The Miami Dolphins look to continue a hot start to the 2023 season as they welcome the Carolina Panthers into Hard Rock Stadium for a Week 6 game. The Dolphins are 4-1 and in first place in the AFC East as the calendar begins to move from the start of the season into the middle of the schedule. The Panthers are struggling this year, sitting at 0-5 and just trying to find their identity with rookie quarterback Bryce Young, the first-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, at the helm of their offense.
This game feels like a potential blowout for an NFL-record-setting offense facing off against a team is dealing with several key injuries and has yet to find a rhythm on the season. It cannot be a game Miami takes for granted because at some point the Panthers will figure it out or desperation will set it, and they will shock someone. The Dolphins cannot afford to be that team and cannot be caught looking ahead to a primetime game against the Philadelphia Eagles next week.
Miami is not scheduled to face Carolina often, having only played them seven times since the Panthers were founded in 1995. They last faced off in 2021, meaning a lot has changed for both teams over the last two years and throughout the histories of both franchises.
I turned to Cat Scratch Reader, SB Nation’s Panthers team site, to get a closer look at the Panthers. Walker Clement was kind enough to sit down with me to answer my questions about Carolina, Young, and who Dolphins fans should watch out for this weekend.
Just a note as this was one of the most entertaining conversations I have had over the years of doing these “behind enemy lines” kind of articles. Clement recognizes the Panthers are still a team trying to find themselves and build around their rookie quarterback, and he brought humor to the conversation. It made it a lot of fun.
You can check out my side of the conversation as I answered questions about the Dolphins here:
The obvious place to start seems to be with Bryce Young, the first overall pick in 2023. Despite the record for the season, it appears Young has been showing the flashes you would want from such a highly-drafted quarterback, but he has had turnover issues this season as well. It seems he is proving he has the potential for success, but the learning curve is still very steep for the former Alabama quarterback. Is that a fair assessment? What is working and what is not when it comes to Young?
That’s a mostly fair assessment. Young has looked good at times. He hasn’t had any moments where he has looked great or made it clear to fans why he was the number one overall pick. Part of that comes down to a lack of supporting cast and part of that, at least, comes down to play calling. Young hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to wow fans, even through four starts.
The coaching staff has made noise about “simplifying” things for him this week. We’ll see if that helps, but I don’t think he has been the main drag on the offense. If they aren’t changing up the route concepts in each play to be more complementary and if they aren’t going to stop obviously telegraphing their runs then I’m not sure what a simpler version of their offense is going to accomplish.
The Panthers were a top-ten rushing team last year, averaging 130 yards per game for the 2022 regular season. This season, they are 21st with a 96-yard-per-game average. What has caused this big drop this year? Can the Panthers mount an offensive attack up the middle of the defense, taking advantage of what seems to be the weakest link in Miami’s defensive chain?
The biggest cause of the drop has been inconsistency along the offensive line. The Panthers were set to return all five starters from last year. They spent most of the season missing both starting guards and Ikem Ekwonu, the starting left tackle, has taken major steps back from his impressive rookie campaign.
Beyond that, they simply don’t look like the same team. Part of that is coaching, an aspect of these new look Carolina Panthers that fans are quickly souring on. Per our most recent Panthers Reacts survey, only 14% of fans are confident that the team is heading in the right direction and 66% of fans don’t know why they are watching anymore.
Flipping to the other side of the ball, the Panthers according to their team stats seem to have a good pass defense, but struggle against the run. With the rough start to the season for Carolina, are these accurate representations of the Carolina defense, or is this a factor of teams running the ball once they have a lead to try to eat the clock?
It’s mildly more nuanced than that, but again, injuries are largely the reason why. The Panthers defense has been relatively strong through the first half of most games. A lack of offensive production, followed by a rash of injuries in the secondary and at linebacker have left the defense gassed and lacking the depth to compete in the second half. That shows up as a weaker run defense as teams gear down their offenses against Carolina’s hapless garbage time efforts. But it isn’t solely a weakness there. The pass rush, while productive on paper, has also been largely ineffective in big moments.
Big names like Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, and Frankie Luvu certainly make noise on defense. The same could be said for rising star Yetur Gross-Matos. Other names like Justin Houston and Donte Jackson disappear. None of them, however, seem to make a difference at the end of the day.
The Dolphins and Panthers only get to face each other occasionally; this will be just the second meeting between the clubs since 2017. Who are one offensive and one defensive player do we not yet know but will by the end of this game?
Have you heard of Adam Thielen? I kid, kinda, but the veteran wide receiver has 35% of the Panthers receiving yards and I am honestly shocked it is that low. You may be introduced to running back Chuba Hubbard, who seems to be taking over the rushing responsibilities in spite of Miles Sanders’ bigger contract. That is not exactly an endorsement of Hubbard, who has only posted 154 yards on 35 carries this season. That’s just what a superlative player on this offense looks like through five whole games. Sanders himself has 190 yards and one touchdown on 61 carries but got out snapped by Hubbard last week.
Again, for you Dolphins fans who forgot what it is like to be Bad. Those are not numbers from a single game. That is effectively the totality of the Panthers rushing attack this season.
On defense, if we’re lucky, you’ll hear about Jeremy Chinn. He is a hybrid safety/linebacker with legitimate star potential if Ejiro Evero can figure out how best to use him. The team is certainly sore at both safety and linebacker with Shaq Thompson out for the season with a fractured fibula and Xavier Woods out for an extended period with a hamstring injury.
Chinn has shown in years passed an ability to take over games in a way reminiscent of Luke Keuchly. He simply lacks the consistency that Luke had. We’re all crossing our fingers that he puts ‘It’ back together again because nobody else on this defense has been providing a spark in recent weeks.
I do not like big spreads for the Dolphins, probably because I am not used to Miami being this kind of explosive offense and looking like one of the top teams in the AFC. It’s a strange, new world. This week, Miami is giving Carolina nearly two touchdowns on the spread. (The line increased to Dolphins -14.5 on Saturday afternoon, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.) Do you expect the Dolphins to dominate this game, or is there something that can spark the Panthers into covering the spear and/or winning outright?
The Panthers haven’t been outright dominated yet. Until last week against the Lions, Carolina had led in the first half of each of their games. Even against the Lions, the Panthers shot themselves in the feet as often as Detroit tripped them up.
That said, this team has yet to put together more than one reasonably successful drive per game. They are a bad team and will be considered as such until they show even the faintest sign of life. Is it possible they show that against the Dolphins? Technically. Is it likely? No. Nobody who likes money bets on the Panthers to succeed. I’m still expecting things to get worse before they get better so I’m picking the Dolphins to blow the spread, and the Panthers, out of the water.