Limiting Dolphins big play offense a must for Green Bay Packers defense

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) celebrates a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter with wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Nov. 13, 2022.Photos Cleveland Browns V Miami Dolphins 31
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) celebrates a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter with wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Nov. 13, 2022.Photos Cleveland Browns V Miami Dolphins 31 /

The Green Bay Packers’ defense has played better as of late, although, to be fair, they did so against two struggling offenses. This week — and moving forward — they will very much be tested by the Miami Dolphins, who have one of the most explosive passing offenses in the NFL.

With Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, who has the highest yards per pass attempt in football, along with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Wadel at receiver, the Dolphins have generated 53 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season, which is the second most in the NFL.

Individually, Tagovailoa has the ninth most downfield attempts this season. Hill is tied for the most downfield targets out of all receivers; he’s also first in receptions and first in yards. Waddle, meanwhile, isn’t too far behind, ranking sixth in receptions and seventh in yards, per PFF ($$). Hill and Waddle have also been some of the best at picking up yards after the catch, ranking third and 11th, respectively, in that category.

"“They do a really good job of putting him (Tyreek Hill) at the point of attack,” said Matt LaFleur on Wednesday via “Certainly there’s other weapons on the field; Jaylen Waddle is pretty fast and pretty good too. (Mike) Gesicki, the backs are running really well. Like I said, Tua is doing a heck of a job anticipating a lot of throws and allowing his playmakers to make plays. And that’s what they do, they do a good job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly and let those guys do the rest. It’s going to be a great challenge for us, just in terms of being able to eliminate those explosive plays and really slow down the offense. You can see, they can score in a hurry.”"

The Packers, meanwhile, have had issues limiting the big play this season. As I wrote recently, they left the bye week having given up the fourth-most explosive plays in football. From the passing game’s perspective, this is a product of soft coverages that creates a lot of space and YAC opportunities for the pass catchers. Frequent miscommunications that have led to coverage breakdowns and some mixing in of the Green Bay defenders simply getting beat downfield.

I’m sure we can expect a heavy dose of cover-2 from the Packers in an effort to eliminate those downfield pass attempts. However, even if that does take those opportunities away, Tagovailoa ranks sixth in average time to throw, having no issues relying on the quick passing game, as LaFleur mentions, and allowing his playmakers to make plays. This is where tackling and swarming to the football will be crucial for the Packers’ defense — something they’ve struggled with — and not allowing too much room to operate underneath.

Green Bay is also going to have to contend with Raheem Mostert out of the backfield, who I’m sure still gives Packers’ fans nightmares after rushing for 200-plus yards with San Francisco in the 2019 NFC Championship Game. Mostert is averaging 4.9 yards per carry this season and is tough to bring down, ranking seventh in average yards after contact. If Green Bay is going to play a lot of cover-2 and focus on eliminating the big passing play, Miami could simply lean on the run game and attack one of the weak points of the two-high system.

Although not always easy with how quickly Tagovailoa gets the ball out of his hands at times, but pressure from the Green Bay defensive front will be a must to hopefully disrupt some of those pass attempts. As expected, the Packers’ ability to create regular pressure has been sporadic since losing Rashan Gary, and because of Miami’s explosive passing game, we may not see many blitzes from Joe Barry, which means the defensive front is going to have to win their one-on-ones. This is a Dolphins’ offensive line that has allowed the 10th-highest pressure rate this season.

Realistically, Green Bay is going to give up at least a few big plays–they just simply haven’t been very good this season, and the Dolphins are one of the best in football at it. However, they’ll need to limit the number of times that happens, and that begins with knowing coverage responsibilities, sound tackling, and hopefully, some pressure on the quarterback.

This past week, Aaron Rodgers said that the Green Bay offense is going to need to put up 30 points in each remaining game, and that feels particularly true in this matchup, as the defense will face the tall task of slowing the powerful Miami offense. The Packers’ offense has been playing much better over the last month, but they likely still don’t have the firepower to go score-for-score with Miami.