3 Must Win Matchups for Green Bay Packers v. Dolphins

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) runs past the defense against the Miami Dolphins at Lambeau Field Sunday, November 11, 2018 in Green Bay, Wis. Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis30 111118 Pack V Miami 15042
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) runs past the defense against the Miami Dolphins at Lambeau Field Sunday, November 11, 2018 in Green Bay, Wis. Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis30 111118 Pack V Miami 15042 /

After picking up a pair of wins against two sub-par opponents, as the Green Bay Packers continue their playoff push, the real test begins on Christmas Day in taking on the Miami Dolphins, followed by Minnesota and Detroit at home in the coming weeks.

In addition to beating the Dolphins, losses from the Giants, Commanders, Seahawks, and Lions will all be welcomed this week as well.

The Green Bay offense continues to play some of its best football of the season and has the opportunity to continue doing so against a Miami defense that has given up a lot of points and been susceptible to the pass. The Packers’ defense, however, will be in store for a big challenge, taking on one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.

If the Green Bay Packers are going to come out on top in this must-win game, it begins by controlling these three key matchups.

Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon vs. Miami run defense

There are two reasons that I have the Green Bay Packers run game listed as a must-win matchup. The first is that over the last two-ish months, the Packers’ ability to put up points has been tied to their effectiveness on the ground. And the second reason is to control the time of possession.

Going back to Green Bay’s Week 9 loss to Detroit, there are four games where the Packers scored at least 24 points and averaged 29 points per contest in those outings. In those games, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon totaled 555 rushing yards at 4.9 yards per rush. On the flip side, in the two games where Green Bay scored just 26 total points, Jones and Dillon rushed for a combined 112 yards at 2.9 yards per carry.

Success on the ground opens up both passing opportunities and, in general, the playbook for Matt LaFleur. Miami has been alright against the run this season, allowing 4.4 yards per rush, which ranks 16th, and also ranking 11th in run defense by DVOA. The Dolphins have, however, struggled in pass coverage. This is an area that Green Bay can exploit with a fully healthy wide receiver group, but they can’t become one-dimensional either. They need some semblance of balance.

As far as the time of possession goes, the Dolphins have a high-powered offense, and the fewer opportunities that the Packers can give them by holding on to the ball will be important.

Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle vs. Green Bay Packers secondary

As I just mentioned, the Packers’ defense is going to have their hands full trying to contain the big play Dolphins offense. Miami has created the second-most big passing plays this season, with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle both being among the best in creating plays of 20-plus yards as well as picking up yards after the catch per PFF ($$).

Realistically, the Packers aren’t going to stop these two, and explosive plays are going to happen, but they have to limit the number of big plays and quick-scoring opportunities. Green Bay does, however, rank in the top 10 in terms of big plays allowed by a defense this season, with poor tackling and coverage breakdowns being persistent throughout the year.

Because of this, I again expect a lot of two-high zone coverage to limit the downfield pass attempts and hopefully force the Dolphins to put together long scoring drives. But what this does do, is leave the Packers susceptible underneath and in the quick passing game — which Miami often utilizes — to catch and run opportunities. Swarming to the football and tackling will be at a premium.

Preston Smith vs. Miami offensive tackles

One of the best ways that the Packers can try to slow the Miami passing game is by pressuring Tua Tagovailoa. Without Rashan Gary, Green Bay has really struggled to generate consistent pressure, and as a team, they currently rank 23rd in total pressures.

Getting after Tagovailoa, meanwhile, won’t be easy. He gets the ball out of his hands at the sixth-fastest rate in the NFL, and that, coupled with the play of the offensive line, has led to him being pressured at the second-lowest rate in football.

Like every other quarterback, when under duress, Tagovailoa’s efficiency drops, and there are more turnover opportunities for the defense, but it also means less time that the secondary has to be in coverage. If Tagovailoa has time, covering Hill and Waddle for three-plus seconds becomes a very difficult task.

Preston Smith has been building momentum as of late, with 11 pressures in the last five games played and four sacks in the last four games. With that said, the pass rush needs more consistency overall from both him and the unit.

Something worth watching up until game time is the status of left tackle Terron Armstead, who is listed as questionable after not practicing on Wednesday and Thursday, and then being a limited participant on Friday. Once again, Armstead has been one of the best tackles in the league.