Packers Insider: Thumbs up to pass rush, down to schedule makers
The Packers evened their record at 4-4-1, but their last two victories have come at home against injury-riddled opponents starting backup quarterbacks. Now come two daunting assignments: a quick-turnaround Thursday night game that requires a long flight to face the Seattle Seahawks (4-5) and their notoriously noisy fans, and then a post-Thanksgiving game at Minnesota (5-3-1), which will play next Sunday night at NFC North leader Chicago (6-3). Still winless away from Lambeau Field, the Packers desperately need at least a split on the road to remain in contention for when their schedule softens up in December.
After falling behind 14-3, the Dolphins kept chipping away with field goals and pulled to within 14-12 after blocking a JK Scott punt early in the third quarter. But the Packers got the ball at their 40 after Miami's kickoff went out of bounds, and on a third-and-2 play, Aaron Rodgers hit wide-open tight end Marcedes Lewis for a 30-yard gain. Aaron Jones took it from there, rushing for 12 yards and then a 10-yard touchdown to make it 21-12. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland intercepted Dolphins quarterback Brock Osweiler on the second play of the next series, setting up a Rodgers' 25-yard TD strike to receiver Davante Adams a couple plays later that put the Packers comfortably ahead at 28-12.
While Jones merits the most accolades, the Packers also got a strong performance from their defense, particularly the pass rushers. True, the Dolphins were without three of their usual offensive-line starters, but Packers fans still had to be pleased with the sacks recorded by Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Kyler Fackrell, Reggie Gilbert, Raven Greene and Montravius Adams. Breeland's interception was huge, and the defense did a good job of holding the Dolphins to field goals rather than touchdowns.
Thursday night games are difficult enough without the additional strain of having to travel halfway across the country to face the Seahawks in deafening CenturyLink Field. Making matters worse, the NFL pushed back the start time of the Packers-Dolphins game from noon to 3:25 p.m., giving Green Bay even less time between games. The quick turnaround seemingly can't help but increase the Packers' injury risk, a bad look for a league that supposedly cares about player safety. If these games are a necessary evil, at least make them divisional matchups that don't require lengthy travel.
» Clicking with Aaron Jones: Jones’ 145-yard rushing effort was exactly what it looked like — the new Packers' offense. The second-year back came in averaging an NFL-best 6.0 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per reception. But he hadn't carried more than 14 times. Sunday, that changed. He rushed it 15 times. He caught it three times. He averaged 9.7 yards per rush. He scored two touchdowns. On the six possessions in which he touched the ball at least twice, the Packers scored touchdowns on four and added a field goal on a fifth. Except for one series with Jamaal Williams in the first half (the Packers turned it over on downs), Jones was the man in the backfield until garbage time at the end.
» Accountability check: A week ago, Jones and right guard Byron Bell were two of the more vocal players on the Packers' offense regarding the individual errors they felt contributed greatly to the loss at New England. Both felt if they'd done better, the result would have been different. The two vowed to be better and were Sunday. Jones had 172 yards of total offense and Bell was out front blocking for many of Jones’ big plays.
» Taking care of business: The Packers were nearly double-digit favorites, and the last time they held such a distinction was their last home game way back on Oct. 15 against the undermanned San Francisco 49ers. And that undermanned team, behind a backup quarterback, nearly pulled off an upset. This week, the undermanned Dolphins and their backup quarterback were kept in check. Coming up on a short week, the Packers needed to put together a complete effort and get a win over an inferior opponent. They did that.
» Special teams struggle: It’s not an exaggeration to say there is a weekly problem with the Packers’ third phase. At best, it’s an untimely penalty. At worst, it’s what happened Sunday with a Tramon Williams fumble on a punt return at midfield and a blocked punt deep in the Packers' end. They allowed a 14-yard run on a fake punt in a relatively obvious situation in the third quarter. They did execute their own fake punt in the fourth quarter with Raven Greene taking a direct snap and running for 26 yards. The defense picked up the special teams units after the fumble and the block by forcing the Dolphins to settle for two field goals.
» Injury watch: Starting safety Kentrell Brice suffered what looked to be a serious left ankle injury early in the first quarter. The TV cameras caught him in an emotional moment on the Packers' bench before he was carted to the locker room. Backup offensive lineman Lucas Patrick was evaluated for a concussion and starting linebacker Nick Perry had his right leg awkwardly bent late in the first half, resulting in a knee injury. Breeland, who started in place of an injured Kevin King, hurt his groin and left the game in the third quarter. Fellow corner Jaire Alexander was being checked for a possible concussion.