Breaking down the game

When linebacker Dan Morgan spoke with South Florida reporters this week, he was asked whether he expected to see the Dolphins team that beat Denver on opening day or the one that stumbled last weekend against the New York Jets. It's indeed a very good question and the answer well could tell us what kind of season it's going to be for the Dolphins.

That's because the bottom line is this: If the Dolphins can stand up to Carolina on Sunday, it will be a strong indication that the Dolphins indeed can make some noise this season.

The reason is that Carolina clearly is one of the top teams in the NFC, and even though the NFC isn't nearly as good as the AFC, a victory Sunday would tell us the Dolphins indeed can compete.

On paper, however, it does look like Carolina has too much ammunition for the Dolphins because of its stout defense and its balance on offense.

The biggest key to this game perhaps -- and we say this often -- is the Dolphins offensive line's ability to handle what is a very, very good front four.

The Dolphins couldn't control defensive end John Abraham, and he was the biggest reason the offense never could get going.

This week, the Dolphins have to worry about Julius Peppers, who is one of the top three defensive players in the league. The Dolphins really want to consider keeping an extra back in on passing plays to help right tackle Vernon Carey block Peppers, because one-on-one this looks like a mismatch.

Offensively, the Dolphins also need to get their wide receivers involved again after a much-too-quiet day at the Meadowlands.

If Carolina is vulnerable anywhere on defense, it's in the secondary, and the Dolphins need to get Chris Chambers and Marty Booker involved on offense, not just Randy McMichael.

It also would be nice if Ronnie Brown could help out with some long runs, but we're really not holding our breath for that to happen in this game.

Defensively, the Dolphins have stopped the run well so far, and that bodes well because Carolina's strength on offense is its ground game with Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster.

Jake Delhomme is a solid quarterback, but he's not off to a great start this season and you'd rather have him beat you than Davis and/or Foster.

The Dolphins do have to watch for wide receiver Steve Smith, who is a big-time, big-play threat. The one thing we want to see from the Dolphins secondary is the corners not giving so much cushion like they did against the Jets.

On special teams, the Dolphins have to concern themselves with Smith on punt returns and Rod "He Hate Me" turned "He Love Me" Smart. Both guys are explosive.

We still don't know exactly what we've got in this Dolphins team, but we're going to find out more each week. And a win Sunday would be quite the eye-opener.

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