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  • Carolina's still adjusting to life without Kelvin Benjamin, with Curtis Samuel—a completely different style of player—stepping in to take most of the snaps that once went to Benjamin. Can the Panthers make this game work?
By Andy Benoit
November 13, 2017

Previewing Miami Dolphins at Carolina Panthers (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) on Monday Night Football...

After the Kelvin Benjamin trade, it’s evident that Carolina, currently 6–3 and trailing the Saints in the NFC South standings, is serious about morphing from a downfield passing attack into a quicker timing-and-rhythm one. For the most part, Benjamin’s snaps have gone to second-round rookie Curtis Samuel, who is a totally different style of player, and only time will tell if the change works. Cam Newton has the power-throwing ability to make the downfield game work, but he hasn’t shown the consistent precision accuracy to run the quick game.

In the meantime, the Panthers are featuring a blend of their old and new offense. (Maybe that blend will turn out to be the final solution.) Last week against Atlanta, they only had 137 yards passing, but many of them came off of well-executed Cover 3-beating route combinations, where Newton excelled. That’s notable this week given that Cover 3 is Miami’s first- and second-down foundation.

Misdirection has long been a critical aspect of Carolina’s offense, and only more so as the team gets more familiar with Christian McCaffrey. One thing Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke can tell his linebackers and safeties this week: watch tight end Ed Dickson. He usually flows in the direction that the play will ultimately go. If everything flows left but Dickson goes right, there’s a good chance the ball is coming back to the right.

Miami’s offense was terrible in the first half of the season, and Carolina’s defense is not one you want to face if the team is trying to rebound in the second half. Luke Kuechly is having maybe his best season (his play recognition is simply unbelievable), and the nickel package has stabilized now that veteran Thomas Davis has replaced the younger Shaq Thompson as the second linebacker.

We’ve seen some very blitz-heavy games from new Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, but last week against Atlanta, Wilks went back to many of Carolina’s staple straight-zone coverages. That’s not a bad approach against a quick-strike passing game like Miami’s, but the guess here is Wilks will bring edge pressure early and often, taking away the Dolphins’ outside zone running game and getting QB Jay Cutler frenzied.

Bold Prediction: Cutler will be involved in three turnovers in some way.

Score Prediction: Panthers 23, Dolphins 13

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