Dolphins vs. Panthers: Five Things To Watch

The Miami Dolphins are dealing with more injuries following their 27-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James has been placed on season-ending injured reserve due to a hamstring injury, while special teams ace Michael Thomas was limited during practice on Saturday with a knee injury.

The Dolphins must reshuffle the deck along the offensive line and maintain effectiveness with new pieces at left guard and right tackle. Their special teams must also continue to perform at a high level if Michael Thomas is unable to play. Thomas’ availability or lack there of on Monday night becomes that much more important to the Dolphins’ special teams unit that is seeing fewer snaps from running backs Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams.

The Dolphins (4-4) must come away with a win against the Carolina Panthers if they hope to make the playoffs for their second consecutive season; but they have a daunting task in front of them. They must move the chains consistently on offense and keep Cam Newton contained on defense.

1.) Communication with new O-linemen

The Dolphins must win the time of possession battle against the Carolina Panthers, but in order to accomplish such a feat, they’ll need their offensive line to generate a surge at the point of attack. With the injury to Ja’Wuan James, they’ll utilize Jesse Davis at right tackle. They’ll also be breaking Ted Larsen into the lineup for the first time this season at left guard. Larsen missed the first eight games of the season with a torn biceps when he was placed on injured reserved with designation to return. The Dolphins communication with their new offensive linemen will be critical to their success in a hostile environment at Bank of America Stadium.

2.) More MarQueis Gray

Marqueis Gray is more versatile than given credit for. Gray is capable of lining up as an in-line tight end, he can be flexed out into the slot and he is capable of lining up and taking handoffs out of the backfield as well. Gase is utilizing his versatility with greater regularity to keep defenses off balance. The more involved Gray is, it becomes that much more difficult for opposing defenses to key in on other impact players. Look for Gray to be more involved in the Dolphins’ game plan particularly in the backfield.

3.) Taking shots with Julius Thomas

With the versatility of running backs Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams, teams are no longer loading the box to stop the Dolphins’ run game. As a result Julius Thomas had his best performance as a member of the Dolphins, hauling in six passes for 84 yards. The reason for the breakout performance is that the Dolphins got more two-high looks (two safeties deep) last week. Seam throws are open often times when two safeties are deep, and that trend will likely continue against the Carolina Panthers.

4.) Base or nickel

Christian McCaffrey’s rushing numbers might not be reflective of a running back who is helping his team, but his versatility has been a major plus for the Panthers’ offense. McCaffrey is a matchup nightmare due to his ability to contribute as a running back or a receiver. The Dolphins will have difficulty staying in their base defense because of his ability to run option routes similar to a wide receiver. The Dolphins must identify where he’s lined up on every single play and if they elect to stay in their base personnel their linebackers will play a great deal of zone.

5.) Mush rush

The Dolphins would like nothing more than to pin their ears back and rush the passer, but Cam Newton has the ability to avoid pass rushers and extend drives with his legs. The Dolphins will need to create pressure along the interior and keep him in front of them on passing downs to prevent him from escaping on broken plays. Dolphins’ cornerbacks will also need to stay tight to their man on the scramble drill to stop the Panthers from generating explosive plays.

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Brandon Howard joined the Sports Talk Florida team to cover the Miami Dolphins in April 2017 and will work diligently to provide daily Dolphins content and give accurate analysis of the roster, coaching and front office. Last season, Howard was the curator of content for Miami Dolphins Wire/ USA Today while aggregating high school sports results in Broward and Palm Beach counties for the Sun Sentinel. Prior to moving to South Florida Howard developed NFL content for Pro Player Insiders while covering the Cleveland Browns from 2014-2015. Howard, a Columbus, Ohio native graduated from West Virginia in 2004 in Athletic Coaching and Education. He also was a scholarship track and field athlete and walk-on football player. Howard was the 2003 Big East Long and IC4A long jump Champion and was a provisional national qualifier in the event. He also maintained his status as a member of the Athletic Director Academic Honor Roll during his time as a Mountaineer.