What a way to get the nasty taste of two bitter defeats out of our mouths. I won't go as far as to say the Dolphins saved their season, but 3-2 is drastically better than 2-3 in this division and conference.
Unfortunately, things haven't got much easier for the Dolphins, as the Jets and Patriots continue to win and the schedule isn't about to get softer any time soon. But they still have a pulse and now have two very impressive road wins under their belt.
Before yesterday the Dolphins really hadn't played a full game with a solid offensive and defensive performance. In the first two road wins, Mike Nolan's defense was fantastic, but the offense was lackluster. In the Jets game, Chad Henne and the passing attack was brilliant but the running game and defense cost the Dolphins at home. I don't think I even need to mention the New England game two weeks ago.
Yesterday against the Packers, though, the offense put together their most balanced attack of the season as Henne threw for 231 yards and Ronnie and Ricky combined for 137 yards. Take away the interception, turnover on downs, and the settling for field goals, and that was the offensive formula this team needs to employ week in and week out to be successful.
Dan Henning has been getting his fair share of criticism this year, and rightfully so, but outside of that mind boggling Hartline reverse, he called a pretty flawless game. And how about the way Henne bounced back after the three picks he threw against the Pats?
Yes, we've already talked about the interception, which was the wrong read, but credit the defender for making a great jump on the ball and completing the difficult catch. Take away that pass, and there wasn't much to complain about.
Henne fit some passes into some very tight windows; throws that only quarterbacks with elite arm strength can make. The touchdown pass to Bess between two defenders was a great example, as was that perfectly placed ball to Marshall along the sideline between the corner and safety in zone coverage.
Henne may not be ready to emerge as one of the league's elite quarterbacks yet, but he's surely earned the right to keep his job and has proven to be good enough to at least be a solid starter for years to come.
Defensively, the Dolphins finally stopped the bleeding a bit against the run by holding Green Bay to under four yards per carry. Albeit the Packers don't exactly have a dominate running attack, and they were still able to gash Miami's front seven on a few plays, but it was a solid, encouraging effort.
Yes, Aaron Rodgers got his yards- when doesn't he? But outside of that deep connection with Jennings, the secondary bent but didn't break when the Dolphins needed a stop the most. It was a little disappointing to see Vontae give up that big touchdown, but that's going to happen every now and then when he's all alone on an island like that.
Make no mistake, this kid is a player. Maybe he hasn't arrived at the elite shutdown status quite yet, but he's well on his way. Despite the big play, he continued to show how physical he is on some key tackles there in the fourth quarter that nearly preserved the lead.
When Vontae and the secondary needed to make a play to get off the field, it was the pass rush, and in particular Cameron Wake who answered the call. Wake was simply a beast all game long. Each of his three sacks played a huge role in keeping the Packers off the board more than they were, and without them the Dolphins probably don't win that game.
I have praised Wake before, but I think it's officially time to cement him as one of the league's elite pass rushers. If he isn't a household name now, he will be by years end. Not to say that he's arrived yet as a complete outside linebacker, he's still got some work to do setting the edge, but from a pass rushing standpoint the Dolphins have been blessed with one of the best in the business.
That finally brings me to special-teams. It wasn't pretty at times again, but progress was made. The tipped punt and the holding call near the end of the first-half on Carpenter's field goal were the negatives. But Carpenter showed great composure by calmly nailing that 53-yarder at the end of the half and the game winning kick in overtime. The kickoff coverage was also much better, as the first and second lines of defense were staying in their lanes and flying to the football.
Nolan Carroll also caught my eye. I think the Dolphins have found their kickoff returner. He very nearly broke off a couple big returns yesterday, and he hits the hole so much harder than the other guys who have gotten opportunities. Still a lot to correct, though, on the special-teams side of things, but they appear to be headed in the right direction.
Overall, just a great team win for a group of guys who have had to battle a little adversity here in the last three weeks and who desperately needed to right the ship. It's no time to relax, though, perhaps the best team in football awaits next week when the Steelers come to town.
Fab Five Fins
Cameron Wake: The obvious choice, Wake made a few of the biggest plays of the game by getting to Rodgers for three sacks.
Brandon Marshall: Pretty disappointed to see Marshall not get that second foot down towards the end of the half, but 10 grabs for 127 yards was more than enough production to open up the offense.
Chad Henne: The interception in the redzone was pretty frustrating considering the Dolphins were on the verge of adding to a 7-3 lead, but overall Henne had a great bounce back performance from the debacle two weeks ago with 231 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Dan Carpenter: Like I said yesterday, I don't usually go out of my way to compliment kickers, but Carpenter surely deserves some recognition for one of the most outstanding performances I have seen in recent memory from a Dolphins kicker.
