Game Preview: Miami Dolphins @ Carolina Panthers

Will Miami be able to turn things around after a two-game skid against a stout Panthers squad?

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Aug 22, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Damien Williams (34) scores a touchdown during the first half of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 22, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Damien Williams (34) scores a touchdown during the first half of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins will be on the road facing the Carolina Panthers on this week’s edition of Monday Night Football. This will be the third week in a row that all eyes will be on Miami, as they have been featured in Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night football and now Monday Night Football in consecutive weeks. The Panthers boast a 6-3 record, while the Dolphins are sitting at 4-4.

Miami has had a very up-and-down season and it is tough to predict how the Dolphins will play week-to-week. Despite the fact that Miami is enduring a two-game skid, it can be argued that they are on the upswing.

The reason that one could argue that the Dolphins are trending upwards is because of their performance on offense against the Oakland Raiders last week. Despite trading away Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi, Miami’s offense finally showed signs of life. The Dolphins were able to find success in using both Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams in a variety of ways. That, and quarterback Jay Cutler had an excellent game as he completed 34 passes on 42 attempts for 311 yards and three touchdowns.

A counterargument would be that Miami was only able to have offensive success last week due to the fact that the Raiders have been below average on defense this season, as they are 24th in points allowed and 26th in yards allowed according to Pro Football Reference.

Another counterargument would be that Miami’s poor defensive performance over the last two weeks should prevent them from being considered to be on the upswing. Miami has disappointed this season in the sense that they have not been able to put together a complete game where both the offense and the defense show up to play from the opening kickoff until the final whistle.

If Miami wants to beat Carolina they will have to be ready to play on both sides of the ball, as Carolina is known for fielding well-rounded teams under head coach Ron Rivera’s tenure.

Carolina’s strength undoubtedly lies in their defense. They are ranked first in yards allowed and third in points allowed according to Pro Football Reference. Superstar middle linebacker Luke Kuechly’s impact on their defensive unit is unparalleled, as he is able to make plays all over the field and has a nose for the ball. Ironically, Miami’s offense is ranked dead last in points and yardage according to Pro Football Reference. This will be an interesting matchup as we will have to wait and see if Miami’s offense rises to the occasion or if they will live up to their poor ranking.

If Miami wants to have any success against such a stout defense the playcalling will have to be unpredictable. The Panthers need to be kept on their toes. Luckily both Drake and Williams are versatile so their presence on the field isn’t an immediate tell as to what the Dolphins plan on doing. This will be key, as Carolina has excellent pass-rushers in Charles Johnson, Mario Addison and Julius Peppers. The pass-rush will have to be neutralized with screens to the backs and quick passes. With Ja’Wuan James’ recent hamstring injury Jay Cutler will be especially susceptible to an elite pass rush on obvious passing downs.

On the flip side of the ball, look for the Dolphins to have a bounceback game against the Panthers. Miami was having a great year on defense up until the Baltimore game on Thursday Night Football. In their defense, it was a short week and the Dolphins typically have a lot of trouble with the Ravens, so we might have to throw out that game. Besides that, Miami has consistently held opponents to fewer than 25 points in each matchup.

However, it’s not just about the points. The Dolphins have to be able to stop the deep ball. In the past two weeks the Dolphins have given up two touchdowns on long bombs. They have also had trouble stopping the pass all year long. Look for superstar quarterback Cam Newton to expose this, as he certainly has the arm to do so. Luckily for Miami, he no longer has Kelvin Benjamin lining up out wide (unfortunately the Dolphins will have to face him twice a year as he is now signed with the Buffalo Bills).

The Panthers will miss Benjamin, but they have been able to find success in using Devin Funchess. Combine that with Christian McCaffrey’s versatility, as well as Newton’s dual-threat ability and the Dolphins will definitely be kept honest on defense.

Luckily, the Dolphins will see TJ McDonald Jr. hit the field tonight. McDonald Jr. is also quite versatile, as he can lay the wood as well as cover some ground as a deep safety. With the combination of Jones and McDonald at safety expect to see defensive coordinator Matt Burke mix things up in an attempt to confuse Newton or get him out of his comfort zone.

Speaking of uncomfortable, Newton has been dealing with a shoulder injury all season. He has clearly not been very comfortable in passing the ball this season. With Miami’s strong addition to its secondary look for them to cause some coverage sacks- that is if Miami’s front seven can manage to take Newton down.

Miami has been strong in stopping the run this year, but Newton is an entirely different beast. If the Dolphins can keep him in check on the ground don’t expect him to win the game with his arm alone. The Dolphins should be able to hang on defense. However, this game will come down to how well Miami can play against a superb defense. If the Dolphins play the way they did against the Raiders (minus a key fumble in the redzone) they may be able to shock the world and claim a statement victory in Carolina on Monday Night Football.

If they can do so they would avoid going 0-3 on primetime in consecutive weeks in a crucial part of the season as the AFC playoff picture is wide open. Especially with both the Jets and Bills losing this week.

 

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