CLEVELAND - Sunday will mark the 15th time the Browns and the Dolphins have met, with the series split evenly 7-7. The Browns have won the last three meetings to pull even in this series including last year's 13-10 win in Miami.
The Dolphins have not won here in Cleveland since Oct. 10,1993.
This is a huge game for the Browns. A win on Sunday would mark the first time in nine years the Browns have finished over .500 after three games. Ironically, that was the only year the team made the playoffs since they have come back to town. More importantly, Browns Town would explode with all kinds of season expectations that we haven't had here in a long time. A lot of things have to happen before the team can get there.
The Browns should win this game. After a slow start in week one against the Bengals, the Browns defense has been solid, allowing just 289.5 yards per game which is good for sixth best in the NFL. The Browns are also tied for the AFC lead with 6 sacks. Rookie Phil Taylor was well worth the first pick, he is currently second on the team in tackles and right behind him is fellow rookie lineman Jabaal Sheard.
Up front is where the Browns have won football games using pressure up the middle to disrupt quarterbacks and force turnovers. Because of the way the defense has started this year, it has taken some of the pressure off of Colt McCoy,who had a solid game on Sunday against the Colts. Peyton Hillis believe it or not has been McCoy's favorite target so far this year with 10 catches for 53 yards. The Browns did get back to the run against the Colts as promised by Pat Shurmur, Hillis ran for 94 yards and two TDs. Expect much of the same game plan this week against a Dolphins defense that is giving up a league worst 483.5 yards a game.
The Dolphins have started off 0-2 for the fifth time in the last six years. Led by Chad Henne, the fins have a much different look then Browns fans remember from last year. Gone are wildcat running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The Dolphins will still run the cat, but with free agent pickup Reggie Bush and rookie Daniel Thomas, who ran for over 100 yards in his NFL debut last week against the Texans. Thomas will be a huge factor against the Browns on Sunday, after sitting out week one with an injury, Thomas cut into Reggie Bush' workload. Bush had 20 touches without Thomas in week one, last week he saw that number drop to 7.
Pat Shurmur said during his press conference on Wednesday to be aware of this winless Dolphins team, they are much better then they look on paper. Chad Henne is a strong armed quarterback who has a huge weapon in Brandon Marshall. The free agent pick up already has 13 catches for 218 yards and a touchdown through the first two weeks. Marshall can stretch the field with his speed and length and has very good hands. I think he is by far the best receiver the Browns secondary has seen this season. That's not a knock on Reggie Wayne, but Marshall is a big,fast,physical receiver who can give secondarys fits. The downside to Marshall, he is a very emotional player. Get him off track early and he may be lost for the game.
The Browns need to get off to a better start in football games. Two weeks in a row the team has struggled in the first quarter, only to outplay their opponents in the second quarter and take command of the game. With Mohamed Massaquoi back, Colt McCoy can take more shots downfield which will keep the defense honest and open up the run game. Massaquoi also adds another red zone target for McCoy.
The X-Factor in this weeks game: Josh Cribbs. He's healthy and he is back to his nightmare status on special teams. Cribbs big game against the Colts last week earned him Special Teams Player of the Week. Cribbs can score from anywhere on the field, and the Browns fully expect the Dolphins to do everything they can to keep the ball away from the Browns biggest weapon.
I like the Browns to win this game. The defense should be able to set the tone in this game once again. If the Browns pound away with Hillis and convert their key third downs to keep scoring drives alive, then there is no reason why they can't beat Miami for the fourth straight time.
If the Browns go 2-1, this town will explode with anticipation, but keep in mind, this is a long season but historically good starts equal playoff opportunities, something we haven't seen in nine years.