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Joe Philbin got his team together earlier this week and put Sunday’s game against Carolina in its proper perspective with just one sentence. “We’re going to have to play our best game of the season,” Philbin told the team.
“Aw,” said one player, “coach says that every week.”
But this week, it carries more significance than most.
If the Dolphins are going to make it two-in-a-row, if they are going to walk away late Sunday afternoon with a 6-5 record, they are going to have to beat the hottest team in the league to get there.
Who ever saw this coming? Who would have believed that the Carolina Panthers could have put together this kind of 10-game resume? I figured they’d be improved this season. But this much? Six straight wins? In a league filled with parity, winning that many games in a row is an impressive accomplishment.
“They can be beaten,” said linebacker Philip Wheeler of the Panthers, “but it’s not going to be easy.”
Clearly the biggest challenge will be containing Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. He’ll beat you with a powerful right arm. He’ll beat you with his quick feet. And from what I hear, this season he’ll beat you with his mind.
The Dolphins have faced some excellent quarterbacks this season, but none of them had the overall skill set of Cam Newton.
“We just have to find a way to get him to the ground,” said safety Reshad Jones. “We’ve got to know where he’s at at all times. If we lose track of him, we’ll be in trouble.”
But this isn’t a one-man showing the Dolphins will be facing. The Panthers have a three-headed running back that will test a rushing defense that has struggled much of the season. They also have the league’s No. 1 scoring defense, giving up just 13.5 points a game. That will get your attention in a hurry.
Carolina has had two signature victories during this run. They shut down San Francisco on the road. They beat Tom Brady and New England on Monday night. They come to South Florida feeling awfully good about themselves, and hearing lofty predictions about where they could end up the first week of February.
Having said all of this, the Dolphins can win this game. But the way I see it, three things absolutely/positively have to happen:
1. Ryan Tannehill has to come up big. The second-year quarterback has been hot and cold lately. Cold won’t cut it this Sunday. Tannehill needs to play like he did on that final drive against Atlanta. Aggressive. Accurate. Efficient. Bold. When Mike Wallace is open deep, Tannehill needs to hit him in stride. “Let it rip,” as he says. Underthrown passes won’t beat the Panthers. That Carolina defense is too good not to take advantage of the scoring opportunities that you have.
2. The rushing defense has to get its act together. This has been a season-long issue. Seven of the 10 opponents have rushed for more than 130 yards against the Dolphins. The Panthers watched the tape. They know about the missed tackles, about the botched assignments. They will run DeAngelo Williams. They will run Jonathan Stewart. They will run Mike Tolbert. For the Dolphins to win this game, they have to hold the Panthers to under 100 yards rushing. An imposing challenge, indeed.
3. The pass rush has to give Newton problems. The Dolphins have pieced together 30 sacks this season. That’s an average of three a game. I figure they need five or six against the Panthers. But just as important as sacking Newton is disrupting his rhythm. You don’t want him in a comfort zone. But you don’t want him scrambling in the open field either.
“We have a few things dialed up for him this week,” said defensive tackle Jared Odrick.
Added Cameron Wake, who leads the Dolphins with 6 ½ sacks: “We need to play a complete game, and I know I need to be on my game.”
With back-to-back road games against the Jets and Steelers next on the schedule, with a logjam of teams vying for the sixth playoff spot in the AFC, with the season rapidly winding down, a victory over Carolina would do wonders for the psyche and confidence of this Dolphins team.
Now all they have to do is play their best game of the season.
On Monday, AC in the AM analyzes Sunday’s game against Carolina.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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