NFL Nation: Anticipating Dolphins-Panthers

Anticipating Dolphins-Panthers

November, 19, 2009
11/19/09
4:22
PM ET
A few thoughts about what to consider Thursday night while watching the Miami Dolphins play the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium ...

The Dolphins must win to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. For any other 4-5 team, I probably wouldn't bother mentioning the postseason as a significant storyline, but the Dolphins are better than most teams with losing records. The Dolphins can make a run. They have a decent chance of heading into December a game over .500 with a win over the Panthers and another next Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins' remaining opponents are a combined 32-21. They haven't lost consecutive games since September and came close to knocking off the top two teams in ESPN.com's Power Rankings.

Miami is coming off one of its gutsiest games in recent years and will need to dig even deeper against Carolina. The Dolphins went into last week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers without several key players, including outside linebacker Joey Porter, left guard Justin Smiley and tight end Anthony Fasano. Porter is expected to return Thursday night, but star running back Ronnie Brown is done for the year with a broken foot. Ricky Williams has been a phenomenal sidekick all year, but can he shoulder the load like it's 2004? The only other Dolphins running back with a carry this year is fullback Lousaka Polite.

The Wildcat could get even more creative, or it might disappear altogether. Without Brown at the controls, the Wildcat won't be the same. Williams has taken a few of the direct snaps, but what makes the Wildcat work is when he's in the high-speed motion role. If the Dolphins put Williams behind the center, then a critical pre-snap component of the formation is eliminated. It's hard to imagine reserves Lex Hilliard or Kory Sheets getting enough practice reps to make it work, never mind their drop-off in ability. But Miami's staff is imaginative. They could find more ways for scrambly backup quarterback Pat White to contribute. Although it's technically not a Wildcat play when White's back there -- a non-quarterback has to take the snaps to qualify -- his running of the option two weeks ago against the New England Patriots indicated there might be more surprises we haven't seen yet.

Porter needs to have a big game to back up his big mouth. Miami's yappy pass-rusher needs to make a statement on the field for a change. Porter has been battling a hamstring problem but didn't play last week because the organization benched him for disciplinary reasons. Last year's AFC sacks leader hasn't recorded a full sack since a Week 3 loss to the San Diego Chargers. The last time he was on the field, Patriots rookie left tackle Sebastian Vollmer shut him out in tackles and sacks. That was a few days after Porter popped off on the NFL Network, saying the Patriots should have asterisks affixed to their championships and that the league gave Tom Brady special treatment. Porter has been quieter, but not silent. On the NFL Network this week, he noted that the Dolphins' defense is good enough that the offense should need to score only 17 points to win.

Anticipating Dolphins-Panthers

November, 19, 2009
11/19/09
3:42
PM ET
As we wait for Thursday night’s game between the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins, here are some thoughts to ponder.

All indications out of Carolina are that running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will be playing. But I’m very curious to see if having both of these guys banged up will take a toll on Carolina’s running game. It’s tough -- more like impossible -- to get injury information out of coach John Fox. So we’ll have to wait and see just how injured Williams and Stewart are. They’ve been a large part of the reason the Panthers suddenly are playing good football, and I’m thinking Fox finally has learned the lesson that it’s best not to put the game in the hands of Jake Delhomme. Keep it on the ground and let Williams and Stewart do their thing -- if they’re able.

When All-Pro tackle Jordan Gross went out with a season-ending injury on Sunday, the Panthers shifted left guard Travelle Wharton to left tackle and inserted Mackenzy Bernadeau at left guard. They got through the rest of the Atlanta game without any major problems. I’m guessing the Panthers will go with that same alignment tonight. Wharton played left tackle earlier in his career and was serviceable at that spot. The bigger question is Bernadeau. He doesn’t have much experience and I’m sure the Dolphins will try to test him.

I wish I could be in Charlotte for the game because I’d like to see what happens on the field before the game. I’m real curious to see if Fox and Miami offensive coordinator Dan Henning shake hands or talk at all. Fox fired Henning after the 2006 season and I don’t think there’s a lot of love remaining between the two.

I know it’s a short week and I know Fox is a creature of habit, but I wonder if he might make a little move at linebacker. The absence of the injured Thomas Davis was very apparent against Atlanta. Landon Johnson and James Anderson both have experience, but they’re just not that good. With Davis gone for the season, I wonder if Fox has considered sliding backup middle linebacker Dan Connor to the outside.

I’ll be watching the game from home and will be checking in with observations during and after the game, so keep checking the NFC South blog.

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