Jason Allen: Jason Allen also had a nice little bounce back performance of his own. After a rough two game home stand, Allen wasn't picked on two heavily by Rodgers and made one of the key plays of the game by picking him off along the sideline.
A big congratulations to Davone Bess for the two-year contract extension yesterday. The deal reportedly makes him the highest paid slot receiver in the league. Great job by Jeff Ireland for getting this thing out of the way, and good for Davone Bess who deserves every penny.
Dolphins 23 Packers 20
After the Dolphins lost their second straight game to a division foe two weeks ago, I said this stretch after the bye week would reveal what type of character this football team had. They answered the call in a big way today, going into Lambeau Field and knocking off the injury depleted, but still Aaron Rodgers led Packers.
Adversity showed it's ugly face in the game as well. Early on, the Dolphins were in great shape up 7-3 and driving on the Packers. That's when Chad Henne made his only costly decision of the day by trying to force a ball into Marshall that was picked off. Greg Jennings got the best of Vontae Davis on an 86-yard strike from Rodgers on the very next play. The Dolphins could have folded in a hostile environment, but they didn't.
The battled back and took a three point lead in the third quarter, and eventually jumped out to a 20-13 lead late into the fourth quarter. The Packers answered right back, as Rodgers converted on two fourth downs, with the second being the game tying touchdown.
The defense could have hanged their heads for letting Rodgers walk right in to tie the game, but when the Dolphins desperately needed a stop, Cameron Wake got to Rodgers for the third time which gave Henne and the offense great field position.
I usually don't go out of my way to compliment a kicker, but the Dolphins are truly blessed to have one of such high caliber in Dan Carpenter. The 53-yarder he nailed in the first-half after the holding penalty was impressive enough, but it was obvious how confident the coaching staff was that he would calmly split the uprights there in overtime.
I don't have much time, so I'm keeping this short, but be sure to check back tomorrow for in-depth evaluation. What a great win for our Dolphins!
Game Ball: OLB Cameron Wake, 3.0 sacks
Full box score here
The Dolphins and Packers released their injury reports earlier today. So much for the Dolphins' defense lucking out by not having to face one of the top quarterbacks in football, but you can hear Chad Henne's big sigh of relief as Clay Matthews is listed as doubtful.
DE Jared Odrick (ankle)
LB Channing Crowder (groin)
OT Jake Long (knee)
LB Brandon Chillar (shoulder)
LB Nick Barnett (wrist)
TE Jermicheal Finley
LB Clay Matthews (hamstring)
OT Mark Tauscher (shoulder
DE Mike Neal (shoulder)
DE Ryan Pickett (ankle)
QB Aaron Rodgers (concussion)
RB Quinn Johnson (glute)
S Nick Collins (knee)
CB Charles Woodson (toe)
CB Sam Shields (calf)
OT Chad Clifton (knee)
DE Cullen Jenkins (hamstring)
TE Donald Lee (hamstring)
With no Packers blog in the Bloguin network, it looked as though we would have to do without what has become the most interesting read of the week. Thanks to Adam Somers from Ol' Bag of Donuts, though, who reached out to me a couple days ago, we have some quality insight into the Dolphins' opponent for the fifth straight game. Be sure to check out the questions I answered for Adam right here.
Phins Phocus: How optimistic are you that Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews will be able to suit up on Sunday? In Rodgers case in particular, how confident are you in Matt Flynn's ability to step in and lead the offense?
Ol' Bag of Donuts: I am more optimistic about Rodgers starting then I was at the beginning of the week after he has started practicing. However, that doesn't necessarily mean he will be cleared to play Sunday. Original reports were that the concussion was not too bad, but still the NFL takes head injuries very seriously, as they should, so I would say right here, right now I would give Rodgers a 50-50 chance to play. If he doesn't play, it wouldn't upset me too much because that means he is given another week to recover and avoid another potential concussion. Then steps in Matt Flynn, a former seventh-round pick from a few years ago. Flynn has developed very nicely in the Packers system that they waived the other QB from that draft class Brian Brohm. If the right game plan is in place that is a little more conservative and predicated on short passes, I think Flynn can win some games. He is a proven winner (national championship at LSU) and makes smart decisions. However, Mike McCarthy hasn't shown anything but stubbornness so far this year in his gameplans and playcalling.
