In less than two hours the Miami Dolphins will take the field with an abnormal week gone by. The Dolphins players you see, coming off a big win over the Chargers had to put on their collective thinking caps for three days of witness interviews in the Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito case conducted by appointed counsel and attorney Ted Wells. For some teams, this could make or break them based on the interviews adding a layer of distraction, but for the Dolphins, this has become somewhat routine and have gotten back to winning after winning two of three games.
The Dolphins play the Panthers for the first time, in the regular season at home since the Nick Saban era, in which the Dolphins in 2005 jumped out to a healthy 2-0 record. Flash forward to today, both teams come into the game with playoff implications with Carolina playing better having one 5 in a row with big wins versus the Patriots last week and the San Francisco 49ers the week prior. For the Panthers, Cam Newton has had a glory-filled season with numbers that the Miami Dolphins hope to see from Ryan Tannehill in his third year. Newton's line includes a 91.8 rating, 2,179 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Remarkable numbers for him given the negativity of last season with a benching during the season. Maybe a fire was lit under him at the right time. For the Panthers, the Dolphins might come at the right time, a team in turmoil with no clear cut sign of turning the season around with losses to the 0-8 Buccaneers and near debacle versus the Chargers in the closing seconds.
For the Dolphins, to win this game would be pivotal in this season and allow the Dolphins to breath easier as they make their push for their next set of games to make the playoffs.
Key Matchups today:
Steve Smith (CAR) versus Brent Grimes (MIA): This will be a physical battle as Smith will strive to gain positioning in his routes. Grimes will be lurking near by and will make contact. What makes this matchup one to watch is that Smith and Grimes are similar in stature and have faced eachother for the past five seasons when Grimes was a Falcon. For Grimes to win this battle, he cannot let Smith get behind him and must keep his eyes on quarterback Cam Newton especially when he moves or rolls out when there is pressure. That is when Steve Smith becomes more dangerorous because he'll break off his route and does so as a seasoned veteran.
Luke Kuechly versus the Miami O-line: With defensive end Charles Johnson listed as out for the game, look for linebacker Luke Kuechly to get pressure on Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins line must do a better job who continued to surrender sacks in the closing seconds of last weeks game with San Diego's big play forcing Tannehill to go out of bounds and leave time on the clock. Carolina's Kuechly might provide a long day for the Dolphins because he is as skilled as any blitzing linebacker and can also sink back into coverage covering tight ends, and receivers. For the Dolphins, they will need to make sure their blocking is sound on the line as well as Dolphins running backs must be up to the challenge to protect Tannehill as well.
Finally, no one should forget the homecoming of the former Dolphin and 1st round pick Ted Ginn. Ted Ginn was supposed to be the best thing to happen in Miami since the likes of Mark Duper or Mark Clayton. However, like so many first round caliber receivers in Miami, Ginn never materialized and was traded for a 5th round pick from the 49ers. Last week Ginn scored the game deciding touchdown versus New England and he's coming into this game ready to do more damage. Will it be enough, that Ginn can still return kicks and run down the field better than what Mike Wallace has done all season long? It's hard to know for sure, but the Dolphins should not leave Ginn open given that he can hurt them big in this game. He's a completely different player and plays more physically than ever before.
For the Dolphins today, should they come out flat, this could be like the Tennessee game of a year ago given that the Panthers are not immune to putting major points on the board. For Dolphins fans a loss will just declare the inevitable, the season is lost and everyone must go. However, today, the Dolphins can prove to the media watching world what true leadership looks like, by beating the pants off the Panthers.