The Pack look to get back into playoff picture with Dolphins coming to Lambeau
The Miami Dolphins and the Green Bay Packers come into Sunday’s matchup at Lambeau Field in similar situations: Both teams have lost three of their last five games and are fighting for playoff spots.
The Packers find themselves in rather unfamiliar territory as a franchise. Green Bay is currently sitting below .500 after finishing the previous year with its first losing record (7-9) since 2008, all while having arguably the most talented quarterback in NFL history. I said most talented, not best ever. There’s a difference.
Whether or not Aaron Rodgers can rally the Pack to another playoff berth like he did after the team’s slow start in 2016 remains to be seen, but wholesale changes to the coaching staff, and perhaps even the front office, now seem inevitable after the final whistle blows on the 2018 season.
The Dolphins' 3-0 start had them looking like early contenders for the AFC East throne. Those aspirations were shot down with a 38-7 Week 4 beatdown from the Patriots in Foxboro. The Fish have been struggling to swim since, winning only two games since their loss to the Pats, compounded by the loss of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Despite their recent struggles, Miami is still in the hunt for a playoff spot with a semi-favorable schedule that features just two teams over .500 (Patriots, Vikings) and two games against the Bills in December.
Miami at Green Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 11 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Green Bay -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Osweiler under center
When Ryan Tannehill went down against Cincinnati with a right shoulder capsule injury, Brock Osweiler was given new NFL life — again. After two separate stops in Denver, a disastrous $72-million stretch in Houston and a trade to Cleveland, Osweiler found a backup gig and a one-year deal in Miami this past March. With Tannehill’s recent injury history, it wasn’t unlikely that his backup was going to see playing time.
Now, the Dolphins are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in with an offense that scores on only 31 percent of its drives and a quarterback who has never proven he can run an NFL offense — he's completing fewer than 60 percent of his career passes and has nearly as many interceptions (30) as touchdowns (37) in 47 games.
In his first two starts replacing Tannehill, Osweiler looked like the quarterback the Broncos thought they were getting when they drafted him to be the future of the franchise in 2012. Osweiler threw for five touchdowns, completed 66 percent of his passes, posted a 104.9 quarterback rating and led the way to an upset victory against the Bears in overtime.
But despite beating the Jets 13-6 last week, the Miami offense has noticeably regressed in the last two weeks, averaging just 18 points (20.8 for the season as a whole). And in those two games, Osweiler looked like the quarterback that Houston couldn’t wait to get rid of in 2017, completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes with a 71.8 quarterback rating, one interception and no touchdown passes.
To keep their playoff hopes alive against the Packers' aggressive pass defense, the Dolphins desperately need to rebound from their worst offensive performance of the season. Against the Jets, the Dolphins amassed a measly 168 total yards (34 in the second half), went 3-of-16 on third down and failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season. The fix starts with Osweiler. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but he at least has to find a way to convert on third downs to extend drives and keep Rodgers off the field.
2. Looking for points
The Dolphins' offensive problems go beyond playing with a journeyman backup quarterback. In fact, Miami has struggled putting up points in the three seasons that Adam Gase has been at the helm, averaging 20.3 points per game since his arrival. This season, Miami ranks 24th in points per game, averaging only 20.8 points per contest — a slight uptick from last season's 25th-ranked output of 17.6. But the problems don’t stop at scoring points. The Dolphins are one of the worst teams at moving the chains, ranking 20th in yards per play (5.6), 27th in third-down conversion rate (34 percent), 28th in time of possession (28:26) and 29th in first downs per game (16).
The biggest problem with Miami’s offense is health. So far this season, Miami has sent nine different players to season-ending injured reserve, five of whom are on the offensive side of the ball, including two offensive linemen. The already thin O-line could be without three more pieces this Sunday with center Ted Larsen, guard Laremy Tunsil and tackle Ja’Wuan James all listed as questionable. If the Dolphins’ front line can’t protect Osweiler or clear lanes for the already struggling rushing attack, it could be another offensive drought on Sunday.
3. Aaron Rodgers
Make no mistake, the six-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and two-time MVP is the main reason the Packers are even within earshot of a playoff spot. Nevertheless, while Aaron Rodgers’ 15 touchdown passes and one interception look great on paper, it’s also true that he has not performed to his usual excellent standards.
Rodgers is a career 64 percent passer, but he has only two games this season exceeding that mark. His 60 percent mark is the lowest of his career and currently ranks him 28th in the league. Rodgers’ quarterback rating currently sits at 98.9, his lowest in a full season since 2015 and only the second time in his career as a starter that the number has been under 100.
So what’s the deal? The lower-than-usual numbers for Rodgers could harken back to the amazing Week 1 comeback victory over the Bears on Sunday Night Football when Rodgers was sidelined with an MCL sprain only to return and lead the Packers to a fourth-quarter win. Since then, Rodgers has been slower, almost timid, outside the pocket where he normally thrives, and he has missed throwing windows he would normally thread the ball through.
So how do the Packers take the pressure off their ailing franchise quarterback? That answer is easy: Run the ball. Currently the Packers are 29th in pass-to-run ratio, with 159 more passing attempts (335) than rushing attempts (176) this year. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin has the opportunity to alleviate Rodgers’ burden against his old team by giving running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams a heavy workload, especially Jones, who boasts an impressive average of 6.0 yards per rushing attempt. With Jones and Williams leading the charge against a Dolphins defense that is fifth worst in yards per carry (4.8) and yards per game (136.1), Rodgers should be able to be effective without having to take too many deep shots against a Miami secondary that leads the league in interceptions.
This game will come down to which floundering offense can right the ship the best, as both units are struggling to find answers. This is where the Packers have the biggest advantage with Rodgers calling the shots. With all three of their wins (and one tie) coming at the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, the Packers should be able to handle business against the Osweiler-led Dolphins.
Prediction: Packers 24, Dolphins 18
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.