As for Clay Matthews, it is looking more and more that he will not play. The hamstring injury he suffered is the same that kept him out of almost all of training. However, the injury is not as serious as it was this summer and knowing Matthews demeanor he will try to tough it out at all costs. It can be argued that Matthews is just as valuable as Rodgers this year, but not to underestimate the Dolphins, the team needs him close to 100% against the Vikings in two weeks. You never want to drop a game in the NFL, but if Rodgers and Matthews are not fully healthy, but can be in two weeks, Sunday's game carries a lot less importance than the one in two weeks.
Phins Phocus: Heading into the season, it seemed like the Packers were a trendy pick to come out of the NFC. While they still are certainly capable of doing just that, they probably haven't lived up to most people's expectations. What were your expectations for them heading into the year, and how have they changed after the first five games of the season?
Ol' Bag of Donuts: Expectations were extremely high and so were mine, I picked the Packers to win the NFC. Might have been a bit of a homer pick, but there was so much to like about this team. They haven't met the level of those expectations yet, but the argument can be made that no one in the NFC has yet. However, through the first five games I do expect them to still win the NFC North. Injuries have played and will play a major factor in all of this, but as long as some of the key cogs - Rodgers, Matthews, Ryan Pickett come back healthy in a couple weeks, there is still plenty of talent on this team to win the division and win a playoff a game or two, even without Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant. NFC champions might be a bit of a reach right now, but no one has looked that great so far in the conference and the team that gets hot in the final month will probably be the favorites and I still believe that could be the Packers.
Phins Phocus: If Rodgers does end up playing, how exactly would you go about stopping the Packers' high-powered offense if you were an opposing defensive coordinator?
Ol' Bag of Donuts: I feel like we say this every week, but you need to get pass rush on the edge early and often. In the Packers' two losses this year Julius Peppers and Brian Orkapo had monster games. The offensive line is not any better than they were last year and without a commitment to the run teams are starting to tee off on Rodgers again. His mobility can curb an inside rush fairly well, but if you can get him on the outside and keep him from rolling out, you should be pretty successful against the Packers.
Phins Phocus: The defense finished second overall a year ago, but find themselves 13th so far this season. Obviously, still a respectable ranking, but what has been the cause for the slight slippage?
Ol' Bag of Donuts: I never want to use injuries as an excuse, but I will here. The Packers were already down 3 starters heading into last week - LB's Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar and rookie safety Morgan Burnett and now will probably be down two more Sunday with Pickett and Matthews sidelined. There isn't much depth in the secondary with Al Harris and Atari Bigbyon the PUP list and nickel back Sam Shields (from the U!) injured as well. Sometimes the injuries are just too much take and you are seeing that on defense. The team is still pretty solid against the run, but can struggle against the pass with no secondary depth beyond Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Nick Collins and also Matthews is the only consistent pass rusher the team has seen so far.
Phins Phocus: Finally, who do you see winning this Sunday and why? Final score?
Ol' Bag of Donuts: It comes down to if Rodgers and/or Matthews can play. I wouldn't be surprised either way if they did or didn't. I think Matt Flynn can sneak out a win IF, and that is a big if, they can control the clock and win the turnover battle. Miami's offense isn't elite yet, but is good enough against a depleted Packers defense. The loss of Matthews will probably be greater than Rodgers this week because the team has no pass rush so far besides him. If someone can step up and get to Henne that would go a long way, but I don't see that happening.
Dan Carpenter: 5-7 FG's, Long 50
Brandon Fields: 40.9 average, 10 IN20, Long 68, 2 punts blocked
Patrick Cobbs: 7 attempts, 21.9 yard average
Nolan Carroll: 2 attempts, 27.0 yard average
Davone Bess: 3 returns, 13.7 yard average
Kicking: 5-7 FG's, Long 51
Punting: 42.3 average, 4 IN20, Long 68, 0 punts blocked
Kickoff Return: 10 returns, 35.8 yard average, 1 touchdown
Punt Return: 8 returns, 6.5 yard average
Mason Crosby: 7-10 FG's, Long 56
Tim Masthay: 44.4 yard average, 2 IN20, Long 58, 0 punts blocked
Jordy Nelson: 20 returns, 23.7 yard average
Pat Lee: 2 returns, 16.5 yard average
Tramon Williams: 11 returns, 11.6 yard average
Kicking:11-14 FG's, Long 52
Punting: 45.5 yard average, 2 IN20, Long 58, 0 punts blocked
Kickoff Return: 22 returns, 24.5 yard average
Punt Return: 10 returns, 16.9 yard average
As you can see, after watching mediocre special-teams play for three weeks and a special-teams meltdown of epic proportions in Week 4 against the Patriots, it was time to stop overlooking the kicking game. We've previewed the passing game and running game before each week, but when you make the kinds of mistakes the Dolphins have made on special-teams you can still clearly lose games regardless of how you play on offense and defense. Darren Rizzi has obviously inherited quite a mess. But avoiding the kind of costly mistakes we saw against the Pats shouldn't be too much to ask. If you play well enough to win offensively and defensively, all you need is the special-teams to go out and not screw it up.
