Saturday, November 23, 2013
W2W4: Panthers at Dolphins
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A look at five keys for the Carolina Panthers as they try to extend their six-game winning streak at 1 p.m. ET Sunday against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium:
• Stay focused: The Panthers (7-3) are coming off impressive victories against San Francisco and New England. Now they face a Miami (5-5) team that has faced the distraction of having NFL investigators in town this week questioning players about the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin hazing scandal. Carolina can't underestimate the Dolphins because of this. Just ask San Diego, which lost to Miami last week.
• Next man up: Defensive end Charles Johnson (knee) and his team-best 8.5 sacks is out. The Panthers are giving up 1.5 yards more per play this season when he isn't on the field. They had an obvious letdown when Johnson left injured early in the third quarter against San Francisco. Replacements Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Frank Alexander must step up as other players have this season in replacement roles.
• Sack attack: Even without Johnson, the Panthers have an opportunity here. With Miami piecing together its offensive line with Incognito and Martin gone, the Carolina defense that ranks third in the league has a chance to completely shut down the run and pressure quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has been sacked a league-high 41 times. Look for end Greg Hardy, who leads the team with 20 quarterback pressures, to take advantage.
• Rush hour: The Panthers rank 10th in the league in rushing. The Dolphins rank 25th in the league in stopping the run. Carolina had a rough time -- at least with its backs -- running against New England. It can't rely on quarterback Cam Newton to lead the team in rushing every game as he did against the Patriots with 62 of the team's 103 yards. Getting DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart in gear will be a priority this week and for the stretch run.
• Create turnovers: A big reason the Panthers rank first in the league in scoring defense is turnovers. They have forced one in 14 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL. The next closest is Kansas City at 11. A fumble recovery and game-ending interception was key to the victory against New England on Monday night. Turnovers likely will be a factor against Miami.