The Miami Dolphins complete a strange stretch to their 2017 season this week as they play their third-straight prime time game on Monday. In this case, they will face the Carolina Panthers as they look to end a two-game losing streak and find their offensive identity.
Carolina, meanwhile, comes into the game with a 6-3 record, having won their last two games, and sporting the league’s top defense. Carolina is second in sacks through the first nine weeks of the season, and they have been able to keep teams to less than 18 points on the year.
In other words, this could be a tough game for the Dolphins.
To get a better idea of what Miami will be facing as they take on the Panthers during their Week 10 Monday Night Football game, I spoke to Bradley Smith from Cat Scratch Reader, who answered some of my questions about Carolina. You can check out my side of our conversation, answering his questions, over at their site.
1. The Panthers have the league's top defense (274.1 yards per game allowed) and the fourth ranked scoring defense (17.7 points per game allowed). They rank in the top six in both pass defense and run defense. Is there any way to effectively attack the Panthers' defense?
If you can give the quarterback a little time in the pocket, our secondary can be exploited. We have a weak link in Daryl Worley and Kevon Seymour, who have been splitting time opposite James Bradberry. Our safeties are Kurt Coleman and Mike Adams, who is 74 years old and might not even play on Monday night. He's listed in the injury report with a concussion, so if he's unable to play Jairus Byrd would most likely fill in for him.
2. On the other side of the spectrum, the Panthers' offense is only 21st overall (313.1 yards per game gained), 24th in passing offense (204.0 yards per game), 15th in rushing offense (109.1 yards per game), and 24th in scoring offense (18.7 yards per game). While that "only" ignores the fact that the Dolphins offense has been worse than that in every category, what is causing the struggles with the Carolina offense?
The tl;dr answer is Mike Shula. The longer version is the Panthers offense can't stop running the 'hand it to Jonathan Stewart for -2 to 2 yards on 1st down' play every time they have a first down, and it makes them predictable. They get into situations where it's 2nd and 8 or 2nd and 12, and then they try to hand it to Stewart up the middle again, because why not fail twice in a row, amirite? That puts them in 3rd and long, and it allows the defense to swarm the offensive line and get to Cam Newton. The Panthers somewhat fixed this against Atlanta last week by letting Christian McCaffrey take over as lead back (of course Stewart had to lose two fumbles before this happened) and the offense improved. I'm cautiously optimistic though, because the Falcons struggle defending the run. If Miami is good at defending the run they can make Carolina one-dimensional pretty quickly, and that would spell bad news for the Panthers offense.
3. Staying with the offense, Cam Newton has not looked like the odd-year Pro Bowl player we normally see (having made the all-star game in 2011, 2013, and 2015). He currently leads the NFL with 11 interceptions and he has the second-worst passer rating (78.4) of his career at this point, only ahead of last year's 75.8. What is going on with Newton?
Shoulder surgery is a bummer, man. Earlier in the year he was still getting into a groove due to not playing in the preseason. He's heating up, though, and they're letting him use his legs more than they did early on. The coaching staff had visions of Newton being a dink-and-dunk style QB earlier this season (which is why they drafted McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel) and limiting the amount of running he does. They called this an 'evolving offense', and to be brutally honest it has not worked out at all. After seeing that the offense is at its best when they 'let Cam be Cam' they appear to be going back to what worked in 2015. Trading Kelvin Benjamin also seems to have helped, as Newton doesn't have a #1 receiver to lock on to anymore. I don't think Newton will be able to get his numbers back to where they were in 2015 since we're in Week 10, but I think we'll see more of the MVP Newton going forward than the Newton we've seen in the first half of the season.
4. Christian McCaffrey was one of the most discussed prospects heading into this year's NFL Draft, with the Panthers selecting him with the eighth overall selection. While we all see highlights of him, how has the rookie running back looked this year?
McCaffrey has been mostly underwhelming as a running back, but he's been a serious weapon in the passing game. He leads the team in receptions and has a chance to break the rookie receptions record (101 by Anquan Boldin) this year. Last week against the Falcons he looked like he finally discovered how to make NFL defenders miss, so we could be seeing the start of something big for him. The Panthers like to get him out into space and create opportunities for him where he wins (most linebackers don't stand a chance against him in the open field), so the Dolphins will want to avoid letting that happen if they want to contain the Panthers offense.
5. What Panthers player that a Dolphins fan does not know will have an impact in this game?
Michael Palardy (our punter) has quietly had a really good season. He's able to flip the field if the Panthers need to do so, and he normally doesn't allow any returns because he gets good hang time on his kicks. Based on how bad the Panthers offense has been at times and the fact that Miami has a good defense, you'll probably see a lot of him on Monday night. It's sad that I'm answering this question by talking about a punter, but it is what it is.