The Packers won their third consecutive game on Sunday, defeating the Dolphins 27-24 in anything but relaxing fashion.
It was a tale of two halves for the defense, which surrendered just 92 yards of offense in the first half. The highlight of the day came late in the first quarter when safety Morgan Burnett stopped running back Knowshon Moreno two yards behind the line of scrimmage on fourth down. Penetration from defensive lineman Letroy Guion allowed Burnett to make the play, as Moreno was unable to cut back inside.
Aaron Rodgers once praised Joe Philbin’s ability to adjust at halftime, and the Dolphins head coach -- who was Green Bay’s offensive coordinator from 2007-11 -- proved the Packers’ quarterback right.
In the final 30 minutes, Philbin leaned more on the run. Additionally, they placed an emphasis on getting the ball to their playmakers in space. Injuries to cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams didn’t help matters, either. The Dolphins managed to score 21 second-half points, totaling 273 yards of offense.
Green Bay’s offense started fast. They marched 80 yards in 4:51 to score a touchdown on their opening drive. It was the only touchdown-drive of the first half, as Miami’s front seven prevented the Packers from getting into any kind of a rhythm in the first three quarters.
Whether it was the play calling or the persistence from Rodgers, the Packers managed to find their rhythm just in time.
Rodgers led the Pack to 10 fourth-quarter points, orchestrating perhaps a career-defining drive in the closing minutes. The Packers drove 60 yards in 2:04, the drive ending in the final seconds when Rodgers found tight end Andrew Quarless for a four-yard touchdown.
The Packers completed the game-winning drive without any timeouts.
Facing fourth-and-10 with 1:07 remaining, Rodgers hit receiver Jordy Nelson for an 18-yard completion. The throw by Rodgers, a display of incredible arm strength and accuracy, may go down as one of the finest of his career as he let the ball rip just as defenders crashed down on him. The completion kept alive one of the finest drives of Rodgers’ 10-year NFL career.
Running back James Starks accounted for 23 yards on Green Bay’s game-winning drive. His greatest impact in the game was as a pass protector, though. He knew his assignments and executed them without issues. Starks picked up a blitz on a third-and-4 play early in the second quarter. He also had a key pickup during Green Bay’s third-quarter touchdown drive.
Stud of the Game
The five best quarterbacks in football are Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, and Peyton Manning. Each player demonstrates a skill setting them apart from other quarterbacks. Brady is living proof that intangibles matter, Brees is a master at using his eyes to move defenders, and Manning out prepares his opponents. Luck and Rodgers share several traits. Both anticipate receivers coming open, and both have the ability to extend plays. The latter ability was on full display for Rodgers on Sunday, as he used his legs to turn nine potentially negative plays into positives ones.
Now midway through their road schedule, the Packers return home for just the third time in 2014. They’ll face the Carolina Panthers, who are fresh off a tie against Cincinnati.
Preparation is crucial to every game, but I’m especially intrigued to see how Green Bay’s defense responds following their second-half performance against Miami.
The Packers had no respect for Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s athletic ability, thus they appeared unprepared for the read-option. The Panthers will see linebacker Clay Matthews looking lifeless on film, so I suspect they’ll run the read-option at him with quarterback Cam Newton.
Mike McCarthy’s offense shouldn’t have any issues preparing for Carolina’s defense. Their coach, Ron Rivera, is a disciple of former Bears head coach Lovie Smith. They shouldn’t see many unfamiliar looks on Sunday.
Establishing the run early could create opportunities for big plays. The Pack will attempt to force the linebackers to commit against the run, opening up the middle of the field. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is incredibly discipline, but the Panthers are allowing a league-high 5.5 yards per carry.
An early indication of Green Bay’s commitment to run is whether Rodgers lines up under center. He'll come out slinging it if he's in shotgun. McCarthy tends to lean on the run more if Rodgers is under center.
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