Packers vs. Dolphins preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (3-4-1) at Miami Dolphins (5-4).
WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Lambeau Field.
TV: CBS with Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), Rich Gannon (analyst), Steve Tasker (sideline).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Dolphins lead, 10-4.
LINE: Packers by 9½.
WEATHER: Mostly cloudy, high of 36.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (134-82-2) vs. Miami's Adam Gase (21-21)
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively discussion
5 THINGS TO WATCH
MISSING THE MARK: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ worst season for completion percentage (60.7) was 2015, when receiver Jordy Nelson missed the entire year with a knee injury. Rodgers is hovering around that mark this season (60.6) and his inaccuracy was noticeable with some deep balls he missed against New England, which if completed might have changed the game. Rodgers said throwaways have been greater this year, which is why the percentage is down, but offensive passing game coordinator Jim Hostler said missing practice because of his knee injury has been a factor. “The ability to go out every day and throw, you know, that helps the accuracy part of it too, which has not been as steady, obviously,” Hostler said. “Now, it’s getting better, and I think you’ll see a lot more of that as he practices more, gets used to the players around him.” Rodgers started practicing every day the week of the Patriots game and worked fully this week as well.
TIGHT GRIP: Going into the New England game, running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams had 389 touches without a lost fumble, which is remarkable considering they were rookies last season. Their streak ended when Jones coughed up the ball against the Patriots in the fourth quarter, ending what looked like a promising drive. Sometimes one fumble can open the flood gates because future opponents will target a player who has fumbled. Running backs coach Ben Sirmans said Jones lost the ball on his way to the ground and wasn’t being careless. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it holding my breath and saying to myself, ‘Thank God a guy wasn't coming across to hit the ball,’” Sirmans said. “It’s just one of the most vulnerable positions you can be in as a runner.” Sirmans said the velocity at which the ball came out showed how precisely defensive lineman Lawrence Guy got his hand on the ball.
FAST BREAK: If you’re the Dolphins and you’ve watched the Packers’ last two games, you’re probably going to run some no-huddle offense. The Los Angeles Rams quick-snapped the ball with some success two weeks ago and the Patriots had the defense scrambling when it came to the line quickly and tried to snap the ball before the Packers were set. “I’m sure they’re watching film,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “If they’re going to go their first 15 right off the script … we’ve definitely been preparing for that. It’s obviously something that we need to correct. In New England, it didn’t look good on film as far as what we put out there."
DELAY OF GAME: On the other side of the ball, the Packers are not snapping the ball fast enough. They are tied for the NFL lead in delay-of-game penalties with five, according to NFLpenalties.com. Rodgers likes to run the play clock down as far as possible so he can make the defense reveal how it’s going to line up. However, teams have caught on and are waiting until the last second to move players around. “Yeah, there’s been good disguises, but we’ve got to have a little more urgency I think getting in and out of the huddle, getting to the line of scrimmage, calling plays, on quicker cadences, to try and start getting them to show what they’re doing,” Rodgers said. “And at times with moving pieces and substitutions we haven’t maybe had the fast-paced tempo up to as fast as we’d like it to be. (But) we always have to have a healthy balance of plays that I can check in and out of and plays we can get up and run.”
YOUNG MAN'S GAME: Against the New York Jets last week, 35-year-old Dolphins running back Frank Gore carried 20 times and his young backup, Kenyan Drake, got just three. Drake is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and shouldn’t have been ignored as much as he was in the run game. Drake is still having an impact in the passing game, catching 31 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns, and will probably have a much bigger role Sunday. “Kenyan is a big part of this offense,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggins told Miami reporters. “We need to continue to find ways to get him the ball and not just in the passing game but get him carries as well. Kenyan is a guy that has a lot of flexibility. He can flex out and run routes. He can catch balls and do those things. He’s also a good running back from the backfield. We need to do a better job using him.”
I’m not sure if you can play down to the level of a team with a better record, but the Packers have to avoid doing it Sunday against Miami. They’re an average team against great competition and need to be a great team against average competition. This game presents them with that opportunity. Packer 27, Dolphins 16
This is pretty much a must-win for the 3-4-1 Packers, who have tough road games remaining against Seattle, Minnesota and Chicago. Miami is 1-3 on the road, and Aaron Rodgers vs. Brock Osweiler is a mismatch. The guess here is that’s enough for the Packers to prevail against a Miami defense that ranks No. 23 in points, No. 29 in yards and No. 31 in rushing yards. Packers 27, Dolphins 20
The Dolphins have a pair of running backs who could make this an uglier game than anticipated. They also have Brock Osweiler at quarterback. No way Aaron Rodgers loses at home to Brock Osweiler, not in a true, must-win situation. Packers 24, Dolphins 17
This game reminds me, in many ways, of the Packers’ last home game against San Francisco way back on Oct. 15. The Packers are the better team but it will be a struggle to finish the game as the offense (kind of) clicks and the defense does just enough with a key turnover to seal it. Packers 27, Dolphins 20
This game needs to be more like the Packers' 22-0 rout of the Bills and less like the 33-30 escape vs. the 49ers. After playing well in two straight losses, the Packers need to build on that against a mediocre Miami team. Look for Aaron Rodgers to play well enough to compensate for a suspect Green Bay defense. Packers 31. Dolphins 23