't win with an offense built around a bunch of short yardage carries.
I've a little less faith in the Packers offense after it constantly stalled last week, but they still managed six scoring drives (if only they came away with 3 scores). The Dolphins have only scored over 20 points once this season, and would probably love six chances to score. Still, no one's running away with this game. Packers 20, Dolphins 14.