Episode 124 - Week 10 Preview: Packers Need a Win in the Worst Way

 Aaron Rodgers had a non-typical celebration of the Packers’ 2014 win over the Miami Dolphins.

Aaron Rodgers had a non-typical celebration of the Packers’ 2014 win over the Miami Dolphins.

“This just feels different.”

That’s what Randall Cobb said of his team’s chances to make a second-half push for the playoffs after a slow start.

“We’ve lost games before, but this just feels different. And it doesn’t feel good. It’s not fun. We’ve got to figure something out.”

That’s the full quote, as reported by ESPN’s Rob Demovsky.

Cobb is exactly right. This does feel different. The Packers have staggered through quarters, halves, and even entire games on their way to a 3-4-1 start. It’s barely worth recapping them all in depth any more, but the broad strokes go something like this:

  • A bad half and then heroism against Chicago

  • A good start and then Clay Matthews against Minnesota

  • A bad day in Washington

  • A deceptive day against Buffalo

  • A really bad day against Detroit

  • A slow start but fast finish against San Francisco

  • A strong start but a Ty Montgomery finish against Los Angeles

  • A collapse when it mattered most against New England

After Chicago and Minnesota, none of those games look like a team that’s really on the verge of figuring things out. Even against Los Angeles and New England, two games where the Packers were competitive before coughing it up at the end, it seemed like the Packers were in the games as much despite themselves as because they were playing well.

The Packers have been to the brink before under Mike McCarthy. That’s what Randall Cobb was referring to when he said this felt different. But going to the edge is dangerous, for obvious reasons. Just because you’ve pulled back in the past doesn’t mean you can do it again. At a certain point, you’re just being reckless.

At 3-4-1 the Packers need to reel off 7 wins in eight games to get to the ten win plateau that Mike McCarthy so often preaches about. That’s not impossible, but it takes a team firing on all cylinders for two months straight for it to come about. After watching this team struggle to fire on all cylinders for two consecutive drives, much less two quarters or two halves or even two games, do you have a lot of confidence that it can happen?

Five Things to Think About During Sunday’s Game

1 - A game like this Sunday’s Packers/Dolphins tilt tends to bring out the prognostication that a warm weather team like the Dolphins won’t be able to cope with the harsh climate of Green Bay, but that actually hasn’t been a factor most of the time the Dolphins have played in Wisconsin. The Packers have played the Dolphins in Wisconsin five times since 1980, and the game has been played after Halloween exactly twice in that stretch. This is the latest that Miami has played in Green Bay since December 8, 1985. The Dolphins won that game 34-24, as Dan Marino outdueled Jim Zorn.

2 - Aaron Jones has been on fire the past two weeks, even if he hasn’t gotten the ball as much as some people might like. In the Packers’ last two games, he’s accomplished something that’s only been done twice in Packers history. Against the Rams and Patriots, Jones ran for more than 75 yards with fewer than 15 attempts in back-to-back games. Only Ryan Grant in 2007 and Gerry Ellis in 1984 accomplished that in a Packers uniform. Jones now leads the NFL with six yards per carry, and has ran for a first down on 35 percent of his carries, tops in the league and four percentage points better than the next closest running back.

Even if he hasn’t put up quite the same numbers, Jones’ counterpart in Miami is no slouch. Ageless running back and future Hall of Famer Frank Gore will play his eighth career game against the Packers Sunday. Gore has scored nine touchdowns and averaged 4.8 yards per rush against Green Bay. He hasn’t lost to the Packers in five straight games, and the last time Green Bay beat his team was in 2009. Gore is averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 104 runs so far this season.

3 - Brock Osweiler will start for the Dolphins at quarterback. This season, Osweiler has the NFL’s second-best passer rating on third down – 116.6 – trailing only Drew Brees. Aaron Rodgers is third, with a passer rating of 116.2. Osweiler makes his second start against the Packers. He last faced Green Bay in December 2016 as a member of the Houston Texans in a game that was tied 7-7 heading into the fourth quarter. The Packers scored two touchdowns in the final fifteen minutes to salt away a victory, but Osweiler was efficient, completing 62 percent of his passes for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

And not that it counts for anything, but Osweiler is also the tallest person in the NFL to complete a pass this season. At 6-7, he stands above the rest of the passers in the NFL by at least an inch.

