As you may have noticed if you’ve scrolled down far enough to check out my weekly power rankings, we list things in 12s here and not 10s. In part, it celebrates the Pack’s 12 NFL titles; it also pays homage to the Vikings’ 12 players on the field in last year’s NFC title game.
So as I prepared to figure out what I expect to happen, the reasons the Packers are in a tough spot began to multiply. Here then, are 12 reasons the Packers are in for a difficult day at Lambeau–in no particular order.
1. Yes, the Packers have won six straight at Lambeau, but the Dolphins come to town 2-0 on the road this season, most recently beating the Vikings at the Dome. They haven’t won a game in four weeks, coming off a bye and a pair of prime time home losses to divisional foes. They’re champing at the bit to hit someone and they smell vulnerability in the banged up Packers.
2. The loss of Jermichael Finley is devastating to a Packers offense that has lost its way. Converting just 2 of 13 third downs last week is a major reason the Redskins were able to hang around long enough to stay in the game. Without Finley, the Packers will be forced to play 4-receiver sets, unless they want to roll the dice that rookie Andrew Quarless is ready to get some snaps, despite a healthy Donald Lee.
3. Anyone who watched last week’s game now knows what Clay Matthews means to this defense. Donovan McNabb looked like a beaten man through nearly three quarters until Matthews exited with yet another hamstring injury. Suddenly he had time to find his receivers and the Skins’ offense woke up. The Packers were unable to get to the passer without him. One or two big hook-ups between Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall might be the difference in the game and the Pack will likely rely on some combination of Brad Jones, Frank Zombo and Brady Poppinga to apply pressure. Though he’s listed as doubtful, there’s no chance Matthews plays this week, with the Vikings, Jets and Cowboys looming. They need to make sure his hammy’s 100% before they let him play.
4. The Pack’s D line has been the strength of the defense so far. This week, though, it looks like seventh round pick C.J. Wilson will be forced to start. Both Pickett and Neal are nursing injuries and are unlikely to play, so we get our first look at Wilson who gets to face the fact that…
5. The Dolphins have the funkiest offense in the league. In the two games they won, they ran more than they passed. And they use the Wildcat to run effectively. First it’s Ronnie Brown lined up at QB and running the ball, next it’s Ricky Williams, who still has the ability to run through and past people. A re-configured defense like Green Bay’s will have to be very aware of their responsibilities with all of the formations they will face.
6. Dolphins defense will improve with the return of LB Channing Crowder. He’s hard to run against and opens up opportunities for their pass rushers. The last time we saw the Dolphins, when their special teams imploded, the one guy who stood out was Cameron Wake, a former CFL star who looked like Clay Matthews with his speed and ferocity. Chad Clifton will have his hands full with him. His backup, Bryan Bulaga, starts for the injured Mark Tauscher on the right side so the Pack needs Clifton to hold up for 60 minutes. Oh, and the Dolphins now have Karlos Dansby at LB, a playmaker who scored the winning TD in last season’s playoff loss.
7. Brandon Marshall. The Dolphins have lacked an offensive weapon like Marshall for years. He’s built a lot like the Lions’ Calvin Johnson and we all remember how effective he was a few weeks back.
8. Greg Jennings’ funk. He let his emotions get away from him on the sidelines last week and hopefully that will help jump-start his season. He’s on pace for career lows in catches, yards and TDs and will likely be targeted a lot more with Finley out. The problem is the Dolphins ’09 #1 pick, CB Vontae Davis is an emerging shut down corner and will likely be matched up with Jennings all afternoon.
9. Donald Driver had a rare off game last Sunday, credited with four drops–a couple in key spots. It goes without saying that he needs to return to the Driver we have come to know and love and not begin showing the effects of father time. He tweaked a quad in practice late this week that bears watching. He’ll start, but if he can’t finish it further depletes a stumbling offense.
10. Jake Long is back. One of the league’s best left tackles already, he’s been nursing a knee injury but is poised to start. There’s a reason he was the top pick in the draft a couple of years ago. He’s a great run blocker and a capable pass rusher. It would have been fun to watch him match up with Clay Matthews. Instead he should have his way in the run game with Poppinga, Jones or Zombo.
11. Aaron Rodgers will start, barring any return of concussion symptoms. This is a huge point in the Pack’s favor obviously. But he says it’s the first concussion he’s ever suffered so we don’t know how he’ll react to the next hit where he gets rattled a little. He’s facing a tough Mike Nolan 3-4 defense that can get to the quarterback and he no longer has his favorite tight end. Tough spot for Rodgers, considering he has no semblance of a running game to bail him out this week.
12. Both teams come into this game smarting: the Pack feel like they gave one away in Washington. The Dolphins had a historically brutal special teams performance on Monday Night Football against the Patriots, fired their special teams coach and have had 13 days to simmer about two home prime time losses, heal up and game plan for a one dimensional offense that’s searching for an identity. Advantage Fish.
I’m hoping the home field and last week’s loss will bring out the best in the Green & Gold, but looking at it logically, the Dolphins get the slight edge here: 20-17.