So many story lines for Sunday’s game between the Browns and Miami Dolphins.
The Browns enter week three with a 1-1 record for the seventh time since returning in 1999. But they have entered week four with a 2-1 record only three times.
The Dolphins can’t wait to get to Cleveland after dropping their first two games at home.
And Brian Daboll, the much-maligned offensive coordinator for the Browns the last two seasons, returns to the lakefront as offensive boss in Miami.
Where to begin . . .
Let’s start with Daboll, who surprised a lot of fans by landing the gig in Miami despite some questionable coordinating with the Browns.
It was very difficult to figure out exactly what Daboll was trying to accomplish when the Browns had the ball. Was the attack supposed to be smashmouth with Peyton Hillis? Was it supposed to stretch the opposing defense? Or was it a finesse ball-control team?
In his two seasons, Daboll’s offense displayed multiple personalities. It appeared to confuse the Browns more than the opposition. No one knew what to expect from week to week.
There was no rhyme, reason or consistency, leading to a couple of 5-11 records under Eric Mangini. Last season, the Browns would have finished with a better record with any kind of help from the offense.
Now Daboll has a fresh start in Miami. But some of the old problems have crept up just two games into his tenure, most notably the third-down conversion success rate. The Dolphins have converted just six third downs in 26 attempts. Sound familiar? It should. Only the venue has changed.
But you can be certain Daboll will arrive in Cleveland this week with the express intent of showing Browns fans – and the media – just how wrong they were about him. He does so with an offense that averages nearly 400 yards a game, 125 of those on the ground.
However, you can be equally certain the Browns’ defense will be ready for anything Daboll serves up. In splitting their first two games, the Browns have surrendered 294 yards a game and played better than expected on defense.
Throw out that why-weren’t-they-prepared, quick-snap touchdown Cincinnati scored in the season opener and the meaningless TD Indianapolis scored in the waning moments of last Sunday’s victory and the Cleveland defense has not played badly at all thus far.
Getting out of Miami also was best for the Dolphins, who opened up at home against the New England Patriots and Houston Texans, a couple of teams favored to win their respective divisions. By comparison, this game probably feels like a breather.
Not only that, the Dolphins no doubt thank the schedule maker for slotting this one in week three in Cleveland, where the weather will be mild, instead of, say, week 13 when a chilly winter wind and snow will whip in off Lake Erie.
Look for them to feature the running game more against the Browns in an effort to reduce the amount of pressure on quarterback Chad Henne, who has completed just 53.2% of his passes and thrown for only three scores.
Reggie Bush swings over from New Orleans at running back, along with rookie Daniel Thomas, replacing long-time Dolphin Ronnie Brown, now with Philadelphia. It took the Dolphins just two games to realize Bush is not an every-down back.
That means Thomas, the ex-Kansas State star for whom the Dolphins traded up in the last college draft, will be the main running threat. He’ll run into a semi-porous Cleveland defense that has surrendered 124 yards a game on the ground.
The Miami defense, on the other hand, was victimized for 61 points by quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Schaub. The secondary was strafed for 747 yards and six touchdowns.
To give you an idea of just how porous the Miami defense has been, three of the four leading tacklers on the team are members of the defensive backfield – safeties Reshard Jones and Yeremiah Bell and cornerback Vontae Davis.
Of course, in Browns Colt McCoy, they won’t face a quarterback anywhere near the caliber of Brady and Schaub. And the Cleveland receiving corps is among the worst in the National Football League.
All of which leads to the belief the Browns will try to take the infantry route a lot Sunday and try to wear down the Miami defense in an attempt to go 2-1 after three weeks for just the fourth time since 1999. They won their third game of the season three straight years (2000-02) after splitting the first two.
Look for Montario Hardesty to enter the game and contribute a lot sooner than last Sunday’s game. Expect McCoy to hand the ball off as many times as he puts it up as Pat Shurmur buttons down the Cleveland offense and grinds it out..
Winning this one won’t be easy for the Browns. The Dolphins are not as bad as their poor start indicates. It would be easy for the Browns to take a look at Miami’s 0-2 and take the visitors for granted.
This will be a good test of Shurmur’s ability to get a team ready to play emotionally and psychologically. That was missing the first two games.
It should change Sunday with the charged-up Browns moving to 2-1 in a relatively low-scoring game with kickers Dan Carpenter and Phil Dawson playing prominent roles. Make it:
Browns 23, Dolphins 16