Our Miami Dolphins are in the midst of a three game skid. A bad loss to the 49ers, an inexcusably poor loss to the Chargers, and a well fought battle in difficult conditions against our division rival Bills. We have gone from the #2 seed to hanging on to the final WC spot in just 3 weeks time. The West Coast portion of the 3 game road trip showed me a team that looks anything but a team ready to go deep in to the playoffs, despite looking like that for most of the season. In fact, a 2 game snapshot of our team from the WC trip showed a team that was totally inept offensively, and playing with a defense that bent a lot, but didn’t break all that much, and eerily reminded me of the Dolphins teams during the Ryan Tannehill era. A strong showing in Buffalo, especially the resurgence of the run game has me optimistic that we’re back on track. Tua bounced back nicely in this game, and somewhat allayed my fear that his confidence was shot and he needed some psychotherapy, much like most Dolphins fans do.
Mike McDaniel and his staff are not perfect, far from it, but he must credited with at least this much, and even our own O-line critic Randy (Old Dolfan) will have to admit that our offensive line has come a long way from last year’s beleaguered unit. LT Terron Armstead has been a godsend, when he’s in there, healthy or not, he’s an absolute rock star. Brandon Shell has been a great surprise, former Jets and former Seahawks OT has been a fantastic pass protector in his own right. Center Connor Williams, who by the way is playing center for the first time in the NFL has also been fantastic. We knew we potentially had a future pro bowler in RG Robert Hunt, and besides some mental mistakes, he’s done his job well too. The disappointments were OT Austin Jackson who can’t stay healthy and didn’t play if he was healthy enough to play, and OG Liam Eichenberg, who incidentally is close to returning to action. I think Robert Jones has played well in his stead at LG, but it seems as if the Dolphins staff believe Eichenberg has a higher ceiling, although I’m sure Hulk will disagree on that one.
This week, the cold weather Green Bay Packers come to visit sunny FLA, although the temps at game time just might be closer to GB temps with a high temperature expected somewhere around 54 degrees. Well, if we proved one thing last week, we proved we can play in cold weather, so I’m not concerned. RB Jeff Wilson Jr. has logged only 2 limited practices, but the feeling is he will suit up to face the Packers. Wilson suffered a hip injury breaking off a 20 yard run against the Chargers, and has not played since. He’ll probably still share carries with Mostert who will probably get more touches, but if Wilson is healthy, he could provide some of that tough running style that would be quite welcomed. Mostert did break off a physical 67 yard run in which he broke multiple tackles, showing grit and terrific speed. We need more of both of these rushers, keep the ball away from Aaron Rodgers and the GB offense, and tire out their defense. We won’t have the blistering heat to help us but if we can engineer a few long drives that result in TD’s, we can possibly do it ourselves.
The packers will probably be without their standout LT David Bakhtiari who had an emergency appendectomy a few weeks ago. Rookie WR Christian Watson has been getting a lot more targets the last 5 weeks, and at 6’5, he presents some matchup issues with our smaller DB’s, (Kader Kohou 5’10, Noah Igbinoghene 5’11, Keion Crossen 5’10 and Elijah Campbell 5’11). WR Allen Lazard on the other side is also 6’5, so no doubt that there will be some mismatches size wise on Sunday. Rookie WR 4th RD pick Romeo Doubs came back last week after being injured and is also a dangerous receiver and is the 3rd leading receiver behind Allen Lazard and TE Robert Tonyan. In addition, the Packers feature a two-headed rushing attack with veteran RB Aaron Jones and big back AJ Dillon. Jones is still playing at a high level with just over 1300 yards rushing and receiving combined (937 rushing, 364 receiving), averaging over 5 YPC and catching 52 balls for 7 yards a pop.
K Jason Sanders has come around the last few weeks, we may need him in this one. In general, ST’s play has been better, hopefully a sign that perhaps they’ve straightened out some issues. The packers offense is no longer a juggernaut, scoring 20.5 PPG, good for 20th in the NFL. The defense, actually outperforming the offense is allowing 22.4 PPG, good for midpack, 16th in the NFL. Our Dolphins are 9th in scoring, even with 3 terrible games w/o Tua early in the season, and then 2 games with Tua on the WC where we were just putrid. The defense near the bottom, allowing 24.6 PPG, 26th in the NFL. So what happens when your offense scores 24.6 PPG and your defense allows 24.6 PPG? An 8-6 record and +1 point differential, 345-344. We have to do better, especially when the offense heats up. We can’t allow opposing offenses to trade scores with us. I know we all hoped that our defense would have a resurgence like last season where we went on a sack tear, getting 36 sacks in the last 9 games good for a healthy 4 sacks per game. Oddly enough, the Dolphins do have 20 sacks in the last 6 games, good for 3.3 sacks per game, but the offense struggled so much in a a couple of games and left the defense on the field 2/3 of the game, offsetting the improvements in the sack department.
The Packers defense has been better against the pass this season, allowing the league’s 2nd best 2592 yards through the air. The Dolphins in comparison, have allowed 3448 yards, good for 27th. Our depleted secondary surely has a lot to do with this. Our Dolphins defense, believe it or not cracks top 10 at #10 in rushing yards allowed, but that stat is a bit misleading, considering teams are throwing all over us. The Packers are #29 in rushing yards allowed giving up 2084 yards, surrendering nearly 150 yards per game on the ground, just ahead of the LA Chargers. Will Mike McDaniel build on the success we had rushing against a stout Bills defense, or will we throw the ball all over the yard? I hope we run, but ultimately, whatever is working is fine with me. We need a “W” in the worst way. While this is non conference game and doesn’t hurt us in that regard, I just can’t stomach losing 4 in a row, and it would be very difficult to think we deserve a playoff berth after a loss, despite being quite alive, especially if the Ravens lose the Falcons, and the Patriots lose to the Bengals. The Titans have almost certainly lost QB Ryan Tannehill for the season with an ankle injury, which probably dashes their hopes of a playoff berth. All this means the Dolphins can probably just win the last 2 weeks, away at the Patriots and then home for the season finale against the Jets. Losing 4 in a row, however will not inspire any fan confidence that such a thing can actually happen though, and I for one would hate to kind of “back in” to a playoff berth. Let’s get back on the winning track Sunday against the Pack!