Here’s a look at how the Miami Dolphins (4-7) and Carolina Panthers (5-6) match up in six key areas ahead of Sunday’s Week 12 game at Hard Rock Stadium (1 p.m., FOX):
When the Dolphins run: The Dolphins went back to committing to the run game against the Jets. While it only got them 3.5 yards per carry versus a run defense that ranks toward the bottom of the league, it was respectable enough to help open play-action and run-pass-option passes as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa completed better than 80 percent of passes in the win at New York.
Miami seeks a secondary contributor to Myles Gaskin in the backfield. With Malcolm Brown still on injured reserve and Salvon Ahmed ineffective, Duke Johnson was elevated from the practice squad last week. On Wednesday, the Dolphins claimed former Broncos and Texans running back Phillip Lindsay off waivers, so maybe his speed can help improve the NFL’s No. 31-ranked rushing attack that averages 77.4 yards per game on the ground.
The Panthers’ run defense is 19th in the NFL, allowing 114.5 yards per game. It starts with defensive tackles Derrick Brown and DaQuan Jones on the interior of the defensive line. Safety Jeremy Chinn leads the Carolina defense in tackles (71), and linebackers Shaq Thompson, Haason Reddick and Jermain Carter are also very active. Edge: Panthers
When the Panthers run: All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey missed time earlier this season, but he’s back and the Dolphins will have their hands full defending him. After also getting hurt last season, the Panthers have eased him into his workload in his three games since coming back. He is yet to have 15 carries in any of the three games since his return, but he’s averaging 5.5 yards per attempt in those games and has also been active in the passing game.
The Dolphins also have to now account for quarterback Cam Newton and his running abilities. He has 60 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts in his two games, one start since returning to Carolina. The Dolphins faced him twice last season when he was in New England, so they shouldn’t have to dig too deep into their old game-plan files. They were better off in the second matchup against Newton that season, so they can build off that and also effectively stopping electric Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson two weeks ago.
The most rushing yards the Dolphins have given up since Week 5 is 102, twice. Miami has held opponents to double digits in the other four games since. So, although, Carolina is very talented in the run game, I’m going to call this matchup even, especially after seeing the Dolphins stop the run against Baltimore two weeks ago. Edge: Even
When the Dolphins pass: The Panthers have the NFL’s top-ranked passing defense, and a look at their secondary and pass rushers makes it very clear why. Carolina has elite Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore since acquiring him from the Patriots on Oct. 6, but the Panthers have eased him into his role, not starting him and slowly increasing his defensive snaps. Even then, he already has two interceptions in four games. The Panthers also have talented cornerbacks Donte Jackson, A.J. Bouye and former University of Florida and Miami Columbus High product C.J. Henderson, a 2020 first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Carolina ranks third in the NFL in sacks, with 30. Reddick already has 10 1/2 on the season, and former American Heritage High star Brian Burns has seven. That could be a problem for Miami’s offensive line that gives up a ton of pressures and sacks, but the Dolphins are coming off a game where they didn’t allow a sack. Maybe some of the RPO looks could counter the Panthers’ pass-rushing aggressiveness.
Tagovailoa continues to progress toward full health after recovering from fractures to his ribs and the middle finger on his throwing hand. He was 27 of 33 for 273 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against New York. Tagovailoa will still be without oft-injured receivers Will Fuller and DeVante Parker, but he can find slot receiver Jaylen Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki often, plus he was able to find Mack Hollins on his longest career touchdown pass last Sunday. Edge: Panthers
When the Panthers pass: There’s essentially one game of a sample for the Panthers since Newton’s return. The former MVP went 21 of 27 for 189 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Washington Football Team, but it was a 27-21 loss. He also threw and ran for a touchdown in different packages near the goal line in his first game back, a win over the Arizona Cardinals, before getting the start last Sunday.
Wide receiver D.J. Moore leads the Panthers with 62 receptions for 751 yards and four touchdowns. McCaffrey is dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield with 37 catches for 343 yards and a touchdown in just six games. South Plantation High grad Robby Anderson, whom the Dolphins have faced plenty from when he was with the Jets, has 28 receptions for 273 yards and three touchdowns on the year.
The Dolphins’ 29th-ranked pass defense is a bit deceiving. Cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones were dealing with injuries early in the season, and the 437 passing yards the Buccaneers posted in Week 5 inflate that number. Miami hasn’t allowed a 300-yard passer in four weeks. Jones had the slip-up against Jets rookie Elijah Moore for the 62-yard touchdown last week, but expect the Dolphins to tighten up that man coverage and come at Newton with their blitz packages. Edge: Dolphins
Special teams: Jason Sanders is up to five field-goal misses on the season with his latest a 32-yarder that doinked off the upright at MetLife Stadium. Dolphins punter Michael Palardy is averaging 44.5 yards per punt, but Hollins in his gunner role is often good for downing one of his punts deep into opponent’s territory.
Panthers kicker Zane Gonzalez is 19 of 21 with both misses coming from beyond 50 yards. Punter Lac Edwards is punting at a 47.9 average. Neither team has had a kick return touchdown this year. Edge: Panthers
Intangibles: The Dolphins are riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak and begin a three-game homestand knowing they need each and every one of them to stay alive for a postseason berth. They played down to the Jets and Texans during this streak, but also played up to the competition against the Ravens. I think they understand what’s at stake and how good the Panthers can play, especially now with Newton there. They don’t want to allow him to get going and give him ammunition for his patented trash talk. Edge: Dolphins
PREDICTION: Dolphins 20, Panthers 17