Winless Panthers face tough task against thriving Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have been in such an encouraging opening stretch of the season that sometimes it looks like not much could get them off the right path.

The Carolina Panthers aren’t projected to derail the Dolphins when the teams meet on Sunday afternoon in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Miami (4-1) is off to its best start in 20 years and will be making adjustments to the offensive depth chart after an injury to a rising star in the backfield.

The Panthers (0-5) are the only NFL team without a victory this year.

The Dolphins will have to make tweaks on offense because running back De’Von Achane, who racked up 151 rushing yards last week against the New York Giants, has been placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (ribs/finger) returned to practice this week in limited fashion, but he is listed as doubtful for Sunday.

“We shall see,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “He’ll have the opportunities to show his teammates and the coaching staff where he’s at. … We’re in a fortunate situation in that regard that I think we have multiple players at the running back position.”

Miami has scored a league-high 181 points. That’s not a good sign for Carolina, which is coming off a 42-24 loss against the Detroit Lions.

Tua Tagovailoa’s 1,614 passing yards, which are the most in franchise history through five games, and Tyreek Hill’s 651 receiving yards are both top marks in the NFL.

“We have a lot of football players on this team that are very capable of making football plays,” McDaniel said.

Tagovailoa has improved when it comes to shaking off rough moments and moving on to the next play.

“Just how mad he would be at himself and all the disciplined work that he has done with mind, body and soul,” McDaniel said. “To be in a moment like that and just take the game into his own hands, that’s what you’re trying to build.”

Tagovailoa and Panthers rookie Bryce Young are both former Alabama quarterbacks. Since college, Young has learned from watching Tagovailoa.

“I’ve talked to Tua throughout the years,” Young said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. It’s definitely a great opportunity to go against (his team).”

Young still seeks his first pro victory.

“It’s still the same football,” Young said. “It’s just learning more playing at this level. I continue to grow and I feel I’ve continued to get better.”

The Panthers should have receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. more involved after he wasn’t on the field for a snap in the Detroit game. That came a week after he made a game-high nine receptions versus Minnesota.

“He should have played,” Carolina coach Frank Reich said. “That was poor, poor communication by me. I wanted to make sure our guys knew to make sure he had some playing time and that there would be opportunities.”

Reich, in his first season with the team, has been in talks with owner David Tepper. That’s a development that was termed as normal.

“He wants to bring a winner to the Carolinas,” Reich said of Tepper. “He wants it now, pushes me, and pushes us to that end. He wants to do whatever it takes to turn over every stone, churn it as much as he has to, to produce winning football.”

Running back Miles Sanders (shoulder) and safety Xavier Woods (hamstring) were two of six Panthers ruled out for the game on Friday. Chuba Hubbard likely will receive the bulk of the workload in Sanders’ absence.

Carolina linebacker Brian Burns (ankle) and defensive tackle Derrick Brown (ankle/knee) are both listed as questionable. Burns was a full participant in practice on Friday, while Brown was limited.

For Miami, offensive lineman Connor Williams was ruled out with a groin injury, while guard Robert Jones (knee), linebacker Jaelan Phillips (oblique) and fullback Alec Ingold (foot) are questionable. Defensive back Nik Needham (Achilles) is doubtful.

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