The Miami Dolphins control their playoff fate. After this weekend they could control their division fate. In their way however stands the Carolina Panthers who are riding a six game winning streak and slew of challenges to Miami’s post-season hopes.
Carolina isn’t a high-powered quick attack offense. They are very well rounded and have a QB that is becoming a legit team leader. Cam Newton struggled last year and he opened this year not winning himself much favor from the fans but that now has changed. Newton is leading his team offensively while the Panther defense has been an almost immovable object. For the Dolphins, Newton’s arm strength and ability move in the pocket presents an obstacle they haven’t faced this year.
Cam Newton is going to give the Miami pass rushers fits all day. The Dolphins have struggled with collapsing pockets this season and forcing QB’s to make throws they don’t want to. In addition, the Dolphins have given up big runs to QB’s out of the backfield who possess little or at least far less rushing ability than Newton. Consider the Dolphins problems with getting off the field on 3rd and long all season. Newton last week against New England ran for two runs over ten yards on third down to pick up firsts including one of 16 yards. Did I mention he was stopped in the pocket but got out?
The Panthers won’t scare anyone with their WR’s but number one WR Steve Smith can give CB’s fits with his physicality and trash talking. The hard nose running of DeAngelo Williams will also give the Dolphins running game a test.
The Dolphins gave up their first 100 yard game to a single running back last weekend. DeAngelo Williams will likely come close this week as well. While not as fast as he used to be, Williams can still move down the field in a hurry but he makes his living punishing the defenders who try and stop him.
The question is can Miami’s offense keep their defense rested.
Miami has one of the top three worst offensive lines in the league and Carolina boasts one of the best defensive fronts in the league. Even with starting DE Charles Johnson likely out, the Panthers are expecting to get a lot of pressure on Ryan Tannehill. Previous weeks have shown that the Dolphins have a hard time stopping quick pass rushers and frankly the front of the Panther defensive line may be the best the team faces all year.
The Dolphins must find a way to give Tannehill time to move the sticks or they won’t keep their defensive unit rested. We have seen in past games that Miami’s defenders struggle when they are left on the field for too long. Their inability to stop 3rd and long consistently does themselves no favors either.
The only way for the Dolphins to beat the Panthers defense is be just as fast. No-huddle series will keep the Panthers from substituting players and quick hit passes, bubble screens, and RB screens will answer the power push of the defensive line. The Dolphins would also do themselves a favor by turning to delayed hand-offs to exploit the speed and power rush packages the defense will likely throw at them. How OC Mike Sherman game plans will be significant because thus far his game planning has left a lot to the imagination of what could have, might have, or should have been.
No other team the Dolphins have faced this year has been hotter and none of the team they faced were this well rounded on both sides of the ball. On the schedule at first look the Panthers were supposed to be the easy game, now the Dolphins may be hoping the Panthers feel that way about them. A date with the New Orleans Saints and a lead in their division awaits the Panthers after their game with the Dolphins and Tampa Bay a week later.
For Miami it’s quite simple. Win and you eliminate a very tough opponent off your schedule. Lose and it’s probably the best game of the remaining schedule to lose. The game with Carolina will hurt Miami in the overall standings but in tie-breakers it is way down on the significance pole. It’s the last non-conference game left on the schedule and only Pittsburgh will remain as a non-divisional opponent.
Make no mistake though, this game could bring the Dolphins unity that they have not experienced all year. The Panthers are a good football team right now and beating them may be the push Miami needs to get to the post season.