Week 3 Preview: Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns – Must Win?

Is the Miami Dolphins’ 1pm game this Sunday at 1-1 Cleveland a must win?  It depends on who you’re asking about? Chad Henne? Tony Sparano? The Miami Dolphins’ 2011 season?  What happens to them if we lose?  Before we can get into those discussions, we have to actually play the game.

What to expect:

Brown’s  Offense vs. Dolphin Defense:

In their first two games, the Browns, have recorded a loss to the surprising Bengals and a win last week against the Colts.  In these two games, based on the numbers, their offense has performed poorly.  The Brown’s offense is ranked 25th in passing, 21st in rushing, and 26th in total offense (and this is against the Bengals and Colts…ouch).  On the other hand, from the little I have seen of them, the Browns’ offense hasn’t looked as bad as the numbers make them out to be.  Regardless of how bad the Browns’ numbers are, with the way the Dolphins D has played, we have no room to take them for granted.

I have read that the Dolphins may be adapting the strategy of “stop Hillis and let Colt McCoy beat us.”  This would be a mistake in my book for a few reasons.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Hillis is an extremely good running back that will have a major say in the outcome of the game, but stopping the pass needs to be the Dolphins’ concern.  Until the Dolphins show they can stop their opponents passing consistently, it needs to be their main concern.  In his first two games, McCoy averaged 200 yards/game, threw 3 TDs, and 1 Int.  By no stretch are these stats outstanding, but McCoy jumped up 30 QB rating points from week 1 to week 2.  Combine McCoy’s performance with the Dolphins 30th ranked pass defense that is focused on Hillis and it may result in a good opportunity for McCoy to have a break-out performance.  Another reason to focus on the pass is Vontae Davis was just listed as being out for Sunday, oh boy.  I piece of good news for the Dolphins’ D is, as I am writing this, I have see that Hillis has missed practice on Friday due to an illness and is listed as questionable.  I do not wish illness or injury on anyone, but the Browns not having Hillis would be of great benefit to the Dolphins.  Although, I have to believe that it will not hold him out on Sunday, but, in what would be a new one, it could be the start of the dreaded MADDEN CURSE dun dun dun.

Dolphin Offense vs. Browns Defense:

The numbers have the Miami Dolphins’ offense listed as 9th in passing, 8th in rushing, 10th in total offense.  Yes, that look of disbelief on your face was the same I had when I saw it too.  I thought about why this was so shocking, but it’s semi-believable when you think about it: Henne had a huge game week against NE and the Dolphins have back-to-back 100 yard rushing games.  Where our disbelief really comes from is our inability to put the ball in the endzone, as the Dolphins are ranked 25th in points scored.  The Dolphins have struggled finishing drives for the past several years and cashing in on our opportunities has to happen this week.

Henne came back to earth last week after his game against the Pats.  He does not need to do what he did against the Pats each week, but he does need to be better than he was last week.  At times he was making the right decisions and hitting his receivers, other times he was inaccurate and rushed.  It seems that Henne’s performance all depends on his momentum; when he’s going, he’s real good, but when he’s bad, he’s real bad.  This puts the emphasis on the performance of the O-line.  They have been really weak in pass blocking and need to keep Henne clean to allow him time to make reads and get into a flow.  This may be especially important considering the Browns have the 2nd rated pass defense; take that with a grain of a salt (remember they played the Bengals and Colts).  What I am most excited to see on Sunday is if Daniel Thomas is for real and, if he is, can the Dolphins find a way to mix-up their attacking using Thomas, Bush, and the Receiving core.  The Dolphins have a lot of quality weapons and they just need to figure-out how to use them all; especially in the redzone.

Two Minute Drill:

Dolphins’ Key to the Game: Get off the field (with points).  I feel the key(s) to the Dolphins’ success will come in two areas on Sunday.  The first is to get the defense off the field.  Too often the defense will allow their opponent extend their drive on 3rd down.  They need to tighten up and realize they are one play away from getting the ball back.  Secondly, the Dolphins need to put the ball in the endzone. No more settling for field goals, it should simply be unacceptable when in the redzone.

Browns’ Key to the Game: Arrive Early.  In other words, come out with a stop and a score (or the other way around depending on the coin toss).  Either way, if you can get up on this Dolphins team, it is very hard for them to overcome that adversity and build momentum.  I don’t think the Browns can lose this game in the first quarter, but they may be able to win it.

Dolphins’ Player to Watch: Daniel Thomas.  The Browns have the 24th ranked rush defense (against C. Benson & J. Addai; not exactly elite RBs).  It could be a good time to get Thomas going early and open up the Browns secondary for Henne.  I just hope the Dolphins don’t become one dimensional if Thomas is successful.

Browns’ Player to Watch: Peyton Hillis. Hillis had 94 yards & 2 TDs in a win and 57 yards & 0 TDs in a loss. Enough said.

How it plays out: This one remains close until the end, as do all Dolphin games.  The Dolphins will get the running game going and Henne will play better, but not great.  The Dolphins D continues to fail to get off the field, but plays good enough to give the offense a chance.

Prediction24-17 Dolphins. The offense plays well against the unchallenged Browns defense and figures out how to put the ball in the endzone.  The defense continues to bend, but not break well enough.  Plus it’s an away game.

Back to the question: Is this a must win?  For Chad Henne, if he plays poorly, throw picks, and the Dolphins lose, then yes.  Henne cannot lose this game for the Dolphins and still be the starter.  Fortunately for him, I do not foresee him being the reason for losing this game.  For Tony Sparano, you better believe it.  He is already on the hot seat and if he loses this one, he may be gone by the Dolphins bye week.  For the Dolphins season, no, because I don’t think we will overcome the Jets and Pats with or without this game.  In reality, this game may not really be a must win in these situations, but there is one situation that it is an absolute must win.  This game is a must win for the Miami Dolphin fans.  If the Dolphins lose this game, Dolphin fans will be calling for the head of the entire organization.  Attendance will get even uglier and no sponsor will be able to buy enough tickets to compensate for the missing disgusted fans.  So, yes, this IS a must win for the Dolphins to keep the fans and their dignity.

PhinsUp!                                                                                                                                                                                                    -John

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