After a much needed victory over the Colts in Indianapolis last Sunday, the Browns now turn their attention to the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins will travel to Cleveland this Sunday, marking the 17th meeting between these two storied NFL franchises. Miami holds a slight edge over the Browns, with 9 victories and 7 losses. However, the Browns have won the last three meetings against the Dolphins – 2 at home, 1 on the road – including last season’s December match-up in Cleveland. The Browns won the game, 13-10.
The Browns enter Sunday’s match-up with a 1-1 overall record. By now, everyone is familiar with the week one fiasco against the Bengals, which was also a home game for the Browns. It was a game in which the Browns should have won, but once again blew a 4th Qtr lead for the sixth time in the past year.
Manning or no Manning, the Browns needed a victory in week two. Despite being on the road, the Browns were favored to win the game. With week one’s disappointing loss coming on the heels of a positive, upbeat off-season, it was critical for the Browns to come out of Indianapolis with some momentum to carry them into the rest of the season.
Miami enters their match-up against the Browns with an 0-2 record, but ask anyone in a Browns uniform, and they’ll tell you that the Dolphins certainly don’t look like an 0-2 team. The Dolphins gave Tom Brady and the Patriots all they could handle in week one, but fell just short in their quest for a season opening victory. Despite 416 yards, a 2 touchdowns from quarterback Chad Henne, the Pats offense dismantled the Dolphins secondary, ultimately winning 38-24 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Week two was also a home game for the Dolphins, with the Houston Texans invading Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins have been notorious for their woeful home play as of late. Sunday proved no different for Miami, adding to their reputation as an awful home-team by losing to the Texans, 23-13. Although they played better in week two, the pass defense for the Dolphins allowed Matt Schaub to throw for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 68.8% of their passes against the Miami Defense, they’ve also scored the secondary for 723 yards and 6 touchdowns.
There’s some familiarity between these two teams. Browns first-year defense coordinator, Dick Jauron, is a former Buffalo head coach, which plays in the same division as the Dolphins in the AFC East. Miami’s new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, was in the same position with the Browns last season.
This shouldn’t really be an advantage for either team, but if it benefits anyone, it’s probably the Browns Defense. Miami has, essentially, the same personnel on offense this season, as they did last. The only major change on offense for the Dolphins this year is in the backfield. With Ronnie Brown deciding to head to Philadelphia to join the “Dream Team”, Miami’s front office was able to score Reggie Bush, formerly of the Saints, to take his place. Brown and Bush are pretty similar players, so even with Brown on film, the Browns Defense will still have a pretty good idea as of what to expect from the Miami offense.
Seeing the Dolphins twice a year from 2006-2009 may help Coach Jauron gameplan for his former divisional rival, but don’t expect Daboll’s time in Cleveland to benefit the Dolphins. The Browns have been in rebuild mode for the last few seasons, with the biggest difference in personnel coming from last season to now. Although Daboll is aware of what kind of players Colt McCoy, Peyton Hillis and Mohammed Massaquoi are, this is a totally different offense than the one Daboll ran in Cleveland.
Here’s what the Browns need to look for if they want to enter week four with a 2-1 record.
Intriguing Match-Up – Jabaal Sheard (Browns) vs. Jake Long (Dolphins)
Sheard had a mini coming out party last week against the Colts, recording his first sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery – all in one play. His 5 tackles in Indy were tied with Joe Haden for second on the team, but the stats don’t show everything. The rookie defensive end from Pitt was all over the field on Sunday, and did a lot of the little things that go unnoticed in the box score after the game. However, among the Browns coaching staff, Sheard’s effort on Sunday really stood-out. I think overall, Coach Shurmur and Coach Jauron have to be really please with Sheard’s progression from week-to-week.
There’s a possibility that Sheard will be lined-up across from one of the most dominant offensive tackles in the game in Jake Long. Sunday’s game will feature arguably two of the most dominant offensive tackles in the NFL in the Browns’ Joe Thomas and the Dolphins’ Jake Long. Many would argue that Thomas and Long would be 1A and 1B in terms of ranking the best tackles in the game. As a rookie, Sheard will have had the privilege to face both of these players, but is lucky Thomas is in Orange and Brown.
With the lockout this off-season, rookies were forced to cram as much knowledge into their brains as possible before the season started. In order to bring Sheard up to speed, Coach Shurmur and Coach Jauron thought it’d be helpful for Sheard to go-up against Thomas in practice. The experience appears to be paying off, as Sheard has really come on as of late as a legitimate pass-rusher.
