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NFL Preview - Miami (2-2) at Green Bay (3-2)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The ailing Green Bay Packers will make a welcome return to Lambeau Field in Week 6, though the visiting Miami Dolphins could be a strong candidate to extend their pain.
The Dolphins, fresh off a Week 5 bye, have shown a significant comfort level with the road thus far in 2010, prevailing in Buffalo (15-10) and Minnesota (14-10) over the first two weeks before coming home and suffering disappointing defeats to the Jets (31-23) and Patriots (41-14).
That level of road success is hardly good news for Green Bay, which needed to bring extra copy paper into the team facility this week just to print out the injury report.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could sit out after suffering a concussion late in last week's 16-13 overtime loss to the Redskins, and Matt Flynn would make his first career NFL start if Rodgers is unavailable.
Green Bay tight ends Jermichael Finley (knee) and Donald Lee (chest) and linebacker Nick Barnett (wrist) are all out for Sunday, defensive back Derrick Martin (knee) was lost for the year in the Washington defeat, and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (ankle) and NFL sack leader Clay Matthews (hamstring) are both question marks for Sunday.
All that, and the Packers will be trying to eradicate the bitter taste of last week's loss in Washington, a game that saw Green Bay blow a 13-3 fourth- quarter lead and fall a full game behind the hated Bears (4-1) in the NFC North.
Green Bay's chances were foiled in part by nine penalties totaling 63 yards, while Rodgers (27-of-46, 293 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) threw the overtime interception that set the Redskins up for the win, and suffered a concussion on the same play. A couple of missed Mason Crosby field goals, from distances of 48 and 53 yards, didn't help either.
If Flynn opens the game on Sunday, it would be his first meaningful start since he helped lead LSU to the 2007 national title. The 2008 seventh-round draft pick has career NFL numbers of 9-of-17 passing for 64 yards and an interception.
As they look to prey upon the Packers' misery, the Dolphins will also be trying to eradicate the sting of the Week 4 home blowout loss at the hands of the Patriots.
Chad Henne threw for 302 yards, including a couple of long touchdown passes to Davone Bess and Ricky Williams, but the Dolphins committed four costly turnovers in the defeat and also had a dreadful night on special teams.
The Pats' Brandon Tate opened the second half with a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and the Dolphins also had two kicks blocked, including a field goal that was returned for a touchdown by Kyle Arrington to effectively put the game away early in the fourth quarter.
Following the loss, Miami fired special teams coach John Bonamego and elevated assistant special teams coach Darren Rizzi to his position.
The Fins are one of seven teams that have yet to suffer a defeat on the road in 2010, joining the 3-0 Eagles and 2-0 Buccaneers, Jets, Steelers, Texans and Titans.
Miami leads the all-time series with Green Bay, 9-3, but has lost its two most recent meetings with the Packers. The Pack was a 34-24 road winner when the clubs last met, in 2006, and also took the most recent meeting at Lambeau Field, 24-10 during the 2002 campaign. The Dolphins' most recent win in the series was a 28-20 home triumph in 2000, their most recent road victory against Green Bay came in Milwaukee in 1994, and their last win at Lambeau came in 1985.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is 1-0 in his career against the Dolphins, while Miami's Tony Sparano will be meeting both McCarthy and Green Bay for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Miami hasn't been devoid of positive offensive moments this season, but the Dolphins attack must cut down on the turnovers and get the running game going more consistently. The offense has committed seven turnovers in its last three games, four of which came in the Patriots rout. Three Henne (964 passing yards, 5 TD, 4 INT) interceptions helped do in the Fins, and the second-year quarterback needs to continue to develop chemistry with wideouts Brandon Marshall (27 receptions, 1 TD) and Davone Bess (21 receptions, 1 TD). Marshall had a quiet game with five catches for 50 yards against the Pats, but Bess added value with eight grabs for 96 yards and a touchdown. Wideout Brian Hartline (11 receptions, 1 TD) and tight end Anthony Fasano (10 receptions, 1 TD) have also been a big part of the attack. A running game that was supposed to rank among the best in the league in 2010 is a disappointing 15th as Week 6 begins, and the Dolphins have scored a league-low-tying one rushing touchdown. Ronnie Brown (226 rushing yards, 1 TD, 9 receptions) managed just 27 yards on 11 carries versus New England, with Ricky Williams (176 rushing yards, 4 receptions, 1 TD) faring better to the tune of 101 total yards on 12 total touches, including a third-quarter touchdown catch. Henne has been sacked nine times on the year, including twice in the Patriots loss.
Perhaps equal to the absence of Rodgers would be the missing status of Matthews (21 tackles), who leads the NFL in sacks (8.5) and is an early candidate for league Defensive Player of the Year honors. The team is optimistic that Matthews will play, and the team would also catch a break if LB Brandon Chillar (10 tackles, 1 INT) can return from a two-game hiatus due to a shoulder injury. The Packers also elevated linebacker Robert Francois from the practice squad earlier this week, but will see most of his action on special teams if active. With Pickett (8 tackles) potentially out up front, it will be up to players like nose tackle B.J. Raji (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and end Cullen Jenkins (11 tackles, 4 sacks) to help set the tone in the trenches, with inside linebacker A.J. Hawk (35 tackles, 1 INT) making plays behind them for the NFL's 15th- ranked run defense. On the back end, cornerback Charles Woodson (34 tackles, 1 INT) and safety Nick Collins (20 tackles) continue to lead the way for a group that has forced 10 turnovers through five games. Green Bay is first in the league in opponents' fourth-down conversions (0-for-5) as Week 6 commences.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
The silver lining for Green Bay in the Washington loss was the work of a formerly invisible running game. For the first time this year, Brandon Jackson (252 rushing yards, 1 TD, 13 receptions) looked capable of handling the rushing load in a 10-carry, 115-yard effort to which he added five catches totaling 25 yards. He should get the bulk of the carries again this week. But with or without Rodgers (1233 passing yards, 9 TD, 6 INT), the Packers' strength lies with throwing the football, and whoever plays quarterback will need to locate the receiving corps of Greg Jennings (14 receptions, 3 TD), Donald Driver (25 receptions, 3 TD), and to a lesser extent James Jones (15 receptions, 1 TD) and Jordy Nelson (9 receptions). Jennings must bounce back from an uncharacteristically quiet game that saw him catch just two passes totaling 22 yards. With Finley and Lee both on the shelf for this week, tight end duties could be the domain of fifth-round rookie Andrew Quarless (Penn State), who did a quality job with four receptions for 51 yards in the most extensive work of his young NFL career. The Packers also need a better effort from an offensive line that allowed four sacks of Rodgers last week, bringing the season total to nine.
A Miami defense that was terrific through the season's first two weeks has fallen hard from grace, allowing 667 yards over its last two contests and not forcing a single turnover. The unit could get a boost this week, however, as Miami first-round defensive tackle Jared Odrick (broken leg) and mainstay linebacker Channing Crowder (groin) could both return to the lineup after extended absences. Their presence would likely bolster the efforts of a run- stopping group that is just 21st in the league as Week 6 begins. Linebacker Karlos Dansby (29 tackles, 1 sack) and end Kendall Langford (14 tackles, 2 sacks) have been among the group's best run-stoppers in 2010. The effort to force some turnovers will begin with the pass rush, which did manage to drag down Tom Brady for three sacks last time out. Outside linebackers Cameron Wake (13 tackles, 3 sacks) and Koa Misi (9 tackles, 2 sacks) have accounted for five of Miami's nine sacks on the year. On the back end, safeties Yeremiah Bell (36 tackles) and Chris Clemons (18 tackles) have done a nice job, and cornerback Vontae Davis (12 tackles, 1 INT) shut down Randy Moss in his final game as a Patriot last time out. The other corner, Jason Allen (24 tackles, 2 INT), has had his struggles, however.
The Dolphins have a few decent fantasy options, with Marshall still a bona fide No. 1 receiver, Brown and Williams OK flex plays based on their number of touches, and the tight end Fasano a low-end possibility for those whose starter is on a bye week. Bess had a big game against the Pats, but don't expect a repeat. Kicker Dan Carpenter is hit-or-miss, but this might be a good week to start the Miami defense, if you're sure Rodgers will be out of the lineup.
On the Green Bay side, the use of Driver and/or Jennings should be tied to whether Rodgers is in the lineup. Jackson will be elevated into many starting lineups based on his work last week, but remember that he only 10 carries. The kicker Crosby had a rough week but is generally solid, and the Packer defense generally makes a lot of big plays and is a decent start even if Matthews is out or less than 100 percent.
The NFL's recent approach to handling concussions suggests strongly that Rodgers will not be in the lineup this week, as the likes of Kevin Kolb and Jay Cutler were each handled with extreme care under similar circumstances earlier this season. But even if Rodgers plays, the Dolphins are hardly going to be a pushover coming off a bye week that was preceded by two bitter losses. Miami is healthier and should be better ready to play, though they'll lose out in the talent department here. Green Bay is a better team, and with the homefield advantage that Lambeau presents, will get by in narrow fashion.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 18, Dolphins 15
10/14 13:16:43 ET