Good morning Panther faithful and happy hump day! With the short week we barely have time to recuperate from Sunday's victory before looking ahead to the Miami Dolphins (4-5) who come to Charlotte to take on the surging Panthers (4-5) on Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network.
This week's Thursday night game will be fascinating to say the least. Both teams were hit with injuries last week with Carolina losing all-pro LT Jordan Gross for the season and Miami suffering a much less serious injury to RB Ronnie Brown who will be out this week.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last two NFL seasons you know that the ‘New Coke' of the NFL is the Wildcat offense; hailed by some as the evolution of the game, and chided as a gimmick by others, Thursday's game will represent an old school vs. new school mentality, that is bound to be interesting.
How do the teams fare? Find out:
After the jump...
KEY MATCHUP: Miami run offense vs. Carolina run defense
Oh the Wildcat... from NFL pundits on four letter networks to Madden players in college dorms- the Wildcat offense is the pre-eminent scheme on the lips of football fans. Wildcat QBs are evaluated with a scrutinizing eye, and pure athletes are no longer ‘borderline players' they are now ‘wildcat specialists'. This is because of Miami and their success relying on and running the wildcat more than any other team. One of the reasons they run it so successfully is having Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams on the field at the same time. Carolina fans should think of Ronnie Brown being out like DeAngelo being gone from Double Trouble. That being said, Carolina have not shown any aptitude for shutting down the run, and when you couple this with the wildcat formation it seems Miami is gambling with house money when they run the football on Thursday
Miami pass offense vs. Carolina pass defense
The loss of Chad Pennington was a severe blow to the Miami Dolphins passing attack. This is due mainly to Pennington's near 70% accuracy before his injury. Chad Henne has been thrust into the role and has shown a lot of promise, but this is still a team who focuses wholly on their own offensive schemes, not traditional 3, 5 and 7 step drops. The Dolphins' pass offense is 30th in the NFL, the Carolina pass defense is 4th in the NFL; and while Chad Henne's big arm might scare you, their receivers certainly don't.
Carolina run offense vs. Miami run defense
The Dolphins have a very stout run defense; on paper. While they rank 7th in the NFL against the run they have not seen truly elite running backs from their opponents. In 9 games the Dolphins have only seen a top 10 RB three times (Michael Turner and Thomas Jones- twice) and not seen a top 5 RB. Carolina are about to show them a top 5 and top 25 back in the same game. Furthermore, in the last 5 games the Panthers have amassed more team rushing yards than any other in the NFL, and I think the trend continues.
Carolina pass offense vs. Miami pass defense
What a difference a week makes! This time last week most fans clearly recognized Jake Delhomme and our receivers as the Panthers' Achilles heel. This week, it appears to be a position of strength. Nobody predicted Jake to be as accurate and as steadfast as he was, and nobody thought Moose had enough in the tank to show he was still and #2 receiver in this league. We were wrong on both counts. Panthers are 25th in the league in passing offense, the Dolphins are 27th in the league is passing defense. As much as I want to call it a lock for the Carolina offense, my superstition isn't ready to anoint Jake as back to 2004 form, not quite yet.
The Panthers' special teams have been drastically improved. However, let's not forget that without Jason Baker delivering a very un-punter-like hit we would have given up yet another KR touchdown. Meanwhile, Miami have Ted Ginn Jr. returning kicks. He may not have the sure hands needed to be an elite WR, but he's averaging almost 30 yards per return and has two return TDs; that's two more than the Carolina Panthers.
I'm gone from lambasting to lauding the Carolina coaching in 2009 and gave the edge to Mike Smith last week. However, this week I'm willing to give the Panthers' coaches a little more credit after showing that Carolina has depth of both sides of the ball last week. While the Panthers don't display the ingenuity of the Miami Dolphins coaches they're both 4-5 teams.
The Wildcat is very scary, but somewhat declawed without Ronnie Brown in the lineup. Even the Wildcat at 60% is still deadly, but I don't think Miami have the offensive depth to keep the Panthers on their heels, or the defensive strength to stop Double Trouble and Steve Smith (should Jake Delhomme continue last week's form).
There are a lot of unsurities in this Old School vs. New School- Thursday night matchup, except for one; someone's leaving Charlotte at .500 and someone's leaving at .400 and my money is on the Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers 31 - Miami Dolphins 20