It’ll be interesting to see just how well Sheard plays against Long, if, in fact, the two pair-up against each other during the game. You’ve got to believe that the off-season match-ups between Sheard and Thomas in practice are gong to pay huge dividends for the Browns, we’ll find-out on Sunday.
Continue to put D’Qwell Jackson in position to make plays.
I’ve said all season long that Jackson would be the primary beneficiary of the Browns switch from the 3-4, to the 4-3 defense. Former Browns head coach, Eric Mangini, even made the claim. So far, I’ve been spot on with my prediction that Jackson would be a serious contender for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Jackson’s 19 total tackles rank 10th in the NFL so far in the young season, and he’s already recorded 2 sacks from his MIKE Linebacker position. The Browns have needed a leader on defense for quite some time now, and Jackson is fulfilling that role quite well for Coach Jauron’s defense. No disrespect to Scott Fujita, but Jackson – if healthy – is going to be in a Browns uniform for quite some time. With a break-out season looming, it’s likely that Jackson will be the undoubted leader on defense for the Browns as seasons’ end.
The Browns will need Jackson to step-up once again on Defense if they hope to contain the potentially dangerous Dolphins’ offense. QB Chad Henne is an outstanding player when he’s on his “A-Game”, but is just another average QB in the NFL if he’s having an off-day. Jackson & Co. need to get after Henne early and often, but must be aware of Henne’s mobility.
Can Joe Haden contain another potential Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver?
In week one, Haden contained Bengals’ rookie wide receiver, A.J. Green, for 55 minutes, and held the (presumably) future Pro-Bowl wide-out. Unfortunately for Haden, Green’s 1st catch in the game (and of his career) came on a fluke, quick-snap play in which quarterback Bruce Gradkowski found the rookie streaking down the sidelines for a touchdown that helped the Bengals regain the lead with just under 5 minutes to go in the game. The touchdown reception was also the first of Green’s career.
Reggie Wayne was sure to test Haden in week two. Despite Wayne’s talent as a wide receiver, Haden proved why he had star potential in the NFL, holding Wayne to just 4 catches (8 targets) for 66 yards. Most of those yards, however, came late in the game when the Colts were attempting to make a comeback.
When the Browns take-on the Dolphins on Sunday, Haden’s skill set will once again be tested, this time by Miami’s Brandon Marshall. Marshall is a big, strong, athletic receiver, who presents a problem for just about every corner in the NFL. There’s talk around the league that Haden could be the best corner in the NFL since the Jets’ Darelle Revis burst onto the scene with “Revis Island”, and opposing receivers are finding out first-hand just what all that talk is about.
It definitely won’t be easy for Haden, but he most certainly has the potential – and skill set – to shut Marshall down. The Browns rank among the Top 5 in the NFL in terms of passing yardage allowed and touchdowns given-up. It’ll take a total team effort from the Browns secondary in order to shut-down the Dolphins passing game, with Haden presented with the biggest task.
Welcome the rookie back to the NFL.
When the Dolphins went out and acquired Reggie Bush this off-season to replace the departed Ronnie Brown, it was assumed that the offense was getting an upgrade in the backfield. That hasn’t been the case, at least not so far.
In two games, Bush has rushed for only 56 yards and no touchdowns. Deemed an “all-purpose” back, Bush hasn’t done much to help the passing game either. Although he does have a touchdown, Bush has just 59 yards on 10 receptions.
Most of his damage, came in week one. In week two against the Texans, Bush was replaced in the game by rookie back-up, Daniel Thomas. Thomas made the most of his opportunity, rushing for 107 yards on 18 carries in the first game of his career.
Even though 2/4ths of the Browns defensive line is made-up of rookie talent, you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the film. Both Phil Taylor, and Jabaal Sheard, have come to life since the regular season kicked-off. They’re both playing at a higher level than most rookies in the NFL, and the Browns are starting to form a legitimate run defense (something that’s been lacking in Cleveland for quite some time) to go with their rising pass defense.
If the Dolphins aren’t confident in Bush’s abilities to move the ball, Thomas is likely to see an increased workload on Sunday. Being a rookie, Thomas has yet to develop a tolerance for the “big hit”. The Browns ‘D’ certainly has some hard-hitters on defense. If Thomas (or Bush) make it through Taylor and Sheard, Jackson will be waiting to level him with a big hit. Should he make it past the linebackers, T.J. Ward and Usama Young will be waiting to punish the rookie.
