Carolina Panthers vs. Miami Dolphins: Key Matchups

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers head to Miami riding a six game winning streak, with back to wins over the 49ers and Patriots, both playoff contenders. Though Carolina showed they can play with the big dogs, the "one game at a time" mentality must continue in order to continue this success. Though we appear to be heading into a Wild Card spot or better, there is no question that the Panthers still have a bumpy ride ahead. The Saints are still 1.5 games ahead of Carolina and we need to keep pace to contend for the division. This appears a "should win" game, but there is no doubt that it will be a hard fought contest, and no win is easy. And the Dolphins are a much tougher team than given credit for.

Tyson Clabo vs. Frank Alexander/Mario Addison/Wes Horton

The Panthers have already ruled out Charles Johnson for Sunday's game, and the timing is horrible. Carolina's defense and pass rush has been absolutely dominating the competition, and a lot of credit goes to Charles Johnson, our sack leader this season. Greg Hardy has played extremely well also, but the production on both ends is symbiotic. With two elite (yes, I say elite) book ends surrounding a stout group of defensive tackles, opposing offensive coordinators have problems game planning for the pass rush. You can't double team Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy on the same play. You can't bet on your best blocker to stop either of them one-on-one consistently. They've both found great success these past few years due to simultaneous presence on the defensive line. And unfortunately Sunday, that ends for a bit.

Some Panthers fans may remember Tyson Clabo's name. For any of you who can't recall, he was Charles Johnson was his daddy last season when Clabo started for Atlanta, as Big Money racked up 3.5 credited* sacks against him last year. We'd be licking our chops at this matchup with Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito not set to play Sunday, but unfortunately Marcus Cannon's leg whip has CJ missing time. Greg Hardy will match up against Bryant McKinnie on most downs, while the other side will go by committee with Frank Alexander, Mario Addison, and Wes Horton all splitting time. This matchup is important not just to the game, but to the future as well. Greg Hardy may not be here next season, and a large part of whether or not Gettleman decides to open the check book will have to do with what we already have on roster. Frank Alexander and Mario Addison have both showed promise, so this could be the game that they earn a chance for next season.

Charles Clay vs. Thomas Davis

Let me preface this by saying that though our defense has been absolutely, positively outstanding this season, five of our 11 TOTAL touchdowns allowed have been passes caught by tight ends. Whether it be Gronkowski last week or Gonzales two weeks before, the Panthers have had a bit of trouble covering good tight ends. Charles Clay enters the game with 42 receptions for 474 yards, along with four touchdowns. Charles Clay is a kind of swiss-army knife for the Dolphins, playing as a starting tight end and an H-back (where he's rushed for a touchdown). Well, we have our own swiss-army knife on defense in Thomas Davis. Davis is on pace to shatter his career highs in tackles and sacks this year, while also showing tremendous coverage skills. Davis has developed into one of the most complete players on this defense (though he can be overshadowed by Luke Kuechly). We have Davis play coverage, play the run, rush the passer, even play special teams. Davis has been such a force because of versatility, switching from the SAM linebacker to the WILL linebacker during the games. He's talented at both, and will likely be tasked with covering Charles Clay, who can be thrown in pretty much anywhere on the Dolphins offense.

Ryan Kalil vs. Paul Soliai

The Dolphins front seven hasn't been given as much credit as deserved this year, but their defensive line is scary. Paul Soliai and Randy Starks could give our Guards some problems up front. Paul Soliai is often played over the center or just outside of him, so Kalil will get a lot of Soliai all game long. The good thing for us is that while our Guards are filling in for injury after injury to the position, they have Ryan Kalil there to help stop the bleeding. Kalil is one of the best centers in all of football, and will need to play as such against a talented Dolphins defense.

New England took away the run and forced Carolina to pass. It didn't work too well for them. I'd expect the Dolphins to be a bit more balanced in their play calling, as they aren't missing two centerpieces of their defense like New England was. Even with Dimitri Patterson out, I'd expect the Dolphins to have more faith in their defensive backfield and play a more balanced defensive game. If Paul Soliai and Randy Starks blow up the run game and force our offensive line to double team them, look for Cameron Wake to make a splash.

Brent Grimes vs. Steve Smith

Just like last week, two former divisional rivals will face off yet again. Brent Grimes used to tangle with Steve Smith during his Atlanta days, starting for the Falcons in 2010 and 2011 every game that he played in. He's a talented player, having racked up 16 career interceptions and 68 pass deflections. Make no mistake, Brent Grimes is a good player. But so is Steve Smith.

Steve Smith hasn't been lighting up the stat sheet this year, but he's done a fine job of getting open and moving the chains when we need him to. He's still the chippy spark plug we've always known and loved, but he hasn't had to do as much for this offense. With a successful run game and a more spread out ball distribution, Steve Smith hasn't had to be the only receiving threat any more. But he's still got a long list of illegitimate sons that he's made this season in Janoris Jenkins and Aqib Talib. This should be another chippy matchup for two players who've faced off multiple times, Brent Grimes better ice up.

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