|Photo by Tom Lynn, Associated Press|
One interesting stat from the NFL Network pre-game show before the Packers-Vikings game really struck me. Going into the week 4 games, there were nine teams whose record at the time was above .500 (actually the number was 10, including the Seahawks, but since the Packers have already played them, I think they were excluded by whoever created the stat). Of those nine teams, the Packers only play one more (the Eagles, at home, in week 11). So while the Packers got off to their maddeningly traditional slow start this year, there is lots of room to win games as the year goes on.
Linebacker Julius Peppers had a record-setting night. He picked off a tipped pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown. This made him the first player in NFL history to have both 100 sacks and 10 interceptions. The most impressive part of the return was his instinct to cut almost all the way across the field, in order to have a cleaner path toward the end zone, and to pick up a pack of blockers. He also outraced a pretty fast Minnesota running back, Jerick McKinnon, on his way to the end zone. He had to be reminded about the Lambeau Leap in the excitement of the moment, and his leap, shown in the picture, was less than impressive. From my observation, he needed more of a running start, and according to Jordy Nelson, he also picked the highest part of the wall. After the game, he promised the laughing NFL Network crew that he will do a better job next time. May that next opportunity come soon!
I don't quite know what to make of the Miami Dolphins, the Packers' next opponent. I watched most of their last game, against the 0-4 Oakland Raiders. They beat the Raiders soundly, but then again, it was the Raiders. They also beat the Patriots in Week 1, which is more impressive in my mind, but it also was before the Patriots started to get their act together.
The weather on Sunday should be hot and humid, with a good chance of thundershowers, which could be a challenge for players used to practicing and playing in the fall climate in Green Bay. The game, as of the time I am writing this, is not even sold out, which is usually a pretty good indication that there will be lots of Packers fans in the stands, and thus not much of a homefield advantage, other than the weather.
Purely based on offensive and defensive stats, you could argue that the Dolphins are a better team than the Packers in several categories, including rushing defense, overall defense, and rushing offense.I am not going to say that the Dolphins will be a pushover for the Packers. But despite these stats, I think the Packers will win the game, and probably win it handily. The Packers have a top flight quarterback and receivers, and our top flight running back might be coming around, finally, as well. The Dolphins have some pretty good running backs, but I am not that impressed by their quarterback or receivers. On defense, for better or for worse, the Packers have been a "bend but don't break" defense this year so far, so the poor stats (especially in rush defense) overstate how bad the defense has played. Looking over the Dolphins' defensive players, I just don't see a lot of playmakers; in fact, I only recognize a few names of the Dolphins' starters. Whereas, in the case of the Packers, there are quite a few players capable of making game-changing defensive plays. The game is being shown to a surprisingly large part of the country, probably because of the Packers' improved performance over the last couple of weeks. I can't wait for game time!