The running game first.
After being criticized for his lack of run plays in week one against the Bengals, Coach Shurmur leaned heavily on Peyton Hillis in week two.
The Browns should be able to formulate a balanced attack on offense, but again, it starts with the run game. Shurmur’s plan to lighten Hillis load this season with Montario Hardesty has yet to come to fruition, but for now, Hillis is capable of carrying the ball 25+ times.
Hillis is only averaging 3.2 yards on the ground, but his style of running creates problems for just about any defense. The Dolphins are extremely talented among the defensive front seven, and it’ll be critical for the offensive line to continue to show that they can move defenders – especially with the right side of the line.
It’s no secret that the Browns are struggling on the right side of the offensive line. However, ironically enough, 17 of Hillis’ 44 carries have been to the right side. Whoever is playing right tackle on Sunday, will need to do a better job, though, as Hillis is only averaging 3.0 yards per carry running to the right.
If the Browns can continue to prove that they can run the ball, whether it be with Hillis or Hardesty, it should give fans an opportunity to see what Colt McCoy can do throwing the ball.
The Real McCoy.
While at Texas, Colt McCoy’s arm was put on display every Saturday. I guess completing over 70% of your passes will allow that.
In Cleveland, McCoy isn’t required to fling the ball around for 60 minutes of football. Instead, all he has to do is to manage the game, and get the ball to his playmakers when he’s asked too.
Cincinnati proved to have a better than average defense, leading to a less-than-impressive performance by McCoy in week one.
With two of the best pass rushers in the NFL, the Colts were unable to get the kind of pressure on McCoy they would’ve liked too. Instead of being forced to stand tall in the pocket, McCoy was afforded the opportunity to make plays rolling out of the pocket.
The Dolphins have recorded 6 sacks on the year, and with all the question marks along the Browns offensive line, McCoy will probably be asked to make plays on the rollout once again. If the Dolphins don’t get to you with their front seven, they’re in trouble.
Although the Dolphins are talented up front, they are not, however, impressive in the secondary. McCoy should have the opportunity to “air-it-out” against the struggling Dolphins secondary.
In both games, McCoy has thrown for over 200 yards and at least one touchdown. If the run does what it’s supposed too and opens up the passing game, McCoy will have a chance to return to his natural self, if you will. There’s no doubt McCoy is a polished quarterback that can make almost all the throws (he struggles a bit with the deep ball) but he hasn’t faced a secondary quite this bad since his rookie debut last season.
Cleveland’s wide receivers should get the opportunity to put their talents on display against Miami as well, for much of the same reasons Colt McCoy should have a good day. Greg Little should really standout on Sunday, so long as everything goes according to plan for the Browns offense.
Other Bones to Chew On
– The Browns have won three-in-a-row against the Dolphins, outscoring Miami 79-41 in those victories.
– Sunday’s game will mark the third time in four games that the Browns – Dolphins match-up has taken place in Cleveland.
– The Dolphins run a 3-4 base defense, while featuring multiple formations on offense.
– Sun Life Stadium hasn’t been kind to the Dolphins the past two seasons. With last Sunday’s loss to the Texans at home, the Dolphins have now lost 6 straight at home. Last season, the Dolphins finished the season 1-7 on the road, while posting a 6-2 record on the road.
– The Browns rank 6th in the NFL in terms of total yards allowed with 579 yards allowed for a 289.5 YPG average. In comparison, the Dolphins rank last in the league, giving-up 967 total yards for a 483.5 YPG average through two games.
– Cleveland has only allowed 331 passing yards (2nd in the NFL), while Miami has given up 723 yards (30th in the NFL).
– The Dolphins outrank the Browns in the two major offensive categories, ranking 9th in passing yards (271.5 YPG) and 8th in rushing yards (125.5 YPG). Cleveland ranks 25th in passing yards (199.5 YPG) and 21st in rushing (94.5 YPG).
– Cleveland is statistically better than the Dolphins on defense, according to the rankings at least. The Browns rank 2nd in passing defense (165.5 YPG) and 24th in rushing defense (124.0 YPG), while the Dolphins rank 30th in passing (361.5 YPG) and 22nd in rushing (122.0 YPG).
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