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Dolphins Watch


November 18, 2009 6:34 PM

Face of the Wildcat gone for the season

RBROWN.jpgThe Dolphins had a tough enough task playing at Carolina on a short week without injuries rearing their ugly head, but they have.

The biggest is to Ronnie Brown, the Dolphins' architect of the Wildcat and Miami's leading rusher with 648 yards and eight TDs. Brown hurt his foot and ankle in Sunday's win over Tampa Bay, and the damage was serious enough for the team to place him on injured reserve, meaning he will miss the rest of the regular season.

Brown's loss is incalculable. Yes, he was the Dolphins' leading rusher, but he was also the best orchestrator of the Wildcat. Whether it was handing the ball to Ricky Williams, picking his way through the defense, or even throwing out of the formation as he did against New England two weeks ago, Brown was the Dolphins' offense for the most part this season.

That puts the onus on Williams, who has been strong with 553 rushing yards and a career-high 5.3 yards per carry.


The Dolphins had a tough enough task playing at Carolina on a short week without injuries rearing their ugly head, but they have.

The biggest is to Ronnie Brown, the Dolphins' architect of the Wildcat and Miami's leading rusher with 648 yards and eight TDs. Brown hurt his foot and ankle in Sunday's win over Tampa Bay, and the damage was serious enough for the team to place him on injured reserve, meaning he will miss the rest of the regular season.

Brown's loss is incalculable. Yes, he was the Dolphins' leading rusher, but he was also the best orchestrator of the Wildcat. Whether it was handing the ball to Ricky Williams, picking his way through the defense, or even throwing out of the formation as he did against New England two weeks ago, Brown was the Dolphins' offense for the most part this season.

That puts the onus on Williams, who has been strong with 553 rushing yards and a career-high 5.3 yards per carry.

But now, at 32 years of age, Williams will be the go-to guy in the running game for the first time since he left football in 2004.

Will he have the stamina to finish the season strong? And what happens to the Wildcat, which has notoriously been inefficient with Williams running it?

Well, Williams is apparently in great shape for a running back his age, and his two-year layoff may in fact have helped him by preserving his legs.

Rookie Pat White will probably get more work in the Wildcat, as his snaps have steadily been increasing anyways the last two weeks.

Also missing from Thursday's game will be tight end Anthony Fasano (hip), special-teamer Erik Walden (hamstring) and backup nose tackle Paul Soliai (ankle). Starting left guard Justin Smiley may also miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury.

One player who will be on the field is linebacker Joey Porter, who was held out of last week's game because of a coach's decision. Though the circumstances of Porter's one-game deactivation are unclear, Coach Tony Sparano said Porter might not start, but he will play.

Miami isn't the only team dealing with injuries though, as Carolina's starting backfield of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both listed as questionable.

Williams is nursing a sore knee, while Stewart has a sore Achilles. The Panthers will also be without left tackle Jordan Gross for the rest of the season, after he broke his ankle in last week's 28-19 win over Atlanta. Defensive end Charles Johnson is doubtful after missing consecutive practices with a strained pectoral muscle.

So, the winner of this game will have to survive a slew of injuries, and what's at stake is a chance to stay in the wild card race. The Panthers have been red-hot in recent weeks, going 4-2 in their last six games to fight their way back into contention.

Last week, Williams and Stewart combined for 174 yards and two TDs on 30 carries to lead the Panthers past the Falcons.

They are the keys to a Carolina running game that ranks third in the NFL with an average of 156.6 yards per game.

Williams and Stewart also take the pressure off of embattled quarterback Jake Delhomme, who completed 15-of-24 passes for 195 yards and two TDs. But, the key statistic was no interceptions for a QB who had tossed 13 of them in the Panthers' previous eight games.

His main target is still Steve Smith, who has struggled thanks to Delhomme's inconsistency, but last week had his first two-TD game of the season and is starting to heat up.

Smith will have his opportunities against a Dolphins pass defense that ranks only 27th in the NFL.

On the flip side, the Panthers have had their troubles stopping the run, ranking 25th in that category and giving up 111 yards to Atlanta's Michael Turner in a quarter-and-a-half before he had to leave the game with an ankle injury.

The Dolphins, of course, have one of the stingiest run defenses in the league, though Williams did rip them for a long TD run in their preseason meeting.

If he and Stewart can't play, that tips the scales in Miami's favor -- especially with Delhomme's propensity for throwing the ball to the other team.

For the Dolphins, establishing the running game is huge, because it's clear they cannot rely on Chad Henne and his limited receivers for long stretches of a game.

Even if Stewart and Williams play, I see the Dolphins stopping them enough to force Delhomme out of his comfort zone.

And offensively, even without Brown, Williams and White can exploit the Panthers on the ground.

It won't be pretty, but Miami should eke out a 20-14 win.

 

 

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