There are some nice building blocks on special-teams for the Dolphins to work with too. Dan Carpenter is a Pro Bowl kicker, Brandon Fields has punted the ball very well this season when he's had time to get it off, and Nolan Carroll has flashed some potential as kick returner.They just can't afford to have any more missed blocking assignments, their kickoff and punt teams need to stay disciplined by filling their lanes properly, and the unit can right the ship in time for the most important stretch of the season.
Dolphins running game: 107.0 rush ypg (15th)
Packers running game: 107.0 rush ypg (14th)
Dolphins run defense: 117.8 rush ypg (21st)
Packers run defense: 104.8 rush ypg (15th)
It feels great to get back into the swing of things after a long, miserable week off. We still have five more long days to wait, but at least we can start previewing this Sunday's game in Lambeau Field. I said yesterday, after watching Green Bay struggle to pull of a victory against the Lions at home and drop a game to the Redskins on the road this past Sunday, that this game was looking more and more winnable. Now, when you throw Aaron Rodgers possibly being ruled out with a concussion, optimism has officially returned after it's two week hiatus. I know that we are previewing the running game today, but if Rodgers can't go every aspect of this game will be affected. I will explain below.
Packers running game vs. Dolphins run defense
It's something that needs to be said every week. The Dolphins must, I repeat must, set the edge better. We saw the Vikings and Jets have enough success testing the perimeter for New England to run to the outside on just about every run play last Monday night. Cameron Wake has usually been the center of attention on most of those runs. I'm not saying that he's been good setting the edge or anything, but when he has created a little penetration on the outside, cutback lanes have been wide open.
Wake, along with Koa Misi and hopefully more Ikaika Alama-Francis on early downs, need to create more penetration all the while containing the edge, but the backside pursuit must not get caught over committing and they need to fill gaps properly for the Dolphins to stop the bleeding against the run. And that's against anybody. No, the Packers aren't an elite running team, but the way this defense is playing right now, just about anybody is going to be able to get their running game going on the outside.
And I think the Packers have ran the ball better than people have given them credit for. A lot has been made of Ryan Grant being out, but Brandon Jackson's 256 yards on 4.6 yards per carry is pretty solid if you ask me. John Kuhn provides a nice number two option with 4.6 yards per carry as well, totaling 133 yards on the ground.
The big wildcard, though, is obviously Aaron Rodgers' health. If he can't go, the Pack aren't an elite passing team anymore- more on that Thursday. But it also will effect their running game, because if Mike Nolan is smart, and he is, he will load up the box and make the unproven Matt Flynn complete passes to move the ball. Maybe the youngster will do just fine with an outstanding receiving core and get the Dolphins' defense back on their heels a little bit. But I just don't know how you justify not committing to the run until he does.
Dolphins running game vs. Packers run defense
Enough is enough. It's time for the Dolphins to run the ball like we all know they are capable of. We all saw first hand last Monday night why Chad Henne isn't ready to run a pass first offense yet. It's time to get back to the identity. That doesn't mean go in a shell like we saw in the first two weeks, Henning still needs to trust Henne to make plays down the field for this offense to reach it's full potential and to keep defenses off balanced.
But looking back at the past two seasons, this team has been at its best when they are pounding opposing defenses with a solid dose of Ronnie and Ricky. Obviously they can't just line up and do it, they are going to need better blocking from the interior offensive line. I know I said the same thing two weeks ago, but the Packers defense will present a golden opportunity to finally get the run game going. Are they horrible against the run? No, they have a respectable 15th overall ranking.
But without the Dolphins thinking they need to score early in often to keep up with an Aaron Rodgers led offense (that's if he doesn't play) they may be tested and hopefully exposed a little more. 15th overall against the run is nothing to be ashamed of, but the 4.7 yards per carry they are conceding is actually tied for sixth worst in the entire league. That means they certainly can be ran on.
The Dolphins should come out with a balanced mindset every game in my opinion, but it especially rings true this week. They can't fall in a big hole like we saw against New England, though, causing them to abandon their running game. At the end of the day, this should be a statement game for Ronnie, Ricky, and the offensive line. It's time they remind the league and show the Green Bay Packers what they are all about.