Carolina Game Observations

The return of Daunte Culpepper to Carolina, site of his nasty knee injury last October, and the shoddy play of the Dolphins special teams got the spotlight in Thursday night's 19-10 loss to Carolina, but there was a lot more to take from this game.

The most encouraging aspect of the game, by far, was the play of the secondary, which had been suspect at best in the first two games.

Against the Panthers, the secondary -- particularly the starting unit -- had a very strong game.

Newcomer Will Allen was especially effective, particularly against the run. He made two big plays in run support on third down to force Carolina punts and also had good coverage.

In fact, there was good coverage everywhere in the first half.

Safety Renaldo Hill, for example, came from deep in the secondary to bust up a screen pass that looked promising for Carolina. Then safety Travares Tillman almost had himself an interception when he jumped in front of Keyshawn Johnson's crossing route.

The only negative in the secondary, really, was the continued struggles of first-round pick Jason Allen.

Again, let's be fair to the guy and repeat that he has been put in a tough spot, but he also doesn't look anywhere near ready to help this team in a game that counts.

Eddie Jackson also had a tough night, although he was coming back from an abdomen injury in his defense.

As far as the special teams were concerned, we're not so much worried about the coverage breakdown that allowed DeAngelo Williams to go 98 yards for a touchdown because a lot of the guys on the field on that play aren't going to be there when the games count.

We're more concerned about the absolute lack of explosiveness we continue to see from the Dolphins' own return game.

Yes, Wes Welker is a nice, solid returner, but he doesn't look like he has any big-play capability as a returner anymore and nobody else who's been back there has shown much either.

The other area that had a tough night was the offensive line, which was manhandled up front by a very good Carolina front four.

Look, let's be honest here, the Dolphins offensive line is good enough that it won't prevent Culpepper and Co. from doing their thing most every week, but there also will be games where the line will be overmatched because it's not a dominant group.

Speaking of Culpepper, he looked fine on Thursday night even though he wasn't able to get the Dolphins into the end zone in his one half of play.

For that, you can blame a poor call on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and the strange decision to go for a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 6 -- I mean, really, does Olindo Mare need to practice making 24-yard field goals?

All in all, though, it was a positive night for the Dolphins, because the defense was strong all night (Matt Roth had a monster game) and because the offense did move the ball in the second and third quarter against a very, very good Carolina defense.

The Dolphins just need to build on that and shore up the areas that are still lagging.

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