The Carolina Panthers likely are looking forward to hitting the road on Sunday to face the Miami Dolphins.
Carolina (5-6) has lost four straight home games but sports a 3-2 record on the road this season. The Panthers opened this week as a 2 1/2-point favorite over the Dolphins (4-7), who own a 2-3 record at home.
A big issue in Carolina this season is run defense.
In their six losses, the Panthers have allowed an average of 163 rushing yards per game. That includes 190 rushing yards permitted in last week’s 27-21 loss to the Washington Football Team.
“It’s very concerning,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “People say the running game doesn’t matter. But when you are trying to control the game, the run matters.”
Carolina isn’t working with a bare cupboard.
The Panthers do have quality talent in defensive end Brian Burns, outside linebackers Shaq Thompson and Haason Reddick, cornerback Donte Jackson and safety Jeremy Chinn.
Reddick, who had a career-high 12.5 sacks last year, already has 10.5 this season. Burns, who had a career-high nine sacks in 2020, has seven this season.
Thompson and Jackson are tied for the team lead with two interceptions each. Thompson is second on the team with 56 tackles.
Chinn leads the team with 71 tackles, and that includes a game-high 13 last week.
Offensively, the Panthers made the switch at quarterback from Sam Darnold to Cam Newton. Darnold went 4-5 as a starter, and he had seven touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
Newton, who had three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and no picks last week, has lost nine straight starts with the Panthers dating to the 2018 season.
“I thought Cam was excellent,” Rhule said, when asked to assess Newton’s first start back with the Panthers.
Newton’s top threats are running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receivers Robby Anderson and DJ Moore.
But the Panthers have a couple of injury concerns to starting offensive lineman. Left tackle Dennis Daley (glute) was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, while right guard John Miller (ankle) was limited.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins — despite their 1-7 start — believe they have a shot at the playoffs.
That’s based in part on Miami’s current three-game winning streak, although a pair of those victories were against the Houston Texans (2-8) and New York Jets (2-8).
Then again, the Dolphins might have reason to be optimistic. Its next three games are against Carolina, the New York Giants (3-7) and a rematch with the Jets.
“We didn’t start this season the way we wanted to, but we’re becoming hungrier,” Dolphins running back Myles Gaskin said.
Miami’s offense is led by second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has been somewhat disappointing as a downfield passer. Last week, though, he riddled a rookie-laden Jets secondary and completed 27 of 33 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns.
Gaskin, who ran 23 times for 89 yards against the Jets, could do some business against Carolina’s porous rush defense.
Most of Miami’s big plays, however, have been produced by tight end Mike Gesicki and rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
Miami’s biggest concern is on defense with numerous key players attempting to work through injuries. That list includes leading tackler Jerome Baker (knee), fellow linebacker Elandon Roberts (hip) and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (quad).
The biggest issue could be at safety, where Jevon Holland (knee/ankle), Brandon Jones (ankle/elbow) and Eric Rowe (hip) showed up on the injury front.