Panthers played right into Dolphins’ hands

While standing on the Panthers’ sideline for the entire game Thursday night, I saw several things that suggested their game plan was geared more toward passing than running the ball.

The Dolphins’ defense featured two rookie cornerbacks, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Clearly, the Panthers believed their veteran wide receivers, Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad, would feast on the inexperienced cover men. However, this game plan relied on QB Jake Delhomme having his best night throwing the ball behind an offensive line that was playing without its stellar left tackle, Jordan Gross.

By halftime, Delhomme had attempted 20 passes and twice missed on deep balls to Smith, who beat his man for what should have been big plays for the Panthers. It was clear that Delhomme was off his game.

The Panthers rebounded from an 0-3 start by relying on their running game, averaging 200 rushing yards in each of their last five contests. Delhomme threw 13 interceptions in his first six games, but he had no picks in his last three outings. Even more telling, Delhomme had been 4-0 in games in which he attempted 25 passes or less, but he was 1-4 in games in which he threw the ball 30 or more times.

On Thursday, the Panthers dialed up more than 40 pass plays intended to attack the Dolphins’ young defensive backs. And now the Panthers are 0-5 when Delhomme attempts 30 or more passes. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for more than 180 rushing yards, but they failed to top the much-needed total of 200 on the night.

The loss can’t be blamed on Delhomme, but his coaches designed a game plan that played away from the Panthers’ strengths and right into the Dolphins’ hands. Joey Porter and Co. would rather rush the passer than spend the night being hammered by the run. The multiple sacks on Delhomme is what was needed as the Dolphins gladly welcomed the Panthers to participate in their style of fight.

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