The longest yard
A day later, the coaches had reviewed the film and had come to the same conclusion as they had during the game: Robert Francois was lined up legally and referee Ed Hochuli and his crew had blown a call that the Dolphins turned into the go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
"I think the film illustrates that, yes," coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday.
The rule states that either the defender has to be lined up on the outside shoulder of the snapper or, if he's head-up on the snapper, he must be 1 yard off the ball. A review of Fox's broadcast of the game seems to back up McCarthy's contention.
"We had clear communication going back from the first time the officials showed up here for training camp in regard to this new rule change," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "I have a clear understanding. I know what the intent of the rule is. We know how they're supposed to be officiating it. We were within the rules. It's a judgment call and that's really about all I have to say about the penalty."
Slocum wouldn't discuss the strategic advantage of having a player lining up perilously close to breaking the rules. However, the punt return unit's first task isn't going for a block or setting up a return. Instead, it's to play defense. By that way of thinking, why have nose tackle B.J. Raji line up right over the ball and risk an offsides when he could play it safe by lining up 6 inches from the ball?
"In my judgment and my estimation, we were clearly legal in our alignment," Slocum said. "I know this: Four out of our first six opponents have lined up the exact same way against us. The opponent we're facing this coming week (Minnesota) uses that alignment. So, I think that question can be answered by anyone that employs that alignment.
Special teams follies
Of course, the problems run far deeper on special teams than one controversial call.
One look at the official NFL stats tells the story. On Sunday, the Dolphins won the field-position battle by 138 yards — or an average of 9 yards per possession.
The Dolphins earned 7 yards of additional field position on each kickoff. The Packers' kickoff return unit, which started out like gangbusters, averaged an abysmal 19.8 yards on five runbacks. Jordy Nelson, who was the leader of that hot-starting return unit, appears to have no confidence after his two fumbles against Detroit, with Pat Lee replacing him but doing too much dancing and not enough full-speed-ahead running.
On four punts, the Dolphins' Brandon Fields had a net average of 40.0 yards with Tramon Williams totaling 7 return yards on three attempts. On five punts, the Packers' Tim Masthay had a net average of 33.4 yards, and Davone Bess had 23 return yards on two attempts.
In overtime, Fields hit a 50-yarder that, when compounded by an illegal block by Korey Hall, shifted the field position 57 yards. When the Packers went three-and-out, Masthay followed with just a 37-yarder with a fair catch. Just like that, the Dolphins were two first downs from the winning field goal.
Not surprisingly considering Ted Thompson's history, he's sticking with Masthay, who is averaging a respectable 43.1 yards per punt but ranks second-to-last in net average at 33.4 per punt.
"I think it's very important as his position coach, as the special teams coordinator, that Tim's our punter and that's the way I'm going to approach it as we move forward," Slocum said. "I thought in the Washington game that he had taken a clear step forward. I thought yesterday, the production wasn't there. His inside-the-20 punts were really good but the three punts that he had up the field, we need more out of them."
The power of Clay
The impact of Clay Matthews goes beyond his league-leading 8.5 sacks, though that's a good starting point.
It's the impact that Matthews makes with those around him. Entering Sunday's game, the Packers' 21 sacks trailed league-leading Tennessee's total of 22. So, it wasn't as if Matthews was a one-man army. But without Matthews on Sunday, his supporting cast disappeared. Cullen Jenkins was silenced. B.J. Raji didn't get anywhere. The outside linebacker group of Brady Poppinga, Brad Jones, Frank Zombo and Francois combined for one quarterback hit, which came when Francois was left unblocked on a bootleg.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers talked of a helpless feeling. The Dolphins max protected to give Henne time. When Capers called a blitz, especially on the first drive, the extra rushers couldn't get to Henne. When Capers played it straight up, the Packers simply lacked a singular talent like Matthews who could beat one-on-one blockers.
"Well, you know, that's our job is to figure out what it's going to take to win the game," Capers said. "I was proud of the way our guys fought. I thought we made some key stops at key times. We just didn't make enough of them."
Cameron Wake sacked Aaron Rodgers three times.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
What's wrong with that offense?
More like, what isn't wrong?
Since the run game is mostly an afterthought, the focus turns to a passing game that saw Aaron Rodgers complete just 54.5 percent of his passes after entering the week ranked sixth at 66.1 percent. Plus, he was sacked five times and hit on 10 occasions. All of that can be boiled down down to the offense converting 5-of-26 third downs the last two weeks.
"I wish it was one player or one thing," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "There's been drops, there's been bad protection, there's been accuracy issues, there's been turnovers. It's been a little bit of everything. The only way to get out of it is start playing sounder, better football and doing the things that are smart and lead to first downs. Dropping the ball, missed declarations on communications, poor decisions on throwing the ball, poor competitiveness going after the ball that's in the air by the receiver, those all lead to where we're at."
On Sunday, Green Bay was 3-of-13 on third down, with the average distance to make about 11 yards — suggesting that third down isn't the problem so much as untimely penalties and breakdowns on first and second down. Strangely, though, Philbin pointed out that the offense was 0-for-4 on third-and-1 through third-and-5, 1-for-4 on third-and-6 through third-and-10 and 2-for-4 on third-and-long.
"We were 1-for-8 on relatively manageable third downs. My goodness …" Philbin said with an exasperation that spoke volumes.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.