Armchair Scouting & Prediction: Carolina Panthers

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving Day and is enjoying whatever kind of rest and relaxation you can find over the weekend.

The roller coaster ride continues its upward swing. The brief thrill of the opening win over the Patriots. The ensuing plummet down a 7-game losing streak, including losses to some wretched teams. Now, we watch our Dolphins continue to gamely dig their way out of the hole they've put themselves in. Last week, they took another step in the right direction with a win over the Jets, a bottom-3 team in the NFL. It wasn't the most inspiring victory, but there were some positive signs to be found.

This week, we crank it up another notch as the team hosts the Carolina Panthers. What are we in store for, and what should we expect?

Tale of the Tape

Here are the basic team stats (and NFL ranks), per game, according to and

Game 12
Dolphins Panthers
Passing Yards 233.1 (17th) 203.2 (27th)
Rushing Yards 77.4 (31st) 115.5 (15th)
Points Scored 18.3 (26th) 20.5 (22nd)
Pass Yards Allowed 274.2 (29th) 174.2 (1st)
Run Yards Allowed 108.6 (13th) 114.5 (19th)
Points Allowed 24.5 (23rd) 20 (6th)
Net Turnovers -3 (tie 21st) -4 (tie 24th)
Against Penalty Yards 52.5 (14th) 59.6 (23rd)

At a glance, these numbers paint the picture of a very bad team squaring off against a mediocre team with a few clear strengths to balance out their weaknesses. The Dolphins currently rank in the bottom half of the league in every category in this table except for run yards allowed(!) and penalty yards against, and they're bottom-5 in several areas. The Panthers are also bottom-third in several areas, but the standout numbers are their pass yards allowed - the BEST in the NFL - and their points allowed, which is good for 6th-best in the league. On paper, it would seems fairly apparent that the Panthers are a better team, even if they are flawed.

But there are some things to keep in mind here.

Firstly is that many of Miami's numbers and rankings have been headed in the right direction for the past few weeks. With a defense that's rediscovered its strengths and the return of a mostly healthy Tua Tagovailoa, we've seen a Dolphins team that's been making it harder on the opposition. Before their current 3-game winning streak, the Fins ranked in the bottom five in every stat in this table, and were dead last in a few of them. That's not the case anymore, as they've made some strides in several areas.

Secondly, the Panthers defensive numbers are aided more than a little by their schedule. Early this season, they gave up 14 and 9 points, respectively, to the Jets and Texans, two horrific offenses. They also held the Cardinals to 10 points, but this was in that team's first game without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, the two biggest components of how that team scores. They also racked up some nice defensive numbers against a few schizoid offenses like the Saints and Falcons, two offensive units that can look like garbage just as easily and inexplicably as they can look really good (see: last night's Saints loss to Buffalo). This isn't to totally devalue Carolina's defense. They are good. They just might not be quite as good as some of their raw numbers suggest.

There's also the semi-wildcard of Cam Newton to consider here. The QB position has been one manic ride for Panthers fans in 2021. The team brought in former Jets "savior" Sam Darnold to be "The Guy." After nine starts that looked little better than his miserable three years as a Jet, Darnold got injured. P.J. Walker popped in two weeks ago, and did a decent job of game management, helping the team to a decisive win over the aforementioned Kyler-less Cardinals. In the week leading up to that game, though, was the really big news that the Panthers had signed former favorite son Cam Newton out of NFL oblivion. Cam took a few valuable snaps in the Arizona game, but then took over the starting duties last week against the Washington Football Team. This all creates a little uncertainty as to the Panthers' offensive identity.

I watched Carolina's previous two wins to get a better idea of who they are.

Carolina's Last Two Games

Two weeks ago, Carolina broke out their old/new toy, Cam Newton against the Arizona Cardinals, at least for a little bit. Even luckier for them than having a former star return (in a very limited role) was that they were catching the Cardinals without Kyler Murray - the undisputed engine of their entire offense. The Panthers D did a solid job of keeping things hard on Arizona's backup QB, Colt McCoy, but he looked very much like someone toggled his backup QB switch to "bad." McCoy did have some time here and there, but did very little with it. For the most part, Carolina's defense was smart and disciplined, if not exactly stellar in terms of speed or athleticism. The Panthers offense was conservative and opportunistic. Aided by two Cardinal turnovers and some questionable play calls by Kliff Kingsbury, the Panthers offense was working with some short fields, which was enough for quarterback P.J. Walker to play game manager. And having a guy like Christian McCaffery back and healthy makes life infinitely easier for a game manager. Of Walker's 22 completions, 10 of them were to McCaffery for 66 yards. Sprinkle in some Cam Newton on a few short-yardage situations, and you have more than enough to beat a Cardinals team with one arm and one leg tied behind their backs, offensively. The Panthers dropped the beatdown on the Cards, 34-10.

