Run Defense Must Weather the Miami Weather

Miami's running game is one of the best in the league while Green Bay's run defense has been one of the worst. That's a key point for Green Bay's defense, which is on pace to play more snaps than any team in league history and must survive a hot Sunday in Miami. (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY)

Can the Green Bay Packers’ run defense beat the Miami Heat?

While the Packers might have found some answers against Minnesota, they’re still allowing a last-ranked 163.0 rushing yards per game and a 24th-ranked 4.58 yards per carry.

Miami’s running game, on the other hand, has been one of the best in the league. Even after losing standout veteran Knowshon Moreno to a dislocated elbow – he might return this week – the Dolphins rank fifth in the NFL with 142.3 rushing yards per game and 4.99 yards per carry.

“I think our backs have run the ball hard, No. 1, and I think that our line has gotten better and has given them an opportunity to get to the line of scrimmage,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said in a conference call on Wednesday. “We haven’t had a ton of negative-yardage runs and that’s been a big plus, and we’ve been able to pop through there and get a couple explosive runs at the same time.”

Moreno signed a one-year, $3 million free-agent contract in the offseason after rushing for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns and adding 60 receptions for 538 yards and three more touchdowns last year in Denver. His 1,586 yards from scrimmage ranked fifth in the NFL last season. He got off to a strong start with Miami, with 134 rushing yards and a touchdown in the Dolphins’ 33-20 upset of New England in the opener. He hurt his elbow on the first carry the following week at Buffalo, clearing the way for Lamar Miller to take over as the No. 1 back. He’s rushed for 210 yards and two touchdowns the past three games, including 108 yards and a 7.2 average in a loss to Kansas City in Week 3 and 64 yards, a 5.3 average and two scores against Oakland at London in Week 4.

It’s not just the backs. Miami has five new starters up front, with standout left tackle Branden Albert signed away from Kansas City, rookie first-round pick Ja’Wuan James lining up at right tackle, former Packers lineman Daryn Colledge signed in late June to start at left guard and Samson Satele playing well at center in place of injured Mike Pouncey.

“I think Lamar Miller’s emerged – obviously, Moreno’s really only played in one game – (and) Daniel Thomas and Damian Williams have contributed well,” Philbin said. “I think it’s been an overall good effort by the backs and I think our perimeter blocking has improved. Like anything else, it takes more than one guy. I don’t think it’s been one person; I think it’s been a collective effort.”

All of which will be a challenge for Green Bay’s defense. The Packers have allowed at least 111 rushing yards in all five games and at least 4.0 rushing yards in four of five games.

Not that Philbin is putting any stock on the stats.

“I think that they are definitely playing better than the numbers suggest especially as of late,” Philbin said. “When you look at what they’ve done the last couple of weeks, from a defensive standpoint, they’re doing a great job as always at taking the ball away. You just don’t see on the film guys getting blown off the ball, knocked off the football a whole lot. I think they’re tackling better. I think their secondary is tackling better as of late. And as you know, Dom (Capers) does as good a job as there is in football preparing a defense for a game. So I don’t think a piece of paper … they’re a much better football team than some of their stats indicate.”

And that’s not to mention Mother Nature. The forecast calls for a high of 88 with a chance of showers. Green Bay’s defense has been on the field for a whopping 72.6 plays and 34:06 per game. It’s on pace to play 1,162 snaps – that would be the most in NFL history, though Philadelphia and Jacksonville are on pace to play even more snaps than that this season. After four consecutive games of at least 71 snaps, the defense must find a way to get off the field to avoid a Miami meltdown.

"We’ve been on the field too much defensively, and I think you have to look at everything that contributes to that," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Offensively, we need to have some longer drives. We haven’t really had the production there in the seven-plus play drives that we are accustomed to, so that’s something that will help that. Defensively, we need to continue to work to get off the field. That’s not the goal. We’re aware of it. It’s five games. It’s definitely something that we’re aware of and focused on."

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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