Final Thoughts: Real playoff test begins for Packers against Miami

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 17: Preston Smith #91 of the Green Bay Packers gets set against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau on November 17, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 17: Preston Smith #91 of the Green Bay Packers gets set against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau on November 17, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

Well, the Green Bay Packers playoff hopes actually look quite well, believe it or not, after receiving a ton of help on Saturday. Thier path to making the playoffs has become much more clear, but none of it matters if they don’t take care of business against Miami.

The Packers have been able to win their last two games but did so against inferior opponents, and now the true test begins for them with the Dolphins, followed by home games with Minnesota and Detroit. All three teams have the ability to put up points, but on the flip side, the Packers’ offense will have the opportunity to do the same against these defenses.

But, first things first, taking on the Dolphins on Christmas day. As always, here are my final thoughts before the Packers and Miami take the field.

– The Packers’ defense — which is predicated on preventing big pass plays under Joe Barry — has given up some of the most big plays in the NFL this season. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have generated the second-most explosive pass plays. Tua Tagovailoa ranks ninth in pass attempts of 20-plus yards, while Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle both rank in the top 11 among receivers in downfield receiving yards.

– Tackling is also going to be at a premium as well, with both Hill and Waddle, again, being among the best at their position in picking up YAC.

How do the Packers defend these speedy receivers? My guess, and what they’ve done all year, is that they play a heavy dose of cover-2, trying to keep everything in front of them, hopefully forcing Miami to put together long scoring drives. With that said, if Barry is playing with too much cushion, it will create a lot of YAC opportunities.

– When Hill is on the boundary, hopefully, Jaire Alexander is on him. But when he’s in the slot, I don’t think Alexander follows him. For one, Alexander has rarely lined up inside this season, and two, who takes over on the boundary? Those responsibilities will fall on Keisean Nixon and what I imagine will be some double-teams, just as Green Bay did in 2021 against Kansas City when they held Hill to 37 yards.

Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. This will be a must for the Packers’ defense. If Tagovailoa has time, the Green Bay cornerbacks can only hang with Hill and Waddle for so long–the pass rush needs to provide some help. This won’t be easy, however, as Tagovailoa gets the ball out very quickly, and the offensive line has held up well in pass protection.

– The attention may be on the Miami passing attack since they don’t run the ball all that much with the second-fewest rush attempts per game, but the Dolphins do have Raheem Mostert in the backfield, who is averaging 4.9 yards per rush, according to PFF, and who ranks seventh in yards after contact average. If the Packers play a ton of cover-2, naturally, they will be susceptible to the run.

– This Dolphins defense has struggled situationally, ranking 25th in red zone defense and 27th on third downs. They’ve also generated the third-fewest turnovers on defense.

– Another big game for Keisean Nixon? The Dolphins rank last in kick return average allowed at 27.6 yards per return and have allowed one of the three kick return touchdowns this season.

– There is very much the potential for the Packers’ offense to continue putting up points. In four of their last five games (minus the Tennesse one), they are averaging 29 points in those outings. The Dolphins are giving up 24.6 points per game, which ranks 26th, and have struggled to defend the pass. Green Bay will again have their full complement of receivers.

– While moving the ball through the air will be enticing, the Packers need to maintain some semblance of a run-pass mix. Without question, Christian Watson’s emergence has been huge, and a must for this offense, the Packers’ ability to score and the run game have gone hand in hand.

– Green Bay’s playoff hopes got a ton of help on Saturday. Of course, they still have to win out, and this game against Miami begins their true test in that regard, but in terms of help, they only need either the Giants to finish 0-2 or Washington to finish 1-1.

Prediction: Packers 28 – Dolphins 34