Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Miami Dolphins (2-2). This is a true “next man up” game for the Packers, who are now hurting in every major position group. Against a bye-rested (and fully healthy!) Dolphins team, this is a tough matchup made tougher by the realization that this is the worst team the Packers will face until the bye in W10.
Coming into this game, the Dolphins are… coming off a much-needed bye week after a 41-14 shellacking by the visiting New England Patriots in W4. How quickly could the team bury the loss in the minds of its players? Consider that, by the time the players came in for practice on Monday, every member of the offensive line had a full-color photo of a celebrating Clay Matthews III (who may not even play) posted inside their locker.
It’s not surprising the Dolphins would want to turn the page quickly. New England scored touchdowns off a kickoff, a blocked field goal, and an interception – all in the second half, all within two minutes. Miami benched QB Chad Henne after the appalling pick-six (his third INT of the night – Said NE’s Pat Chung, “It shocked me. I was like, ‘He threw it? Thanks.’”), only to have backup QB Tyler Thigpen throw another on the very next series. If there were silver linings to be found on Sunday, they were in holding New England to 265 total yards and amassing 400 themselves, converting 10 of 15 third downs, and sacking Tom Brady three times. But those bright spots don’t take away from the freak show that was the Dolphins special teams performance (a blocked punt, a kickoff return, and a blocked field goal), which resulted in the firing of ST coordinator John Bonamego on Monday morning. The following pretty much summed up how many fans felt after the game was over:
I have made an editorial decision not to write about the last game. I think we should all forget about it. It was as bad as the 62-7 game back you know when. I don't think the team is as bad as it looked - obviously some things need to be worked on - but the game started out really well and then bad things begat more bad things. Full on Domino effect.
The fans at home are… wondering whether head coach Tony Sparano’s seat is getting warm (or maybe Chad Henne’s is) especially since team guru Bill Parcells left unceremoniously before the season. Playcalling also seems to be the biggest concern (apart from poor special teams play) thus far among the fans. In grading the first quarter of the season, fans like what they’ve seen from many individual players, but believe that it might be time to adjust their expectations down from 12 wins (after 2 road wins to start the year) back to a more realistic 8-10 wins. (Psh! 11-5 baby, we’ll totally beat the Jets and Pats next time). What’s more, fans are singling out QB Chad Henne as a player whose play needs to pick up:
The vultures are circling. Another bad game or two and things are going to get ugly for Henne and this coaching staff. Quarterback controversies are never good for teams - it's that simple.
By contrast, some fans are trying to hold back the haters:
Remember last season when Aaron Rodgers broke into the class of elite QB’s? What year was he in? Oh yea, his 5th. His 5th season in that system. A QB needs timeeeeeeeeee, why don’t you Henne haters understand that? Why does the media expect these young QB’s (Sanchez included) to be elite when no QB has ever achieved individual greatness outside of our own Dan Marino in his first 3 seasons? Henne isn’t Dan Marino. I am sorry guys, I guess we should throw Thigpen in and see if he can throw for 5,000 yards and 48 TD’s. Give me a break.
Something to chew on… to put it bluntly, the Dolphins stink at home. They’re 0-2 at home and 2-0 on the road this year, and have surrendered 26 more points (along with five more turnovers) at home than away. Coach Sparano blames all the free time the players have before home games, and says that road games bring a “us-against-the-world mentality.”
When looking at the Packers on film… the Dolphins have to be giddy at the prospect of facing the Packers without Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Jermichael Finley. Yet, Coach Sparano’s saying the right things about the prospect of facing Matt Flynn (you know, the “he’s a smart guy and very capable of running their offense”). Why? Well…a few years ago, he was the defensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys when Brett Favre was hurt and a little-known backup named Aaron Rodgers stepped in and threw for 201 yards and a touchdown.
