Tavern talk: Big game for Fins, Panthers

Tonight’s game is huge for both teams because the outcome might determine either’s ability to make the playoffs. The Dolphins and Panthers were so impressive last year but have had to fight for everything this year, and their fight proves that the teams are responding and listening to their respective head coaches.

Both teams have problems that will take an offseason to correct, but it hasn’t stopped their competitive nature or will to take over each week. Both play hard but not always effectively. As Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin says, Sundays are for us to play and Monday’s are for us to evaluate. The Dolphins and Panthers play hard on Sunday but still have problems on Monday.

The Panthers have no wide receivers other than Steve Smith who can make a play, and they have an offensive scheme that’s not very creative when it comes to the passing game. They now have lost their Pro Bowl left tackle, Jordon Gross, which will affect them tonight as they try to block the physical front of the Dolphins. Added to their problems is the fact they’re not always trusting of their quarterback, Jake Delhomme, who has turned the ball over too often (13 interceptions, three lost fumbles). The Panthers need a good offseason to fix these issues, but they can still make a competitive run now as long as they don’t try to become something they’re not.

The Dolphins are a team that plays too much man to man on defense (notice all the stack formations from the wide receivers you’ll see tonight) and have no playmakers on offense. Now that Ronnie Brown is out, the Fins are going to have to rely on backup quarterback Pat White to spice up their offense and make down the field plays. This team just doesn’t have enough space players to create big plays and must scheme to get the ball down the field. Their youthful secondary has been an issue, and their reluctance to diversify their scheme and lack of speed at linebacker make them vulnerable each week.

So this game will feature two teams that have issues, but two teams that will play hard, and I expect an entertaining game. The Dolphins are built to play against teams like the Panthers on defense, and as long as they double Steve Smith the minute he gets off the bus, they should be able to handle the Panthers’ offense.

I love Thursday night football.

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