A look at the key matchups when the Miami Dolphins play host to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday:
When the Packers pass the football
If he’s not the best quarterback in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers is definitely in the conversation. Not only is Rodgers playing well but he’s getting better as he goes. Of his 12 TD passes, 11 have come in the past four games and seven in the past two games. His rating the past two games is 147. Jordy Nelson is Green Bay’s go-to receiver and he’s averaging a touchdown per game the past four games. Rookie Davante Adams is still learning and getting acclimated to the NFL, but he is open a lot on film even when the ball doesn’t go to him. Rodgers has promised to look for him more often so he may become a burgeoning threat. The Dolphins are making changes in their secondary. Reshad Jones, out the past four games while on NFL suspension, is back in the starting lineup. That allows Miami the luxury of moving Jimmy Wilson, who replaced Jones at safety, to return to nickel cornerback duty. The Dolphins need pressure from ends Oliver Vernon and Cameron Wake, who has not had a sack since the season-opener. Advantage: Green Bay.
When the Packers run the football
Eddie Lacy doesn’t merely run downhill but does so with the added ability of running away from tacklers as well – evidenced by the fact he’s caused 21 missed tackles so far this season, sixth-best among NFL running backs, according to ProFootballFocus.com. That’s a huge percentage considering Lacy has touched the ball 75 times. The Packers’ change of pace back from the 230-pound Lacy is 220-pound James Starks. Both have speed and get square to the line quickly. The Dolphins’ run defense is still a mystery. They’re 13th in the NFL against the run but outside of Kansas City, most teams haven’t really run often against Miami’s front. The key here is to bottle up Lacy and Starks early. The Dolphins must make the Packers a pass-only offense otherwise they cannot stop Green Bay while having to defend both run and pass. The return of defensive tackle Randy Starks and middle linebacker Koa Misi should help. Advantage: Miami.
When the Dolphins pass the football
Can Ryan Tannehill begin to string good games together? He had his best outing against Oakland but the assignment now is to pick up where he left off and help the Dolphins basically match if not surpass the feats of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. This game will be the stiffest test Miami offensive tackles Ja’Wuan James and Branden Albert have had so far because the Packers have bookend prolific pass rushers in Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. Former Dolphins defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been known to mix things up on blitzes as well so recognition up front will be vital for the Dolphins. Advantage: Green Bay.
When the Dolphins run the football
If the Dolphins have a clear and undeniable Advantage it is running the football against a Green Bay defense that is last in the NFL against the run. The Packers yield an average of 163 yards rushing per game. The Green Bay front is slow to get off blocks and linebackers sometimes take poor angles to the ball. The Dolphins have a surprisingly strong rushing game. Lamar Miller has embraced more carries and is averaging a whopping 5.7 yards per rush. That average is not increased by 60- or 70-yard runs. Miller’s longest run so far is 24 yards so his average is based on consistent, steady production. The Miami offensive line has won up front in the run game against every opponent except Buffalo. With the addition of Mike Pouncey into the lineup, the line gets better. Advantage: Miami.
The Dolphins are looking to upgrade on their punt returning because Jarvis Landry, a rookie, has made a handful of questionable decisions back there. That’s not the only issue on punts. The Dolphins are giving up an average of 14.8 yards per return. That’s tied for worst in the NFL. The team isn’t much better covering kickoffs, either, yielding 27.9 yards per return, which is fourth-worst in the NFL. Landry has, however, been excellent returning kicks so he should remain at that spot. By contrast, the Packers yield only 4.9 yards per punt return, which is sixth-best in the NFL, and are solid with their kick coverage as well. Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby has been solid so far, connecting on both his FG tries from 50-or-more yards. Advantage: Green Bay.
Joe Philbin makes no secret of the fact he learned to be an NFL coach under the Green Bay system and mostly under Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy. Philbin is keenly familiar with the Packers’ approach and schemes but as approximately 50 percent of the roster has turned over from his time in Green Bay, knowledge of personnel may be over-rated. McCarthy is an outstanding offensive play-caller while Dom Capers, who believes in blitzing and confusing opponents, offers a tough scheme on defense. Advantage: Green Bay.