Miami heads up north to Carolina as both teams look to get back to par and make a playoff dash.
Miami (4-5) @ Carolina (4-5)
As the season progressed, this Miami (4-5) at Carolina (4-5) matchup has now turned out to be an incredibly even game. Offensively, these teams are very similar, though the loss of Ronnie Brown for the season makes the Dolphins more of a one-back offense, though Miami should utilize rookie runningback Lex Hilliard more due to Brown's absence. Brown is a huge loss for Miami, but Carolina has also been dealing with both of their star runningbacks, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, recently hampered with nagging injuries. Fortunately for Carolina and unfortunately for Miami, both of those runningbacks will play in the game.
Injuries have now completely changed the look of both of these teams this season. Miami has now lost their starting quarterback, Chad Pennington, and starting runningback, Brown, for the season, but luckily for the Phins, Chad Henne and Ricky Williams have proved to be excellent replacement options. Losing Ronnie Brown will definitely change the face of Miami's Wildcat attack, but Ricky proved last week that he can carry the Dolphins to victory without Brown. Carolina is dealing with the huge loss of left tackle Jordan Gross, as Travelle Wharton will move over from guard as his replacement at LT. But that move still leaves a huge hole at the guard position, something that will only help out nose tackle Jason Ferguson of Miami.
On the defensive side of the ball, Miami is better against the run and Carolina showcases one of the best passing defenses in the league. That being stated, it looks like even more pressure will be placed on Ricky Williams to carry the load for the Dolphins, as Jake Delhomme will need to find Steve Smith as often as possible. Both teams are aware that Ricky and Steve Smith will be the focal points on offense, so look for each defense to adjust accordingly. Joey Porter returns to action after being suspended last week, so expect him to be fired up and ready to make an impact.
A key matchup will be defensive end Julius Peppers lining up against offensive tackle Jake Long. Peppers will need to apply pressure on Henne to eliminate the Dolphins passing attack completely, but Long is the perfect offensive lineman to slow Peppers down and give Henne some time. That will be an important matchup to watch, because in what is sure to be a close game like this, the winner of that battle could determine the winner of this ball game. Both of these teams attempt to eat up the clock with the run and are also two of the more successful ball clubs on converting third down opportunities. Chances are that the team that wins those stat categories will have a better chance of winning this game. Though Miami, over the course of the season, has bettered Carolina in both of those statistical categories, this game should indicate just how important Ronnie Brown was to those stats for the Dolphins.
Expect a close fought battle in Carolina as both teams look to get to that .500 mark. This would be a huge victory for both teams, as a win would place either squad in playoff contention, as a loss would put those chances in severe jeopardy. Carolina has the home field advantage and Miami is still wondering how huge of an impact the loss of Ronnie Brown will be to their team. Both units must minimize turnovers and capitalize off of them if the opportunity presents itself. This seems to be a ball game where a big play could determine the outcome, so if Steve Smith or DeAngelo Williams breaks one, or Ted Ginn Jr. returns another kick for six, that could be just enough to come away with the victory. Miami has a tendency to play up to their opponent, but the Phins can not afford to get in a close matchup with this Carolina ball club who has plenty of playmakers on offense that can seal the deal.
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Written by Josh Souder