Behind Enemy Lines: Real test for Packers begins against Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 11: Tua Tagovailoa #1 and Tyreek Hill #10 of the Miami Dolphins are introduced prior to playing the against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 11: Tua Tagovailoa #1 and Tyreek Hill #10 of the Miami Dolphins are introduced prior to playing the against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images) /

The Green Bay Packers are again looking to keep their playoff hopes alive for another week, but the real test begins for them this week as they take on an explosive Maimi offense on the road.

For Green Bay to make the playoffs, they of course, have to win out, and in addition to that, they need either the Giants to finish 0-3 or Washington to end the season 1-2. On top of either of those scenarios taking place, the Packers also need one more Seattle loss, not to mention a Detroit Loss to either Carolina or Chicago would help as well for tiebreaker purposes.

The Dolphins are an uncommon opponent for the Packers, so to get some added insights, Juan Vasquez of Phin Phanatic was kind enough to answer five of my questions. I also provided my own thoughts along the way as well.

What is the strength of the Dolphins? What do they do well?

Juan: The Dolphins are one of the most explosive passing offenses in the NFL; they currently rank 3rd in passing yards per game (273.6). With Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, all it takes is one play to blow the doors off another team and start stacking up touchdowns. Tua Tagovailoa has been playing at an extraordinary level, and even though he had some bad outings against the 49ers and Chargers, when against the Bills, Tagovailoa showed he could go punch for punch with Josh Allen in both the scorching sun or a Nordic winter in Buffalo.

Thoughts: As I wrote recently, the Green Bay Packers’ defense is very much going to have their hands full with the speed and big play ability that the Dolphins have in the passing game. Both Waddle and Hill rank among the best in downfield receiving yards this season, as well as creating yards after the catch. So I would expect to see a lot of cover-2 again from Green Bay, trying to eliminate those downfield opportunities, but if Joe Barry leaves too much space underneath, there will be some catch-and-run opportunities as well for Miami. Generating consistent pressure on Tagovailoa will be a must, as will sound tackling overall and good communication throughout the secondary.

On the flip side, what is the weakness of this Dolphins team?

Juan: The Dolphins live and die by their passing game, which means that when the throwing lanes are congested, Mike McDaniel would rather keep forcing throws than run the ball. Miami currently ranks 31st in rushing attempts per game (22.4).

And when this happens, Miami starts giving away three-and-outs like they’re on clearance sale.

This exposes the Miami Dolphins’ biggest weakness, which is their passing defense. The Miami Dolphins currently rank 27th in passing yards allowed (246.3), and with a quarterback on the other side to the level and prestige of Aaron Rodgers, one can only imagine the type of damage he can do if he gets hot on Miami’s secondary.

Thoughts: Miami may not run a lot, but if the Packers play a heavy dose of cover-2, one of the best ways to attack that defense is by running the ball. Green Bay has again had one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, and Dolphins’ running back Raheem Mostert — yes, that Raheem Mostert from the 2019 NFC Championship Game — is averaging 4.9 yards per rush and he’s also been very tough to bring down, ranking seventh among running backs in average yards after contact. Again, tackling will be at a premium, as Joe Barry said on Thursday.

I do think that there is the potential for the Packers to find success through the passing game against this Dolphins’ defense. The emergence of Christian Watson has altered how defenses defend Green Bay and opened up opportunities for others in the passing game. This is also the healthiest the receiver position has been pretty much all season. With that said, the Packers can’t forget about the run game either, as their ability to put up points and success on the ground have gone hand in hand over the last two months. Green Bay has gotten into trouble when they’ve become predictable.

Who is one under-the-radar player on offense and one on defense Packers fans should know?

Juan: Trent Sherfield has turned into Tua Tagovailoa’s safety blanket on offense when Hill and Waddle are covered. If Hill and Waddle are going deep, you can expect to see Sherfield come open in the middle of the field.

On defense, Packers fans should really watch for cornerback Kader Kohou. Kohou has emerged as a diamond in the rough for Miami since the start of the season. With key secondary guys like Byron Jones and Nik Needham going down, Kohou has turned into a pillar of safety for Miami. Oh yeah, did I mention he’s only a rookie?

Thoughts: Hill and Waddle will certainly draw their fair share of attention, which certainly opens up opportunities for others. Sherfield has caught 26 of his 40 targets this season, per PFF ($$), at 13.9 yards per catch with a pair of touchdowns. He’s played a relatively equal amount of snaps both from the slot and boundary, so we will see him moving around.

Kohou moves around but has spent the majority of his snaps lined up in the slot. He’s been targeted 86 times and allowed a completion rate of 67% and 9.1 yards per catch. He has five pass breakups, and missed tackles have been a problem at times.

If the Dolphins are going to win, what does that path to victory typically look like for them?

Juan: The Dolphins’ blueprint has been pretty standard since the start of the season. Head coach Mike McDaniel wants to decimate the opponents’ defense through the air.

If the Packers let Tagovailoa complete balls to Hill and Waddle easily during the Dolphins’ first drive, then you can expect that trio to come out confident the rest of the game, ready to do some more damage.

The only way to stop them is to dig at their confidence early. It’s why the 49ers and Chargers made an emphasis on getting to Tagovailoa early, because if this group gets rolling, then good luck stopping the storm coming your way.

Thoughts: This is why generating pressure for the Packers is going to be so important. If Tagovailoa has three-plus seconds in the pocket, covering Hill and Waddle that long consistently is a tall order, and Green Bay will likely get burned. Unfortunately, with Miami relying on the quick passing game, pressuring Tagovailoa hasn’t been easy this season. The Packers have also struggled in this capacity as well, especially since losing Rashan Gary, ranking 23rd in total pressures. Joe Barry may have to dial up some blitzes, but because of Miami’s explosive passing game, I do wonder if there will be a reluctance to take a defender out of coverage.

What’s your prediction, and how do you see this game playing out?

Juan: Three weeks ago, the Dolphins were 8-3 with a good shot of competing to take the entire AFC, as well as possibly lock up the division. Now the team is scratching and clawing in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. In the AFC East, the Dolphins, Patriots, and Jets are all separated by only one game.

This means the pressure is on Miami, fans here have seen the Packers struggle this season, but you can never count out a Hall of Fame talent like Aaron Rodgers. I expect a very close game, probably low scoring, with the Dolphins just barely getting out alive with the win 20-17.

Thoughts: I have the Dolphins winning as well, although I expect this to be high scoring, with both offenses being able to move the ball. The Packers’ path to victory is going to include the defense limiting big plays and the offense again having a good run-pass mix. With that said, I just don’t trust this Green Bay defense to get enough stops and the offense doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with Miami.

Packers 28 – Dolphins 34