Week 3: Dolphins vs. Browns

Today the Browns take on the Dolphins in what looks like a very winnable game.  In all honesty this is another game the Browns need to win.  There is a huge difference between 1-2 and 2-1.  If the Browns can get to 2-1 that’s a huge momentum booster and keeps the Browns in the thick of things in the AFC Central.  Going to 1-2 makes the start of the season feel like a failure and put the Browns in a hole heading into their week 4 matchup against the Titans.

The Dolphins are reeling right now.  The entire franchise from the ownership all the way down to the coaches and players are a complete wreck.  Tony Sparano is a lame duck coach.  If the Dolphins owner didn’t want Sparano coaching this year, what makes anyone think he’ll be sticking around for next season?  Throw in the tumultuous QB situation with Chad Henne and the Fans incessant desire for Kyle Orton and things get even more interesting.  Quite simply, the Dolphins rolled into this season with what they had because they couldn’t do any better.  But hey, they got Reggie Bush!  Woof!

Last week’s win in Indy was a step in the right direction.  The offense moved the ball, the defense held the Colts to field goals instead of touchdowns, and the defensive line made life miserable for Kerry Collins.  No wonder they won in convincing fashion.  If they can repeat that performance, and there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t, the Browns should handle the Dolphins easily.

Then again, this is the Browns.  For as easy as this game should be, it could also be just as frustrating for all of us to watch.  What can you say, they’re talented like that.

If the Browns want to beat the Dolphins, the game plan should be relatively simple, much in the same way it was in Indianapolis.  Unfortunately, because the Dolphins have given up 45 miles worth of passing yards so far this season, I’m a little afraid Pat Shurmur might get pass happy and let Colt McCoy lose this game for the Browns.  Just because the opponent changed, the mind-set should remain the same.  Balance the attack for success.

Of course, that’s easier said than done.  Reports surfaced today that Peyton Hillis missed practice yesterday due to a fever and strep throat.  Great…  If Hillis can’t go today, that means we may see our first extended look at Montario Hardesty as the feature back.  While I’d rather see Hillis running over Dolphins, I am interested to see what Hardesty really can do.  He’s played such a limited role so far in the offense that I don’t think anyone knows what he’s truly capable of doing.

As for McCoy, he needs to manage the game and keep the mistakes to a minimum.  Nothing stupid, Colt!  Nothing stupid!  I don’t foresee that being a problem.  Colt has shown remarkable poise so far in the first two games and in the preseason so I don’t feel like this should be an issue.  Then again, if Shurmur gets pass happy anything could happen.  Please, please, please football gods… don’t let Shurmur loose his mind this afternoon.

So what exactly do the Browns need to do in order to beat the Dolphins.  Well, allow me to tell you in five easy points.

1.  Joe Haden and company need to contain Brandon Marshall:  It’s that simple.  Brandon Marshall is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL an absolute beast.  His track record against the Browns is impressive.  Putting it simply so anyone else can understand it, Brandon Marshall kills the Browns.  If he has a good day, it makes life easier for everyone on the Miami sidelines.  The Browns secondary can’t allow that to happen.  That leads me to point 2.

2.  The Browns have to pressure Chad Henne:  Making life miserable for Henne and giving him no time to sit back in the pocket and make accurate throws helps the Browns secondary control Brandon Marshall.  After the game they had last week, its apparent the Browns have the talent up front to accomplish this goal.  Now it’s just a matter of how bad do they want it.  If the Browns beat the Dolphins, I fully expect Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, and Ahtyba Ruben will have had huge games.

3.  Balance the offensive attack:  This is going to be a recurring theme for the Browns until Colt McCoy can prove himself as a guy who can throw the ball 40-45 times, put a team on his back, and win games in a shoot out through the air.  Right now he’s not that guy.  The Browns need to limit his throw to somewhere in the 25-30 range and utilize their ground attack with Peyton Hillis, if he’s healthy, and Montario Hardesty, if he’s any good.

4.  Take advantage of turnovers:  The Browns have shown they are able to generate turnovers.  Now they need to show they are able to capitalize.  Turnovers need to be cashed in for touchdowns, not field goals and field position.  That’s the difference between teams that make the playoffs, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and teams that don’t.  The Dolphins are a team with a quarter back who knows a thing or two about making mistakes.  Odds are good he’ll make a few against the Browns.  They need to capitalize.

5.  Score early and often:  Pop quiz time.  How many points have the Browns first quarter this year?  Time’s up.  If you said anything other than zip, zero, zilch, or nada… you’re wrong.  The Browns have yet to score a single point in the first quarter and only then it was after Josh Cribbs saved the day and returned second quarter kickoffs for 50+ yards.  If this keeps up, eventually teams will stop kicking the ball to Cribbs.  So, while last week I pointed out Cribbs needing to dominate the return game, this week the Browns need to dominate the first quarter and take some weight off of Cribb’s shoulders.  Now, if he wants to go ahead and take one to the house, that’s fine too.

My Prediction:  I have a feeling that this game will be a lot closer than a lot of people think it will be.  Chad Henne hasn’t been terrible, Reggie Bush is still a weapon, and Brandon Lloyd is too much of a beast not to make an impact.  The Dolphins also have an X factor in rookie running back Daniel Thomas.  The guy looks like a stud after rushing for 100+ yards last week.  However, I just feel like Miami is too much of a mess right now.  This feels like a game the Browns should legitimately win.  So with that, I think the Browns will win a nail biter, 24-21.

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