DAVIE (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins’ off the field distractions, NFL investigator Ted Wells at the facility this week for interviews and suspended guard Richie Incognito’s grievance hearing, also face the monumental task of trying to stop one of the hottest teams in the league on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers have won seven of their last eight games, although Monday night’s victory over the New England Patriots was quite controversial. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly appeared to lock Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in a bear hug as the final pass came towards the end zone.
Officials initially called a defensive pass interference penalty on the Panthers star middle linebacker, but the flag was picked up when the referees determined that the pass was uncatchable. The Panthers won the game 24-20 thanks in part to the non-call on Kuechly.
But the Panthers are more than just a fluke this season. The team, which started 1-3, is now 7-3 on the season and in control heading into the stretch run for the playoffs. The team has been keyed by just enough offense and a young, stifling defense.
In the last three games, the Panthers have held the Falcons, 49ers, and Patriots to a combined 39 points. Against the Patriots, the Panthers ran the ball 25 times for 107 yards and Cam Newton added 209 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
The Panthers’ defensive line is arguably one of the best young lines in the NFL. From defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, to rookie tackle Star Lotulelei; the Panthers stuff the run and can bring Hardy or Johnson inside to tackle to help with the pass rush.
The team has even been able to do something no NFL team has been able to do to this point, get some sort of offensive production from Ted Ginn, Jr.
The Dolphins are looking to build on last Sunday’s victory over the San Diego Chargers. The Dolphins still have problems on the left side of the line and the team’s running game has been non-existent to this point in the season.
The Dolphins rank 24th in the league in rushing offense, averaging just 88.7 yards per game this season, which is more than 20 yards below the league average.
When it comes to Tannehill, his struggles can be somewhat attributed to the fact that he has been running for his life for most of the season. Between a porous offensive line and losing starters Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, Tannehill is on a record pace for sacks this season.
The Dolphins have allowed Tannehill to get sacked 41 times through 10 games. On that pace, he will get sacked at least 60 times in 2013, which will shatter the team record for sacks allowed by the Dolphins.
Facing a team that likes to bring pressure and stuff the run, Tannehill may see the pocket collapsing around him again on Sunday.
Compounding Tannehill’s problems is his disconnect with wide receiver Mike Wallace. The highly paid receiver has been largely invisible this season and has just one touchdown catch in 2013. Wallace was expected to be a deep threat, but his longest catch of the year was for 49 yards and he’s only averaging 12.1 yards per reception, which is a career worst.
It’s the second time in as many years that a top-notch receiver has come to Miami either in a trade or through free agency and struggled to make any impact. Former Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall was the other wideout who had problems in Miami, but is now excelling again in Chicago.
One area that was exposed during the Patriots game was the Panthers’ trouble stopping the short passing game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady excelled in throwing short, quick passes to his receivers underneath the Panthers’ coverage.
The Dolphins also may catch a break if defensive end Charles Johnson can’t go for Carolina. The Panthers’ end injured his knee on a leg whip, but did return to the game. Johnson has 8.5 sacks this season and losing him would be a big blow to Carolina’s defense against Miami.