Omar Kelly: Here’s what Dolphins have to do to defeat Panthers

Five things the streaking Miami Dolphins (4-7) need to do to win their fourth game in a row, and beat the Carolina Panthers (5-6) at Hard Rock Stadium in Week 12:

Limit Panthers QB Cam Newton’s scrambling

Newton, who had been unemployed recently after New England released him at the end of training camp this summer, returned to starter status in his second game with the Panthers last Sunday and completed 21-of-27 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for another 46 yards on 10 carries in the loss. The last time Newton played a Josh Boyer defense he completed 15-of-19 passes for 155 yards, and racked up a game-high 15 carries for 75 yards and two rushing scores in the Patriots’ 21-11 win over Miami during the 2020 season. The Dolphins will likely utilize their safety heavy packages, and three linebacker packages to counter Newton’s speed and scrambling ability, which has led to 5,458 rushing yards and 72 touchdowns on the ground during his career.

Protect QB Tua Tagovailoa

Tagovailoa has shown he can lead Miami to scoring drives when given time to execute the offense. The Dolphins delivered the second sack-free game of the season last Sunday against the Jets, but plenty of that had to do with Tagovailoa’s knack for getting the ball out his hands quickly and avoiding pressure. If the Dolphins offensive line can recreate that type of protection against a physical and aggressive defense like the one Carolina possesses (30 sacks in 2021) then Tagovailoa should have a chance to make impactful plays. Opposing quarterbacks have a 89.4 passer rating against the Panthers, who have pulled down eight interceptions.

Score 21 or more points

Dolphins have scored more than 21 points four times this season, and two of those games resulted in losses. But the offense appears to be on an upswing with Tagovailoa at the helm, and with receiver Mack Hollins being given a larger role. The Dolphins are converting 42 percent of their third-down opportunities, which is slightly above the NFL average (40.1 percent), and have turned 56 percent of red-zone opportunities into touchdowns (59.6 percent is the NFL average). The Panthers defense is allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 69 percent of red-zone opportunities. Only five teams have been worse.

Contain Panthers tailback Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey, who is one of the NFL’s most dynamic offensive playmakers when healthy, has been limited by a hamstring injury this season. He’s played in six games, and is averaging 67.8 rushing yards and 57.2 receiving yards per game. He handles the ball 21 times per contest this season, which means Carolina’s offense runs through him when he plays. Linebacker Jerome Baker has typically handled the coverage duties when it comes to tailbacks, but this might be an assignment that fellow linebacker Duke Riley is better suited for. The Dolphins have called on the former LSU standout more often in recent games, and the task doesn’t seem too big for him.

Rush for 100 yards

The Dolphins gained more than 100 rushing yards for the third time all season, and more importantly, the balance Miami’s rushing attack provided the offense kept the Jets defense off balance. Carolina has a much better defense, one that holds opponents to 288.7 yards per game, which is 61.7 yards lower than the NFL average. Carolina’s opponents are averaging 114 rushing yards per game, and 4.3 per carry. Duke Johnson’s inclusion into Miami’s offense (4 carries for 18 yards in his debut last Sunday) could serve as a catalyst and help the Dolphins improve on their dismal 3.4 yards per carry average.

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