If the Packers have been trying to come up with a counter to the Wildcat, the Dolphins have been watching tape to find a way to block the Psycho formation:
You have to ID all these birds walking around out there, and some of them are the same body types. You’ve got bigs walking around. Then you have a bunch of linebackers maybe walking around. It hurts you in your ID. (Tony Sparano)
CB Vontae Davis became the latest in a long string of defensive backs think Donald Driver is ‘old’:
Oh, man. Yeah, he's been around a long time. I'm going to go back to the Brett Favre comment. He's old enough to be my father, Donald Driver is. The older he gets, the smarter he gets. But I'm not looking for him to shake me. I'm younger, I should win most of the battles, but he's older, he's got the most experience.
Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall was cheeky when asked what he thought about going against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson:
We head to Green Bay in less than a week and I have the opportunity to evaluate him a little more.
What We’re Up Against: An opponent that’s rested from the bye and has had 2 weeks to prepare is always a little dangerous. An opponent that realizes that it won’t face your best players spells trouble.
QB Chad Henne has some impressive stats (3rd best on 3rd down behind Brady and Vick), but he’s not the most accurate thrower (although, with a receiver as talented as WR Brandon Marshall, who needs accuracy?). Bob McGinn doubts that we’ll see what kind of leader Henne is as long as veteran Chad Pennington sticks around --- if Henne has a bad day, there could be yet another quarterback controversy launched in the NFL. (Plus, Henne often stares down receivers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Charles Woodson is hunting for picks all game long.)
The Jets and Patriots may have given the Packers secondary a primer on how to scrub Marshall out of the play (though the Jets waited until the last 3 plays of the game to stop him…he had 166yds on the day), but even if Marshall is kept relatively quiet, slot receiver Davone Bess is the type of player the Packers would prefer not to face. He owns the middle on 3rd down, and makes his yards underneath routes that could expose Green Bay’s linebackers in coverage. Nearly half of Henne’s passes have been over the middle – if the Packers’ tackling isn’t sound, Bess and TE Anthony Fasano could gain significant YAC.
During the bye week, Sparano pronounced that the Dolphins are re-committing to the run, especially in the red zone. This likely will manifest as increased carries for RB Ronnie Brown, whose 226 yards on 48 carries (4.7 ypc) fail to reflect his punishing style. Brown also directs the Wildcat offense, and makes a dangerous tandem with aging but still shifty RB Ricky Williams. Both have good hands, too. The team will run in between every gap, but does its best rushing off LT Jake Long, who’s one of the best in the league – rushes in the gap between Long and LG Richie Incognito average 7.2 ypc (not that Incognito – an angry ex-Ram – helps at all).
Like Green Bay, Miami runs a 3-4 scheme behind new coordinator (and ex-McCarthy boss in SF) Mike Nolan. The transition to a new coordinator, if not a new scheme, has been a little rocky. If ever the Packers should focus on the run, it’s against a team that’s allowing more first downs per attempt than anyone but New England). Much of that is due to breakdowns by NT/DE Randy Starks, who would much prefer to rush the passer. With the possible return of rookie DE Jared Odrick from injury (he’ll be a load for Colledge to handle), Starks could be able to move back to NT, where he creates pressure inside.
Miami’s linebacking corps has really come into its own this season. WOLB Cameron Wake has already amassed 4 sacks, 6 QB hits, and 8 pressures, but isn’t dominant in the rungame (although, if the Packers don’t at least try to run, Wake could have a huge game). Thankfully, the bye week should allow run-stuffing LILB Channing Crowder back into the starting lineup. RILB Karlos Dansby remembers well his last game against the Packers, wherein he returned the overtime fumble to the end zone, ending Green Bay’s season:
I know a lot of Green Bay fans hate me right now. I ruined a lot of dreams and aspirations. That's how the game goes. The ball can bounce either way. If he made the throw on first down, they win the ballgame.
