On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers face the Miami Dolphins for the first time since the fake-spike play in 2014. Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Dolphins and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: The Dolphins have played their last four games without starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill and will do so again Sunday in Green Bay. What has changed for the offense with backup Brock Osweiler under center?
They are not looking deep as often with Osweiler as compared to Tannehill. Part of that is the team has not been able to establish the run early, which then allows for deeper shots coming off play action. That is not necessarily because of Osweiler, but it definitely has been a part of the change in the offense.
Osweiler has actually performed decently for the most part over these four games. He is not lighting up the league, but he is playing like you would expect from a backup quarterback thrust into a starting role. Right now, he has a career high passer rating of 91.1, so Adam Gase is getting the best out of Osweiler, but his game passer ratings as starter have been 94.9, 114.9, 65.3, and 78.3. Basically, exactly the up-and-down performances you would expect from Osweiler.
APC: After a hot start, Miami has lost four of their last six games. Do you believe the downturn is merely the result of a tougher stretch of the schedule or are other factors more responsible?
Injuries have definitely been a major part of it, though the schedule probably is the biggest factor. Miami seems to have had a hangover since they were dominated by the New England Patriots in Week 4. Hopefully last week’s performance against the Jets was enough to get the team back on the right track, but the fact that it was against the Jets is not going to provide a ton of confidence.
As for the injuries, the Dolphins have nine players on injured reserve already this year, plus two players who were on IR throughout the first half of the season and have now been activated. The injury bug, which hit the team hard last year when 16 players finished the year on IR, continues to plague Miami. This year, the Dolphins have lost starters or key contributors that include tight end MarQueis Gray, defensive tackle William Hayes, center Daniel Kilgore, guard Josh Sitton, defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, and wide receiver Albert Wilson. Add in cornerback Cordrea Tankersley , who has struggled to find playing time this year but was starting to look like he was coming back into form, only to tear his ACL in practice last week, and it has just been crazy.
APC: The Dolphins released Ndamukong Suh this offseason but have actually improved on defense (No. 28 by DVOA in 2017, No. 19 entering Week 10). Were Suh’s contributions simply overstated or have other members of the defense made meaningful strides this year?
Suh is an amazing player and I would love to still have him on the defense, but I think the Dolphins had a great plan on how to deal with his loss. They started the year incredibly deep on the defensive line - injuries have decimated that, but they were deep at one point - and they were aggressive with rotating players in and out of the game, making sure everyone was able to remain fresh throughout the entire game. No one player could replace Suh, but the Dolphins did a good job of using multiple players to fill that void.
The other part of the defensive improvement this year is the growth of younger players. Davon Godchaux, Vincent Taylor, Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Raekwon McMillan, and Jerome Baker, are all third year or younger, and all of them are playing a lot and playing well (other than Taylor on IR, but he was doing really well before his injury). Miami has turned the majority of the defense over to younger players, with veterans like Cameron Wake, Reshad Jones, and Kiko Alonso sprinkled in, and they are growing into their roles.
APC: If you were game planning against the Dolphins, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
The Packers need to rush up the middle against Miami’s offense, taking advantage of the injuries the Dolphins have had leading to replacements at center and left guard. Get pressure up the middle and flush Osweiler out of the pocket. He is not as accurate as Tannehill when he is scrambling, and he is not the run-threat that Tannehill is, so you definitely can see turnover opportunities as he tries to force a pass into a situation he should not.
As for the receivers, do not let them have clean breaks off the line. It has worked really well this year in shutting down rookie tight end Mike Gesicki, who still needs to develop into a more physical player, and it will disrupt the quick passing game the Dolphins are using, especially with Osweiler. The coaches try to create mismatches, and get the ball into the hands of players like Kenny Stills, Jakeem Grant, and Kenyan Drake as quickly as possible. Press them at the line and do not let them get into the bubble screen or slant, and you will force Miami to try to do something else - and that may not play into Osweiler’s strengths.
Attacking the Dolphins defense is still a matter of attacking the middle of the field. The defensive tackles, thanks to the injuries, are not as deep as they were and so they are playing more than the coaches probably would want, and you can get to them, especially in the second half. Create different looks in the passing game that continually attack the linebackers, as Miami has two players, a rookie and a second-year player that missed his entire rookie year, in Baker and McMillan who have talent, but still make the mistakes you would expect of a younger player. Miami made changes to the secondary last week that really looked like they could have success - Fitzpatrick moved to the boundary, Bobby McCain back to his natural nickel position, and a rotation of safeties with Fitzpatrick, T.J. McDonald, and Reshad Jones (assuming he does not pull himself out of the game) - but it was also against Sam Darnold, so facing Aaron Rodgers will be a different kind of test. Stay away from Xavien Howard who is becoming a shut-down cornerback, but test the rest of the secondary early.
APC: Finally, it’s prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
Cold weather, on the road, against Aaron Rodgers does not scream Miami win, does it? I know the Packers are not having a great season, but they are still led by Rodgers and it is in Lambeau. That makes me have to give it to the Packers. When I make my picks for the week, I may still take Miami as a homer pick, but in actuality, I would expect the Packers to win this game.
We’d like to thank Kevin and The Phinsider for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Dolphins. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Dolphins versus Packers.