This past Sunday, Carolina hosted a Washington team that pulled off an upset win over the Buccaneers the week prior. It was actually a tight contest from start to almost finish, with Washington ultimately putting the Panthers away with two field goals in the final five minutes to win it 27-21. The Panthers defense showed a few things here that I didn't see against Arizona. Their linebackers showed some more speed, and their DBs looked solid. Washington QB Taylor Heinicke had to play a very good game to move the offense, and he did just that. Perhaps more importantly was that Washington's offensive line did a really nice job pushing the Panthers' defensive line around and opening holes for WFT running backs to rack up 190 yards on the ground. Carolina's offense just couldn't do enough to keep up in the end, with the passing game staying fairly conservative. Newton was 21-27, but only for 189 yards. Washington kept Carolina's running game somewhat in check, allowing 111 yards on 21 carries. Washington tried to shoot itself in the feet, fumbling three times and losing one of them, but they did enough to pull out the win.

Miami Dolphins versus Carolina Panthers

Based on what I saw from Carolina in their past two games, there is a path to success for our Dolphins, but it's a fairly narrow path that they'll have to tread very carefully.

I think our defense should be OK against Carolina's offense. Cam Newton still looks like the guy we saw in New England last year. He's still big and strong, but he doesn't run like he used to, and his arm hasn't gotten any better. The Panthers offensive coaches seem to realize this, and they haven't ask much of Cam. Of course, a QB doesn't have to do much when he has a Christian McCaffery on his team. That dude is an automatic 100 yards from scrimmage, even on his worst day, so keeping tabs on him is imperative to success Washington did a very nice job of this, always having a linebacker or DB tracking him to make sure he didn't break off any massive chunk plays. I think the Fins can do the same. Without Chase Young, WFT wasn't able to get a ton of pressure on Newton, and I think our defense will find a little more success in this area. Newton has never been an especially adept processor, and the quick blitzes by our defense should result in a few sacks and more than a few bad throws. The key will be seeing if Cam and the Panthers offense put any pressure on our defense's ability to cover the soft middle part of the field - something the Ravens barely tried at all, and the Jets actually did with a bit of success.

Our offense against their defense? This is our concern, Dude. I sort of throw out much of what I saw in Carolina's win over the Cardinals, given that Arizona's understudy offense simply wasn't good that day. The Washington game, though, offered some lessons. The two primary reasons WFT put up enough points were (1) Heinicke played a smart, controlled game, and (2) Washington's offensive line bullied the hell out of Carolina's defensive front. Now, I believe Tua can replicate and even surpass nearly all of what Heinicke did, especially if we see DeVante Parker return to the lineup. But even if he doesn't, our receiving corps is better than Washington's, especially in terms of depth. However, I simply can't see our offensive line being anywhere near as successful as Washington was in opening running lanes. WFT's offensive line is easily a top-10 unit in the league, and arguably even top 5. Our O line? Well, we all know the story, and we've run out of words to describe it. They simply don't make life one lick easier for our rather limited crop of running backs. When I re-watched their win over the Jets, I just saw our O line getting shoved back in ways that Washington's simply didn't. Either they'll have to get better at this, or Tua will have to continue the same kind of quick thinking and throwing that he employed in New York.

Special teams is pretty similar, thanks to Jason Sanders' inexplicable crash into normalcy this season. Both teams' punters are shaky, and neither team seems to have a truly dangerous return threat. The Fins are better in general coverage, but this is mitigated by Sanders currently being a worse place kicker than Carolina's Zane Gonzalez.

In terms of coaching, I think it's a push between the two teams. Both Brian Flores and Matt Rhule are known as good defensive minds, and this is illustrated by their current defensive units. Both coaches are also known for head-scratching and baffling offensive strategies and execution. The Dolphins are a bit more disciplined in terms of penalties (despite some absolutely bogus calls against them in recent weeks), so this could be an area where we pick up some "hidden" yards.


I think this is going to be an excruciatingly tight game. Both defenses are good or great, and the offenses are both limited, if for different reasons. This one has "defensive TD wins it" written all over it, and even that could swing either way. That, and/or a field goal in the final minutes is what will earn a team the W.

Dolphins 17, Panthers 20

It kills me to predict it, and I really really hope I'm wrong about this. But given our continuing offensive line woes and the way that Jason Sanders has struggled, I have a hard time predicting a win over a Panthers team that just has a slightly better defense and a reliable place kicker. A Dolphins win wouldn't surprise me at all, though. They have enough to beat a team like Carolina, but I just don't have quite enough faith in our offense just yet. Had they beaten the Jets last week more handily, with the offensive line looking more serviceable, I'd feel differently.

Let me know what you think we'll see on Sunday. Let's chat it up in the comments section!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Phinsider's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of The Phinsider writers or editors.