On the outside, rookie SOLB Koa Misi is speedy, and – despite some rookie mistakes –he’ll be yet another test for Chad Clifton, who struggled badly against Orakpo last week. In all, the Packers offensive line may have some trouble giving Rodgers (or Flynn) time to throw. On passing downs, I worry about SS Yeremiah Bell, who – like Washington’s LaRon Landry – plays in the box, hits with abandon, and has a nose for the ball (114 tackles last year). The secondary’s young – both starting corners and the free safety are 2nd year pros – but LC Vontae Davis kept Randy Moss quiet in his last game in New England, so they can’t be taken lightly. Nickel corner Benny Sapp also just came over from Minnesota – it’s possible he brought some inside information on the Packers passing game with him.
Yes, the Miami Dolphins special teams blows. Like, wow, it makes the Packers special teams look mediocre. That takes doing, but I don’t see the Packers taking advantage --- Miami will want to prove that the breakdown against the Patriots was a fluke.
Plus, Miami’s healthy.
For more on the match-up, don’t miss Pete Dougherty’s scouting report, the ESPN game preview, the SB Nation preview (and all SB Nation coverage), and the position-group specific match-ups done by Phins Phocus.com.
- Had the Packers selected him instead of Brian Brohm in the second round of the 2008 draft, Chad Henne might be backing up Aaron Rodgers instead of starting for the Miami Dolphins. With Brohm bombed out of the league (for all intents and purposes, I mean, he’s not even getting the start in Buffalo), where does that rank on the list of Ted Thompson miscues?
- Brandon Marshall doesn’t think that Sterling Sharpe was all that good a player. Just for that, I’m calling on every pass intended for Marshall to be picked off. Every. Single. One.
- While Stephen Ross, a real estate mogul, owns 95% of the Dolphins, the team is better known for its string of celebrity minority owners. A who’s who of the entertainment set, Gloria Estefan, Emilio Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams, each own a fraction of a percent of the team. An exclusive list, to be sure, but it seems that another entertainer wants to join the party – rapper Bryan “Birdman” Williams. While many players seem psyched about the move, some in the media are less than thrilled that this is the kind of news coming out of the organization:
And that brings me to a simple request of the Dolphins. Can you make some news that has something to do with, you know, playing great football?
Or improving the team?
Or winning a game everyone expects you to lose?
Can the Dolphins please stop making news about epic special-teams failures and the ensuing coach firing, please?
- After engineering the team’s resurgence after a dismal 1-15 outing in 2007, Bill Parcells has abdicated his role overseeing football operations in Miami and is now merely a “team consultant.” Prior to leaving three days before the start of the season, he said he was “very disappointed” in Henne. Now, without a clean break from the team, Parcells – a so-called football mercenary – has become a distraction for the team.
In the midst of his ‘Snap Judgments,’ SI’s Don Banks said this about the Packers:
The Packers simply can't be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender at the moment. Green Bay has little killer instinct and it keeps letting inferior teams hang around all game.
And he’s right. Green Bay should have beaten the Bears. Green Bay should have blown out the Lions. Green Bay should have wiped the floor with the Redskins. None of those things happened. Due in part to injuries, playcalling, poor execution, and straight idiocy, the Packers have let bad teams hang around in the fourth quarter. My demand this week is the same it’s been all year – 60 minutes of good football. Apparently, that’s becoming a lot to ask for.
Green Bay should beat the Dolphins on Sunday. But, given the injuries and the idiocy, I’m concerned about this game. I’m concerned about Davone Bess over the middle and Cameron Wake off the edge. I’m not really interested in making Chad Henne look like a Pro Bowler, because he’s not. I’m fearful that, if Rodgers plays, he’s going to be skittish in the pocket. And I worry (perhaps unnecessarily) that this game will be a battle for “who’s special teams sucks more.” I don’t want to play that kind of game, do you?
Before this season, I thought that the Dolphins were a championship team that was “still under construction,” and might be a big threat in 2-3 years, and I still do. This was never an easy win in my eyes – frankly, I called this a loss in preseason, even before the injuries started piling up. It looked to me like the kind of loss brought about by sloppy play...kind of what we've already seen against Chicago and Washington. Now that the Packers are down a handful of starters…it only gets harder from here.
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