Carolina Panthers vs Miami Dolphins Preview: Top Matchups for Thursday Night

The game against the Atlanta Falcons may mean more than any of us had ever imagined once you look down the road at the hunt for the Wild Card. The very first rule for determining the two wildcard teams when they compare teams with identical records is the head-to-head rule against opposing franchises within the same division. With the Sunday's victory the Panthers are 1-1 against their division rival, making determining the wildcards that much trickier if they were to finish with identical records at the end of the year.

With that interesting thought out of the way, let's talk about the Miami Dolphins.

Two big injuries highlight Thursday Night Football: the injuries to Miami RB Ronnie Brown and the other to Panthers LT Jordan Gross. An interesting argument here would be which of these two players are the bigger lost to their respective team? On Miami's side, they lose not only their top running back, but also the player that they designed their wildcat offense around. On Charlotte's side, they lose the crucial blindside blocker that has been starting on the O-Line since his rookie year in 2003.

Both teams will expect good production out of their backups. The Carolina Panthers  will be moving Travelle Wharton to LT and let his backup Mackenzy Bernadeau slide in at guard, while Miami RB Ricky Williams taking a bigger role in the offense than he had before after maintaining a 5.6 YPC in his change of pace role with Ronnie Brown. Backup RB Lex Hilliard will also be called upon for the first regular season carries in his NFL career. Can he step up and be a competitor? The production of the replacements will be one of the biggest keys to the game.

And here are the key matchups for the game!

Jake Delhomme vs Jeff Davidson

Last week Jake Delhomme made me laugh. I laughed. After half a season of mediocrity, Jake Delhomme had the best game of the year against the Atlanta Falcons completing 15 out of 24 passes for 195 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and posting a 115.8 passer rating. That's all fine and wonderful, but here's the good part. He did it by calling his own plays at the line of scrimmage in a no huddle offense, while Jeff Davidson stood on the sidelines and twittled his thumbs.

Why didn't anyone think of this before? After all, Jake Delhomme has been in Carolina almost his entire career. He knows this offense like the back of his hand. If he can perform better by calling in own plays, then let him! By god, let Jake Delhomme exercise his natural leadership ability and run this offense! Give him the keys to the car and let him drive our team all the way to the playoffs. This surprising and somewhat random development couldn't have come at a better time. I sincerely hope that the Panthers make this a regular part of their offense for the rest of the season.

Deangelo Williams vs Miami Rushing defense

The Miami Dolphins rank 7th in defending the run, as much comfort as that will give them. The Panthers ran the ball for 270 yards against the Arizona Cardinals, who ranked 1st in the league at that time. Establishing the run will be key to helping Jake Delhomme continue his success at throwing the ball, and bringing home another win against Miami. And as is the case when you're facing a 3-4 defense, penetration by our O-line is key. Our guards and Tony Fiametta have to be able to penetrate and get to the 2nd level to block those linebackers. If Deangelo Williams can get his blocks, he'll shred this defense no questions asked.

Panthers D-Line vs Ricky Williams

Without Ronnie Brown to help balance the rushing attack, Miami will be forced to rely on a speedy scatback in Ricky Williams to give the Panthers hell on Thursday night. He's proven to be successful in a change-of-pace role, but can the 32 year old maintain the production in an every-down role? Can he maintain the speed that drives his game all the way to the goal line? He did it against Tampa Bay, gaining over 100 yard with 20 carries, but can he do it against an improving Carolina Defense?

Carolina Special Teams vs Ted Ginn Jr.

Not going to get into a big discussion here. The special teams of the Carolina Panthers just make you shiver at times, and Ted Ginn Jr, is one of the upper tier returners in the league. Case rested.

That's it for the matchups. I've said earlier in the year that I liked Chad Henne to be the eventual starter of this team, but that he was also one of those guys that needed a few years under his belt to learn the system. With that being said, the Panthers need to change up in their play calling on defense and send this sophomore QB plenty of exotic blitzes in order to rile him and force him to make mistakes. Let Sherrod Martin pick off a couple more passes and turn them into touchdowns, and we'll have a good game.

On offense, just stick with the running game. Let Jake run the offense in the no-huddle. It's the ultimate statement that you trust the QB and his decision making, and it worked extremely well last year. Let him do it again.

In a perfect world, the Panthers sell out against the run and pressure Chad Henne into mistakes. Ricky Williams starts out strong, but as the game wears on he shuts down in the 4th quarter. Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart take over the game and rush for 200+ yards, Jake Delhomme gets the ball to Steve Smith deep a few times, and the Panthers grind out a victory in dominant fashion that revives the fanbase and gets us all to believe in the Cardiac Cats one last time.

Panthers win 30-24, in overtime

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