Miami Dolphins vs. Cleveland Browns: Live Score, Highlights and Analysis
Final Update: The Miami Dolphins have beaten the Cleveland Browns. In the end, the Browns offense was toothless without wide receiver Josh Gordon. He was a key cog in their preseason success and was also responsible for much of the success the team enjoyed in 2012.
Both teams showed a lot of issues on their offensive line and ground games. The Dolphins had reliable receivers like Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and Mike Wallace to help quarterback Ryan Tannehill keep the offense rolling on scoring drives. The Browns had tight end Jordan Cameron and slot receiver Davone Bess, but that was not enough. Once the Dolphins were able to get far enough ahead on the scoreboard, they were able to put a lot of pressure on a Browns offense forced to drop back into predictable pass drops.
Miami Dolphins - 23
Cleveland Browns - 10
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
Line: Browns -2.0
Television: CBS (Regional—Coverage Map Here)
Radio: 105.9 FM (Miami)
End of fourth quarter
The Dolphins converted a field goal off the turnover-on-downs.
With the Browns down two touchdowns, with less than four minutes to go in the game, the pressure on a toothless Browns offense was just too much.
The Browns went into pass mode and made a yeoman's effort, converting first downs with some good throws and catches, resulting in what would have been a touchdown to tight end Gary Barnidge. However, their consistent weaknesses in the game (in this case right guard Oniel Cousins) won out on that play as well as in the game as a whole.
The Dolphins win.
Miami Dolphins - 23
Cleveland Browns - 10
4:02 remaining in the fourth quarter
One year ago, Dolphins wide receivers Brian Hartline and Davone Bess had career days catching the football against defensive coordinator Ray Horton's coverage. This year, Brandon Gibson has replaced Davone Bess as the Dolphins' slot receiver. Hartline and Gibson have a combined 16 catches for 191 yards and a touchdown.
The Dolphins' defense (a bright point in the game) did a great job taking advantage of the scoreboard on the Browns' follow-up drive after the touchdown. They got pass rush on Brandon Weeden and bottled up his favorite receiving options.
This forced a 4th-and-2, which was snuffed by the Miami defense when a protection miscue forced a tailback to protect against Cameron Wake. Wake predictably won the matchup, sacking Weeden for a turnover-on-downs.
The game's final outcome is now starting to be written.
6:48 remaining in the fourth quarter
Ryan Tannehill got back to work with his receivers. He found Brandon Gibson underneath, who took advantage of a terrible angle taken by a defensive back by breaking the tackle attempt and running for extra yards. On the following play, Tannehill found Hartline on the outside.
Two plays later, Gibson found the soft spot in the zone coverage and Tannehill found him for a big gain. Tannehill found Hartline on the slant. On a third down pass, Tannehill once again found Gibson on the outside underneath the coverage for a first down. The Dolphins then produced a 1st-and-Goal when Tannehill rolled out and found Brian Hartline underneath.
Do you notice a name left out of the above? That would be the Dolphins' $60 million free-agent acquisition, Mike Wallace. Tannehill threw one ball to Wallace, but could not connect as Wallace dropped the pass.
With a 1st-and-Goal, the Dolphins were able to take advantage of poor coverage by Browns corner Buster Skrine, who was flagged for pass interference on the play.
The Dolphins punched the football in predictably on a 1st-and-Goal from the 1-yard line.
Miami Dolphins - 20
Cleveland Browns - 10
12:12 remaining in the fourth quarter
Brandon Weeden found a blitz-beater option, and he paid for it. He took a vicious shot from a blitzing linebacker, but got the ball into the zone vacated by the blitzer for a first down.
On the following play, he threw a strike into a very tight window, but Travis Benjamin let him down (again) by dropping the football. This Browns receivers unit without Josh Gordon may be the worst in the NFL.
The Dolphins committed a neutral zone infraction which shortened up the sticks for them and allowed Weeden to check down for a new set of downs. But then reserve defensive end Derrick Shelby beat Mitchell Schwartz, who expected help on the outside from tight end Gary Barnidge, who lined up in the backfield and did nothing as Shelby beat Schwartz with an outside rush and produced a sack-strip on the play.
The Browns recovered the fumble, which produced a 2nd-and-19, from which the offense predictably could not recover.
Cameron Wake timed the second down snap perfectly, forcing Brandon Weeden to throw a screen pass far before the play had developed. The Browns did not even make an attempt to convert the 3rd-and-19, choosing a check down to tight end Jordan Cameron.
End of third quarter
Sometimes those short gains on the ground in the first, second and third quarter start to turn into bigger gains in the fourth quarter.
With the game still within striking distance for the Browns, at home, I would look for them to take advantage of this phenomenon.
