The Dolphins get back to work on Sunday in Green Bay when they take on the banged up Packers. There's no question that we're going to learn a lot about the mental toughness of this team. We're all aware that the past two weeks have been rough - to say the least. But this team can start putting the pieces back together and thrust themselves right back into the thick of things with a win at Lambeau Field.
With that said, let's quickly highlight three critical matchups for Sunday's game.
Brandon Marshall vs Charles Woodson
When Marshall visited the set of the NFL Today last week, he was asked about his thoughts on the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year. Woodson, of course, was the first cornerback to win the award since Deion Sanders in 1994. Marshall's response was classic Brandon, telling the guys on the set, "We head to Green Bay in less than a week and I have the opportunity to evaluate him a little more."
This matchup is probably the marquee matchup of the game. Woodson is an elite corner with game-breaking skills - even at the tender age of 34. He's coming off of his best career season, tallying 9 interceptions and and 18 passes defensed - both career highs. Marshall has only faced Woodson once in his career - back in 2007. Off hand, I don't know how often they lined up across from one another. What I do know is Brandon caught just three passes but racked up 74 yards in a six point loss to the Packers.
Expect Woodson to shadow Marshall all over the field on Sunday. He's their best corner - by far - and has the size to defend the 6'4 Marshall better than the smaller Tramon Williams. Woodson is also great at baiting young quarterbacks into throwing it in his direction only to jump in front and make the interception. So Chad Henne will have to be careful. It'll be up to Marshall to create separation and give Henne a place to put the football.
Vontae Davis vs Greg Jennings/Donald Driver
Last time out, the Dolphins strayed from their preference of keeping their starting corners locked to one side and let Vontae shadow Randy Moss. The result? Moss went without a reception for the first time and only time as a Patriot. This week, though, the Dolphins will probably get back to leaving Vontae on one side rather than flipping him to play the matchups. The reason? The Packers have two outstanding receivers that Miami will have to worry about.
Driver and Jennings give opposing defensive coordinators a lot of trouble - in large part because both are too good to allow the defense to emphasize containing one of them. This year, the elder receiver (Donald Driver) has been more effective - with 11 more receptions and almost 100 more yards than Greg Jennings. But that doesn't particularly mean anything - though it's worth noting that Jennings recently told the media he wishes he was more involved. Driver has been targeted only three more times - so it's not like Jennings has been forgotten about by any means.
Vontae, meanwhile, is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the game's premier young corners. But to really put himself into the same category as the league's elite he has to prove he is consistent. This week will be a big test for him - even if Aaron Rodgers doesn't play. Even bad quarterbacks can hit open receivers as talented as these two. And Matt Flynn is no incompetent quarterback. If Driver and/or Jennings are open, he'll connect.
If you think Davis is feeling any pressure, though, he certainly isn't showing it. When asked about Driver yesterday, Vontae responded, "He's old enough to be my father."
Jake Long vs Clay Matthews
I know - Matthews might not even play. But the Dolphins are preparing like the outstanding outside linebacker will play - so I will assume he is as well. After all, taking Matthews out of the game is so important that every offensive lineman on the team had photos of Clay doing a sack celebration posted up in their lockers.
A year after posting 10 sacks as a rookie, Matthews leads the NFL through the first five weeks with a ridiculous 8.5 sacks - two more than any other player in the league. Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers knows how to use his stud pass rusher - moving him all around the defense to create headaches for opposing offensive lines.
While I highlighted Jake Long in particular - mainly because I'm hoping we get to see these two great young players go toe to toe - this is really a point of emphasis for the entire offensive line. Like I said, Matthews will move around and rush from both sides of the defense. The Dolphins must know where he is at all times and make sure they keep this guy from brutalizing Chad Henne.