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Miami Dolphins defense is road-tested

Oct. 15, 2010
 
Miami Dolphins cornerback Jason Allen (32) returns an interception of a Brett Favre pass in a Sept. 19 game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis. The Dolphins won 14-10.
Miami Dolphins cornerback Jason Allen (32) returns an interception of a Brett Favre pass in a Sept. 19 game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis. The Dolphins won 14-10. / Jim Mone/AP

Low voltage

Since 1932, teams that required the fewest points to win the first three road games of a season. Miami has scored |29 points in its first two road wins of 2010.

Pts. Team (*)
41 1937 Bears (14-7-20)
42 1932 Packers (2-19-21)
45 1950 Giants (18-6-21)
45 1993 Bills (13-19-13)
47 1978 Patriots (16-21-10)
49 1942 Redskins (14-21-14)
51 1934 Lions (3-10-38)
52 1978 Rams (16-10-26)
53 1971 Vikings (16-13-24)
(*) points scored in each of the team’s first three road games

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Few have done what the Miami Dolphins have this year. That Miami has could spell trouble for the Green Bay Packers.

The Dolphins have demonstrated they can win on the road with a low-grade offense and few points. Should Miami prevail with that approach Sunday at Lambeau Field, the visitors could make NFL history.

Tony Sparano’s team, 2-2 and coming off a Week 5 bye, is winless at home but not for lack of effort. Miami posted 24 and 23 first downs and gained 436 and 400 yards, respectively, in losing to the Jets (31-23) and Patriots (41-14) at Sun Life Stadium.

Contrast that with their work in the northern climes of Buffalo and Minnesota. The Dolphins picked up 19 and 12 first downs and amassed 296 and 226 yards, respectively, in squeezing past the Bills (15-10) and Vikings (14-10).

If they dispose of the Packers in a similar fashion, the Dolphins would become the first since the dawn of statistics in 1932 to require fewer than 300 yards and 20 points to win each of their opening three games on the road.

How rare is that? In the 72 years from 1938 to 2009, just seven teams won their first two road games under such conditions, the last being the 2004 Jacksonville Jaguars. In all seven cases, the team either stumbled in its third road outing or it triumphed by scoring 20 or more points.

Five other teams — the 1932 Packers, the 1932 Dodgers, the 1933 Bears, the 1934 Lions and the 1937 Bears — likely belong with those seven, but yardage totals are not available (outside of the Elias Sports Bureau) in a number of instances.

The 1993 Buffalo Bills also must be mentioned. They are the only team since 1932 to have won their opening three road games and to have done so by scoring fewer than 20 points in each. They did, however, generate more than 400 yards in two of those victories.

No team has a greater disparity (minus-157) between the average yardage it has earned at home (418) and the average of what it has garnered on the road (261) than the Dolphins. The Bears (minus-147.8) come closest.

Defense has keyed the Dolphins’ road success. The unit has given up fewer first downs (31 to 39), fewer yards (530 to 667) and fewer yards per play (4.2 to 5.8) on the road than at home. Furthermore, the only four turnovers Miami has generated have come outside Florida.

In opening at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Dolphins held the Bills to nine first downs, forced them into six three-and-outs and allowed just one offensive play of more than 19 yards. The Fins ceded a fourth-quarter touchdown on an 80-yard drive, but that was too little, too late for Buffalo.

A week later they created four turnovers in Minneapolis. Cornerbacks Jason Allen (twice) and Vontae Davis intercepted Brett Favre, and rookie linebacker Koa Misi recovered a Favre fumble in the end zone.

The Dolphins permitted 124 yards in the fourth quarter as Minnesota attempted to rally. But when it counted, they kept running back Adrian Peterson out of the end zone on four straight plays from inside the 11 and held on another set of downs on their side of the field with less than a minute to play.

This, then, is the road-tested defense the Packers have to outflank at Lambeau Field. With linebacker Channing Crowder likely to return and defensive tackle Jared Odrick a possibility, this group could pose problems for an offense beset by injuries.

In its last six quarters, Green Bay’s offense has produced just 13 points. Should the meeting with the Dolphins turn into a low-scoring affair, Miami might well improve to 3-0 on the road for the first time since 2003.

Regular-season series

Overall: Miami leads 9-3.

At Lambeau Field: tied 2-2.

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (20-17 overall; 0-0 vs. Miami).

Dolphins: Chad Henne |(9-8; 0-0 vs. Green Bay).

Once a Dolphin, |now a Packer

Tight end Donald Lee (2003-2004) is a former Dolphin.

Once a Packer, now a Dolphin

Safety Tyrone Culver was a sixth-round draft choice of the Packers in 2006.

Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of “Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,” a statistical history of the Packers. E-mail him at aegoska@sbcglobal.net.

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