My gut (which unfortunately tries to expand uncontrollably during the holidays) tells me the Monday Night Football game between the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers is going to be a defensive battle.
The Panthers, you should know, have the NFL’s fourth-best scoring defense, they allow the fewest first downs per game, they allow the second-fewest rushing yards per game, and are sixth in passing yards allowed per game.
And the Dolphins?
They roll into Charlotte with the NFL’s 32-ranked offense!
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The Carolina offense has been nothing exceedingly special this year, either (ranked 24th in points per game) while the Dolphins’ defense has been solid on most fronts, including 16th in points allowed per game.
So don’t expect a 1980s style 51-45 shootout.
But allow me to go deeper into the statistics that suggest whatever the score, it will be a close game. And these statistics, courtesy my new friends at Inside Edge, might in some cases suggest the Dolphins could pull one out despite being heavy underdogs.
Jay Cutler has averaged 16.9 yards per completion when under pressure since the start of last season. That’s the second best mark of 36 qualifying QBs in NFL. The league average is 12.7 yards per completion.
Cutler has been very good in the red zone -- when the Dolphins get there, of course. He has thrown 9 TDs on just 23 pass attempts (one TD every 2.6 pass attempts) in the red zone this season. That’s third best of 36 Qualified QBs in NFL. The league average is 4.2 pass attempts.
That’s good for the Dolphins. So is this ...
Cam Newton has completed 53.6% of passes (202-of-377) at home since the start of last season. That’s the worst of 28 qualifying QBs. The league QB completion rate at home over that time is 63.8 percent.
Newton has a passer rating of just 65.4 on third down (236 pass attempts) since the start of last season. And that is the third worst in NFL. The league average is 84.7.
Obviously these stats make you think the Dolphins have the better QB in this game. That remains to be seen. As you may know, playing quarterback relies on the success of other players. It is, after all, a team sport.
And Newton is quite gifted and has very talented people around him. And Cutler has struggled with those around him when they get in certain pressure situations.
Cutler has been sacked on 19.5 percent of pass attempts against the blitz since the start of last season. That’s the worst mark in the league. The league average is a sack on 7.9 percent of attempts.
So what does one do to combat that? Throw quick. Throw short. Thus...
Cutler has averaged just 8.9 yards per completion (1,306 yards on 147 completions) this season. That is the third worst average of 36 qualifying QBs in NFL. The league average is 11.3 yards per completion.
Newton has averaged 13.0 yards per completion (3,250 yards on 250 completions) out of the shotgun since the start of last season. That’s the best mark in NFL. The league average is 11 yards per completion out of the shotgun.
And Newton is much better than Cutler under pressure.
Newton has completed 58.6 percent of passes when under pressure this season, which is the second best mark in NFL. The league average is 42.4 percent.
Allow me to throw some other interesting stats from Inside Edge at you that speak to the Dolphins’ tendencies.
The Dolphins have run the ball on 36.3 percent of plays on the road this season. That’s among the lowest percentages in the NFL. They were dead last in that category earlier this season and the league average is running on 41.6 percent of the time on the road.
The Dolphins have run the ball on 39.9 percent of first down plays this season, per Inside Edge. That’s the second lowest mark in the NFL and the league average is 52.5 percent.
Remember, that was with Jay Ajayi on the team. Ajayi was the fourth-leading rusher in the NFL last season. He went to the Pro Bowl. And yet ... passing most of the time.
(Yes, some of that was needing to throw the football to catch up. But maybe if you’re running a bit more -- closer to the league average -- you’re keeping the football longer and the defense is on the field less and perhaps you’re not always trying to catch up. Chicken and the egg situation.)
A few more tidbits on the Miami defense:
The Dolphins defense has allowed a completion Pct of 69.9 percent (174-of-249) this season. That is the second-worst in the NFL. The league average is 62.6 percent.
The Dolphins defense has allowed a passer rating of 106.0 on third down this season. That is the second-worst in NFL and the league average is 82.4.
It’s not all bad. The defense is not a mess.
The Dolphins defense has hit opposing QBs on 15.4 percent of dropbacks in close and late-game situations this season. That’s the best in NFL. The league average is a QB hit on 8.8 percent of dropbacks in those situations.
Yes, the Miami defense is built to protect leads late in games when the other team has to pass and this shows they are capable of doing that. But it should also protect leads prior to the half when the other team has less than a minute to score.
That didn’t work against Oakland.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero