The Miami Dolphins (5-5) will be looking to inch closer to the AFC’s 6th and final playoff spot this Sunday as the team takes on the Carolina Panthers (7-3).
Carolina, coming fresh off a win over the New England Patriots, is one of the league’s most surprising story lines this season. This team has come out of nowhere behind the play of third year quarterback, Cam Newton, and a fiery and ferocious defense allowing 13.5 points per game to opposing teams.
This will be perhaps the biggest challenge Miami and their young quarterback have faced all season and may end up defining their season. Although Carolina will be without stud defensive end Charles Johnson, who is nursing an MCL sprain, this young defense still has a load of talent across the board.
Here are some keys to victory for the Miami Dolphins:
—- Carolina lives and dies behind the play of their young quarterback, therefore Miami’s pass rush needs to be spot on in this one. No more laying low until the fourth quarter, or waiting around for an opportunity to get some hits on the opposing quarterback. This means that DE’s Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, who both have over 5.5 sacks a piece, need to play their best games of the season. The defensive tackle trio of Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick need to bring their “A” game. And rookie first round pick, Dion Jordan, needs to see more than his 22-snaps which he received last week. Expect to see Jordan A LOT in this one as he possesses the speed to play a “spy” role on Newton if DC Kevin Coyle opts to go that direction. We’ll get to the linebackers in a bit.
—- Carolina’s secondary is quite talented, even though the average NFL fan would have trouble naming a single player in their secondary. This unit allows 209.5 yards per game through the air which ranks 5th throughout the league. Although this is accurate, Miami has a talented group of receivers which can actually do some damage if QB Ryan Tannehill is given enough time to find his targets. WR’s Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Rishard Matthews should look to exploit young, yet talented, corners Josh Thomas and Melvin White on one side, and CB Captain Munnerlyn, whom is under-sized but is this defensive unit’s Steve Smith, on the other. Also, look for Miami to test Carolina’s safeties early and often. Why? OC Mike Sherman stated after Miami’s 20-16 win over San Diego Sunday that, “We have to get Tannehill and Wallace on the same page”. Look for that to happen this Sunday.
—- Miami’s secondary must focus on shutting down Carolina’s “Big Four” outside. Let me throw some statistics at you:
Steve Smith – 46 rec. 512 yards (11.1 avg) 3 tds
Greg Olson – 40 rec. 492 yards (12.3 avg) 4 tds
Brandon LaFell – 38 rec. 459 yards (12.1 avg) 4 tds
Ted Ginn Jr. – 24 rec. 411 yards (17.1 avg) 3 tds
Outside of these four players, no other player has more than 18 receptions 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. The team’s 4th wide receiver, Domenik Hixon, has 3 receptions for 21 yards. That’s it. Miami’s secondary needs to focus on shutting down these four receivers and force Newton to check it down to one of his backs. If Miami cannot shut these guys down defensively, it might be a loooong game.
If CB Dimitri Patterson can actually go full bore, Miami’s defense receives a huge boost. Grimes and Smith will be the match up to watch. Grimes has to come out on top in that battle.
—- Miami’s offensive line needs to play better than exceptional. The “no name” unit played well last week, given the circumstances, against the San Diego Chargers. The unit of Bryant McKinnie, Sam Brenner, Nate Garner, John Jerry and Tyson Clabo only allowed 2 sacks and only a few QB hits. One thing to watch in this one will be if C Mike Pouncey does indeed play, reports are swirling that he is going to give it a go, where does he end up playing? Garner filled in quite well and only had one error last week with communication, and given Pouncey’s athleticism he could actually push Pouncey over to a guard position. Pure speculation, but it could work out in Miami’s favor.
Anywho, this unit will have their hands full facing a front of Greg Hardy (6.0 sacks), Frank Alexander (0.0) – if Johnson cannot go, who has 8.5 sacks on the season, Kawaan Short (1.5), and Star Lotulelei (2.0). Regardless, Miami’s offensive line will have to play the best that they have all season – meaning absolutely minimal sacks (0-2) and a low amount of pressures/hits – in order for Tannehill and co. to get some good looks against this vaunted defense.
—- Shout out to Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler….bring your asses ready to play lights out. Ellerbe and Wheeler both have been a huge disappointment this season for this Miami defense, which is a large reason why the run defense has suffered this season. Miami’s run defense, which was a staple for this team for much of the past five years, now ranked 25th in the league allowing 122.6 yards per game. Carolina will be bringing the 10th ranked rushing offense to town which averages 125.3 yards per game.
No, no it’s not just Ellerbe and Wheeler who are to blame for the run defense sucking this season. But, these guys were brought in to make plays. “They can run, cover, blitz and tackle well.” – excuse every single fan who supported this movement told me. Both players can run well. But they cannot cover. They blitz well. But they do not tackle well by any means. Bouncing off of oncoming ball carriers is not tackling well. And racking up 10 assisted tackles in one game is not tackling well.
Both these guys need to come to play to shut down DeAngelo Williams (141 rushes 579 yards 2 tds), Mike Tolbert (65 rushes 230 yards 4 tds), Cam Newton (70 rushes 328 yards 4 tds) and recently activated Jonathan Stewart (26 rushes 94 yards). Come to play with a vengeance.
Miami will surely have their hands full this Sunday with this young and budding Carolina football team who has strung together six straight wins. This game will go one of three ways:
- Miami will get their butts handed to them by Carolina and this vaunted defense. Carolina’s defense bullies Miami’s offense allowing less than 200 yards and less than 10 points.
- Miami upsets Carolina somehow due to the offensive line play exceptional, Ryan Tannehill playing phenomenal football hooking up with WR Mike Wallace numerous times and the defense makes Cam Newton look like a shell of himself forcing turnover after turnover.
- Miami plays well and holds its own, but Carolina’s defense is too good and overpowers Miami’s offense in the end. Miami loses a close one.
Honestly, don’t get your hopes up this weekend for a Miami upset. Unless you’re a homer. This Carolina defense is for real and will make you pay if you make a mistake.
Carolina – 27 Miami – 21