The Miami Dolphins return home on Sunday having lost their last three games, but sitting in the final spot in the AFC playoff picture and able to nearly lock themselves into the postseason with a victory. For Miami’s Week 16 opponent, they will face the Green Bay Packers in a Christmas Day game. Can the Dolphins end their losing streak and improve on their 8-6 record?
The 2022 Packers are not the team that finished 13-4 in 2021 or 13-3 in 2020 and 2019. There have been struggles we are not used to seeing from Green Bay this year, and they are currently 6-8 and could be eliminated from playoff contention this week. It is a strange year for the Packers when looking at the team from the outside. But, how has this season been for a fan of the Packers, watching every single week?
I spoke with Jon Meerdink from Acme Packing Company, SB Nation’s Packers team site, to get a better picture of who Green Bay is this year. We discussed the emergence of wide receiver Christian Watson, what the future for quarterback Aaron Rodgers might be, the running back duo of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, and the struggles the Packers’ defense have had this year.
The Packers' offense seems to have figured out some things over the past few weeks, especially with the emergence of wide receiver Christian Watson. Green Bay’s second-round draft pick this year, Watson was slowed at the start of the year as he dealt with an injury during training camp, but now he appears to be at 100 percent both in terms of health and in catching up to the speed of the game (minus maybe last week when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was bothered with Watson not looking for a quick pass at the goal line). He has seven touchdowns in the last five games, though he was held out of the endzone last week. What is working so well with Watson and how can Miami make him uncomfortable?
The Packers have done an excellent job of putting Watson in situations where he can do what he does best: run really fast. They’ve really prioritized letting him stretch defenses horizontally, both as a receiver and a runner. Most of his big plays here in the second half of the season have involved him running across the defense, though he also got loose for one pure vertical shot, too. Still, it seems that the horizontal game is what the Packers have really been looking for.
I think if I was going to attack Watson, I’d try to be physical with him. One of the big questions about Watson predraft was how he’d handle physical coverage at the NFL level. Even as he’s emerged, teams really haven’t ried to press him much. I can see why; if you miss, he’s as good as gone. But that’s probably your best bet, and if the Dolphins think they can get away with it, that’s what they should probably do.
Aaron Rodgers has not looked like the two-time defending MVP this year, but it does not seem to be him as much as it was the offense trying to figure itself out this season. He is currently 13th in passing yards and passer rating, which is lower than we are used to seeing Rodgers, but you still can never bet against Rodgers. How are fans feeling about him? If the Packers are eliminated from the playoffs, is it Jordan Love time? What happens next year?
I think fans are frustrated with Rodgers to an extent. He was part of the problem early in the year, but was very slow to take any kind of responsibility for the Packers’ poor offensive performance, and that drew a lot of negative attention from many corners of the fanbase. He still has plenty of vocal supporters, though.
I think the Packers will look to get Jordan Love some playing time if they’re mathematically eliminated. There’s really no reason not to. They’ll have a decision to make on his fifth-year option this offseason, and even though GM Brian Gutekunst says he’s seen all he needs to see to make the decision, I still think they’ll look to get him some reps.
Next year gets complicated. Due to the structure of his contract, Aaron Rodgers really holds all the cards. If he so chooses, he can nuke the Packers’ cap with an adversarial retirement, and the Packers can’t really cut him. If they want to move on, they’ll have some complicated maneuvering to do to get a trade done. If I had to say right now, I think Rodgers will be back in Green Bay for 2023.
As a fan of a team that struggles on defense when more was expected this year, I feel some kinship with what has happened in Green Bay this year. Why has the defense struggled and how would you attack the Packers’ defense?
Let’s answer the second question first because it’s much simpler. Just attack the Packers’ defense however you feel is best and you’ll probably succeed. If you want to throw, just stay away from Jaire Alexander (heck, you can even throw at him, too — even though he was named to the Pro Bowl, he’s not having a great year). If you want to run, things will probably be even better for you. The Packers’ run defense is among the worst I’ve ever seen.
Why are things so bad? There are a lot of reasons. Joe Barry runs one of the most static and uncreative schemes in the league, and that lackluster scheme has been hurt by personnel. De’Vondre Campbell has regressed badly after his All-Pro season last year, Adrian Amos has clearly lost a step, Darnell Savage has had a miserable year, and the entire defensive line has been a mess. Add in an injury to Rashan Gary and you’ve got the recipe for a really bad defense.
The worst part is that a big part of this was avoidable. after the Packers parted ways with Mike Pettine, Matt LaFleur narrowed his search for a new defensive coordinator to three finalists: University of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, Los Angeles Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero, and Barry, who was the Rams’ linebackers coach at the time. LaFleur offered Leonhard the job, but he turned it down, so LaFleur went back to Barry and Evero, and Barry won out, much to the chagrin of many of the people who cover the team. Evero is calling one of the best defenses in the league in Denver, and Barry gets embarrassed on a weekly basis and even admitted a couple of weeks ago that he doesn’t know what to do to fix it.
The Packers have one of the best running back duos in the league, being able to attack with both Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Jones has 181 carries for 937 yards (5.2 average) this season, while Dillon is at 660 yards on 154 carries (4.3 average). Dillon was checked for a head injury last week, but has apparently cleared all tests and should be ready for Sunday, meaning Green Bay should have both runners ready to face Miami’s defense. What should Dolphins fans expect to see from the Packers’ rushing attack?
The Packers have run a lot more gap scheme than wide zone stuff this year, and, somewhat counterintuitively, it fits both of their backs really well. Jones is an agile slasher and Dillon is every bit the hammer you’d expect from a guy who looks like Dillon does. They’ve both found success this year, and Dillon has really come on strong down the stretch as the offesnive line has stabilized.
Keep an eye on what the Packers do when they put Dillon and Jones on the field together. Often they’ll run an interesting quasi-read option where Rodgers will have a decision between an inside handoff to Dillon or a swing pass to Jones. It’s a simple play, but the unique talents of the Packers’ two backs makes it work.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Dolphins are favored by 3.5 points over the Packers. It feels really odd to see Miami favored over Green Bay. How do you see this game playing out and do you think the line is accurate?
If you gave me $100 to put on this game, I’d pick the Dolphins to win and cover without thinking about it too hard. I think Miami has all the tools to exploit some of the Packers’ biggest weaknesses. I expect them to score a lot of points and for the Packers to struggle to keep up. If Green Bay manages to pull together an entirely out of character defensive performance, they might be able to make a game of it, but I think Miami is too strong in the places where the Packers are weak.