4 - Davante Adams only managed 40 yards against the Patriots, but he managed six catches and as a result, he’s had at least five catches in each of the Packers’ eight games this season. Only Adams, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Minnesota’s Adam Thielen have five catches or more in eight games this season. Adams also managed five or more catches in the final two games of 2017, giving him a streak of ten consecutive games. He ranks third in franchise history behind two streaks by Sterling Sharpe of 18 and 13 straight games.

And speaking of rankings, Adams only needs 28 catches over the rest of the season to move past Paul Coffman into the top 15 on the Packers’ career catches leaderboard.

5 - At first blush, the Dolphins might seem like a pretty terrible team, but in reality, it’s more accurate to say they’re an average team with a bad quarterback. In fact, you could make the case that the Dolphins are really just the Packers with a slightly worse quarterback. To wit: Brock Osweiler’s QBR is 49.3 so far this year, but Aaron Rodgers is just seven points better. The Dolphins have one of the most methodical offenses in the NFL, averaging nearly 30 seconds between snaps. Their pace only speeds up by one second when they’re trailing by seven or more points. Green Bay takes nearly 27 seconds to snap the ball when they’re trailing by seven or more points. The Dolphins are eighth in the NFL with a plus-5 turnover margin, while the Packers’ mark of -1 is tied for eighteenth.

Who Could Be an X-Factor This Week?

If there’s one thing that seems to be true about Aaron Rodgers’ struggles in the passing game this year, it’s that he seems to have difficulty when an early option isn’t open. In the past, he could always count on Jordy Nelson working open late to bail him out, but that hasn’t been the case this season.

Though he hasn’t really done it so far this year, the Packers could really use Jimmy Graham to fill that safety blanket-type role for Rodgers. If the Dolphins can slow down Rodgers’ primary read, Graham could be just what the doctor ordered for a quarterback who isn’t playing up to his usual standards.

What Happened the Last Time the Packers and Dolphins Played?

The Packers and Dolphins last played in Week 6 of the 2014 season when the Packers traveled to Miami to battle the heat, humidity, and head coach Joe Philbin.

On an 86 degree, 63% humidity day, Aaron Rodgers was sharp enough to get the job done, throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns on 42 attempts. After the Dolphins rallied late, Rodgers led the Packers on an 11-play, 60-yard drive, including a late completion to Davante Adams on a fake spike. He connected with TE Andrew Quarless for a 4-yard game-winning TD with three seconds remaining. The Packers won 27-24.

Who’s Going to Win?

Here’s something clear: the Packers should win this game. Throw out the rest of the stats: the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, and that should be the difference even in a year where he hasn’t been quite his usual self.

I’m all but certain the Packers will win this week. My question is how they will win and what that tells us about them going forward. If the Packers can’t take care of business against a team they should beat, that says a lot the state of the organization right now. Let’s keep a close eye on how the Packers perform this week, even if they win. Just getting the W alone isn’t enough to change how I feel.

Survey Updates

The vast majority of our voters are with me on this one in thinking the Packers will win. Our survey returned a 75% win confidence rate. That’s the highest since voters returned an 80% confidence rate against the 49ers in Week 6.

Voters are down on the Packers’ playoff chances. Our poll showed a 48.5% confidence rate in the Packers making the postseason, the lowest it’s been this season by 11.5%.

Finally, our voters weren’t a fan of the move to cut Jermaine Whitehead, who was claimed on waivers by the Cleveland Browns. 55% of voters said they disagreed with the decision.

One Last Thought

To continue our theme of the Dolphins being the Packers with a slightly better quarterback, let’s rewind the clock to 2015, another year Aaron Rodgers was not quite his usual self. On Thanksgiving night that year, the Chicago Bears came to Lambeau Field and eked out a 17-13 win. Prior to that game, quarterback Jay Cutler had thrown multiple interceptions in each of his starts in Lambeau Field. But that night, Cutler didn’t throw a single interception and in turn, helped his team to a win for the first time in Green Bay.

And coordinating the offense that night for Chicago was Adam Gase, who’s now the head coach of the Dolphins. It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that with another competent performance from a question mark of a quarterback, Gase could help his team steal another win in Lambeau Field.