KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Bank of America Stadium. TV: ESPN, Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters (field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 6th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 4-1. The Panthers won the last meeting, 20-16, as QB Cam Newton hit TE Greg Olsen on a 1-yd TD pass with 43 seconds left. It was the Panthers’ seventh win in a row.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Miami will try to spread the field offensively, to get favorable matchups, and then strike from there. This is different than the power running game coach Adam Gase used with Jay Ajayi, who was traded to Philadelphia last week.
Running backs Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams combined last week for 12 receptions for 82 yards. That’s almost half of what they got from Ajayi (27 receptions, 151 yards) last season.
Defensively, Miami must limit quarterback Cam Newton, which won’t be easy. It should help that hard-hitting veteran safety T.J. McDonald is expected to make his debut alongside strong safety Reshad Jones. But Miami, the NFL’s 10th-ranked defense, must watch the big plays, which has been an area of vulnerability.
The Panthers seem to realize that the defense is the most reliable part of the team. So look for them to dwell on that a little more. This could lead to an even higher priority placed on generating more out of the rushing attack on offense. The ground game has been largely stagnant this season, but it showed some life in the last game against Atlanta. Time of possession could become even more critical if the Panthers find themselves in a relatively low-scoring game.
The Panthers also could offer a few more wrinkles on offense. They showed glimpses of doing that in the Atlanta game. This will be the second game since the trade of WR Kelvin Benjamin, with the explanation for that partly due to the need to involve speedy young receivers more in the game plan.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Dolphins QB Jay Cutler vs. Panthers secondary. The Panthers are starting to gain some advantages in the secondary and have come up with three interceptions during the past two games. Cutler is prone to make mistakes, though he has 10 touchdown throws and five interceptions this season. But the Panthers might be able to apply a bigger pass rush than some opponents, so that could put the defensive backs in good spots. If something happens to Cutler, Miami’s backup QB is Matt Moore, a former Carolina player.
–Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Dolphins LB Kiko Alonso. McCaffrey has a habit of finding openings in the passing attack, and that has made him the most frequent target for QB Cam Newton. As much as the Panthers go to McCaffrey with short passes, he’s bound to break one for a big gain. In part because of Alonso, the Dolphins might be equipped to keep better tabs on McCaffrey. Alonso is Miami’s second-leading tackler.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Dolphins LG Ted Larsen. The veteran has been sidelined since training camp with a biceps injury. He was activated from injured reserve late last week but was inactive for the Oakland game. Larsen will be rusty, and QB Jay Cutler’s ribs will presumably still be sore, so Larsen’s pass protection is critical. Overall, this is viewed as a big upgrade for the line.
FAST FACTS: Miami QB Jay Cutler completed 34 of 42 passes for 311 yards and three TDs in Week 9. The 81 completion percent was the highest of his career. He completed 28 of 36 (77.8 percent) for 289 yards and two TDs in the last meeting. … WR Jarvis Landry caught a TD pass last week. Since entering the NFL in 2014, he has 344 catches — most by a player in his first four seasons in NFL history. He ranks second in the NFL with 56 catches in 2017. … TE Julius Thomas scored in Week 9, giving him 34 TD catches since 2013, third among NFL tight ends. … S Reshad Jones recorded an interception last week. He has an interception in two of the past three road games vs. NFC teams. He is the only NFL safety with 50 tackles (55) and two interceptions (2) in 2017. … DT Ndamukong Suh had a sack last week. He has 3.5 sacks in his past five games. Since entering the NFL in 2010, he is one of two NFL DTs with 50 sacks (50.5). … In five Monday night games, Carolina QB Cam Newton has 1,369 passing yards (273.8 per game), 11 TDs and four interceptions, plus two rushing TDs. In his past four games this season, he has 251 rushing yards (62.8 per game) and two running TDs. … Rookie RB Christian McCaffrey had 94 scrimmage yards (66 rushing) and scored his first career rushing TD last week. He leads NFL RBs and rookies with 54 receptions. … WR Devin Funchess led the team with 86 receiving yards in Week 9. He leads Carolina with 443 yards and three TDs. … DE Julius Peppers has 10 tackles and three sacks in his past two games vs. Miami. He also has three sacks and a forced fumble in his past four home games. … LB Luke Kuechly led Carolina with 11 tackles last week. He has 59 tackles (9.8 per game), three forced fumbles and an interception in his past six games vs. AFC teams. Since 2013, he is the only NFL player with 500 tackles (594) and 10 INTs (12).
PREDICTION: The Dolphins are still searching for offense, and the Panthers are pretty stingy at 17.7 ppg.