Dolphins-Packers Preview

The Green Bay Packers entered the season with high hopes of

making a Super Bowl run, but they’ve had to work through major

inconsistency throughout their first five games.

Their growing list of injuries may present an even bigger

challenge.

Although Aaron Rodgers is likely to play despite a concussion,

Green Bay still has concerns entering Sunday’s matchup with the

visiting Miami Dolphins, who come out of their bye hoping to avoid

a third consecutive loss.

The Packers (3-2) have already played without running back Ryan

Grant since he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 1, and

they suffered several other losses during a 16-13 overtime defeat

at Washington last Sunday.

Linebacker Nick Barnett (wrist) and tight end Jermichael Finley

(knee) had surgery this week, and a few of their teammates may join

them on the sidelines Sunday.

Rodgers and NFL sacks leader Clay Matthews are the two most

important players in a banged-up group that also includes defensive

lineman Ryan Pickett, tight end Donald Lee and offensive lineman

Mark Tauscher. Cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby,

meanwhile, have yet to play this season.

“It’s one of them seasons, man, where everybody is getting hit,

and we just got to bounce back,” Finley said. “Hopefully at the end

of the season it could be a story, you know, about us still being

in the Super Bowl. I still got faith in this team.”

Matthews is doubtful with a strained left hamstring, but Rodgers

expects to start after passing a series of neurological tests and

practicing Thursday and Friday.

“Having never had a concussion before, it was definitely a

learning process to understand how my body feels,” Rodgers said.

“Because obviously I’ve been dinged in the head a number of times,

everything from in high school seeing the stars and stuff to the

different shots you take along the way. I think it was just a great

learning process to understand how my body reacts to different

situations.”

Green Bay has also encountered problems on the field, including

eight turnovers in the last three weeks during two losses and a

shaky home victory over Detroit on Oct. 3.

The Packers committed 18 penalties in a 20-17 loss at NFC

North-leading Chicago on Sept. 27 and nine more last Sunday – one

reason they lost despite an improved running game that racked up

157 yards on 17 carries.

“I think we all know yards don’t mean anything,” coach Mike

McCarthy said. “It’s about points.”

Green Bay ranked third in the NFL in scoring last season but has

been held under 20 points in both defeats, something that happened

once in all of 2009.

Miami’s defense was stingy the first two weeks, allowing a total

of 20 points in victories at Buffalo and Minnesota, but then AFC

East contenders New York and New England combined for 72 points in

their wins in south Florida.

The Patriots did much of their damage on defense and special

teams in a 41-14 victory Oct. 4, becoming the first team in NFL

history to get a touchdown from an interception return, a blocked

field goal return and a kickoff return in the same game.

The Dolphins (2-2) promptly fired special teams coach John

Bonamego and spent their bye week trying to correct the

problems.

“I want my core players to play better on special teams,” coach

Tony Sparano said. “If we need to put some starters out there, then

we will.”

Quarterback Chad Henne also had plenty to think about during the

week off. While Henne has passed for 668 yards and four touchdowns

in his last two games, he’s also thrown four interceptions in that

stretch – matching a career high with three against New

England.

Sparano still thinks Henne is making progress, and Henne

believes he’s capable of leading the Dolphins to the playoffs.

“Definitely. There’s no question,” Henne said. “I see myself

each and every day getting better at things that I wasn’t so good

at last year.”

In addition to reigning NFL defensive player of the year Charles

Woodson likely leading coverage of top target Brandon Marshall,

Henne will find a stiff challenge playing at Lambeau Field for the

first time.

The Packers have won six straight at home dating to last season,

and the Dolphins lost their last two visits to Green Bay in 1997

and 2002.