On the first play of the drive, just before the end of the quarter, Trent Richardson was able to put together a good gain. Does this signal a start of the phenomenon described above? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
We'll find out.
0:38 remaining in the third quarter
The Dolphins appear to have lost corner Dimitri Patterson to a groin injury. The Dolphins have inserted Jimmy Wilson in his place on nickel packages.
The Dolphins still have not found any success running the ball as a first down run went down in flames. Ryan Tannehill found tight end Charles Clay in the right flat for a good gain and a new set of downs.
However, Charles Clay nullified his own success on the following play by pretending the NFL had become the CFL, running forward off his motion prior to the snap.
On the next play left tackle Jonathan Martin was once again beaten, forcing Ryan Tannehill to scramble out of the pocket where he threw the ball away. Martin followed up on the next play by getting beat by Paul Kruger who managed to hit Tannehill, forcing him to check down underneath for a minimal gain.
You're starting to sense that both offenses are starting to click a little bit better, beginning with the Hartline touchdown.
On the first play of Cleveland's follow-up drive, Weeden found Jordan Cameron for a very nice gain. From there they went to work testing Miami's underneath coverage with backs. Technically, the next play they threw was to receiver Greg Little, but he functioned as a back on the play. The play after that, they dumped the ball to tailback Trent Richardson up the middle, who ran for a long first down.
Though the ground game continues to stall, Weeden read the drop of linebacker Koa Misi and drilled the football on the outside to Travis Benjamin.
On the following first and second downs, the Dolphins' defense clearly adjusted. They aggressively crashed on underneath options out of the backfield, resulting in two straight incomplete passes. This allowed their pass rush to get back into the game on a 3rd-and-10, which ended with a throwaway.
The Browns kicked a field goal.
Miami Dolphins - 13
Cleveland Browns - 10
6:46 remaining in the third quarter
These two teams are so alike, it is scary. If I am starting to sound repetitive, it is because the game has become repetitive. The Browns took the ball on their next possession and were forced to punt the ball after a combination of ground defense and pass rush ruined the Browns' set of downs.
The Dolphins came back and looked much the same. A first down run play ended poorly for the Dolphins, and a second down pass play ended with another missed connection deep between Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace, who stumbled on the route and was unable to run under the football.
That is when the Dolphins broke the cycle. Brian Hartline ran a beautiful out-and-up route against corner Buster Skrine, and Ryan Tannehill hit him perfectly in stride for the long touchdown.
Miami Dolphins - 13
Cleveland Browns - 7
I had Browns outside linebacker/pass rusher Paul Kruger flagged as a potential weakness against the run. While there have been plenty of predictions of mine in this game that have shown up exactly as I thought they would, this is not one of them. Kruger has been fantastic this game. He bullied tight end Charles Clay on a first down run, which drew the holding flag.
While Ryan Tannehill threw a couple of strikes to Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace to get out of the trouble caused by the penalty, continued stagnation in the ground game combined with more pass protection issues to stifle the drive.
On a second down, Ryan Tannehill threw another bomb to receiver Mike Wallace. While most believe that Ryan Tannehill was inaccurate with the throw, announcer Solomon Wilcots had an astute observation that corner Joe Haden used his physical coverage to knock Mike Wallace off his straight line to the ball, which contributed to the overthrow. However it should also be noted that Ryan Tannehill was murdered in the pocket by left tackle Jonathan Martin's pass protection responsibility.
On the third down play, Ryan Tannehill was hit again. Right guard John Jerry was beaten cleanly by a blitzing Paul Kruger who started the play with his hand off the ground. Kruger was only able to tap Tannehill's back shoulder. Jonathan Martin's pass protection ineptitude helped to finish the play. His man plowed into Tannehill as he threw the ball. The ball ended up off target even though Hartline was arguably open on the comeback route.
12:00 remaining in the third quarter
The Dolphins defense took their turn victimizing the Browns, forcing the second straight three-and-out to start the second half. Run success on the legs of tailback Trent Richardson on first down was fleeting, as the next run on second down resulted in a loss of yards. On third down, pressure came in on Brandon Weeden forcing what was essentially a throwaway in the direction of Davone Bess.
During the preseason, I spoke a lot about the Dolphins' desire to have a player share punt return duties with return specialist Marcus Thigpen. There is a reason. Thigpen over the years has been an electric punt returner, but not a safe one. On the punt, he muffed the ball and was lucky it went out of bounds before a Cleveland player could recover it.
However, like Miami previously in the game, the Browns were called on a procedural penalty that forced a re-kick. That is generally going to signal bad results for the coverage team on the ensuing punt, as they're tired from running down the field on the first punt. Thigpen returned the punt 52 yards for a touchdown.
And then it was called back. Dolphins corner Nolan Carroll was flagged for holding. The Dolphins started their drive on their own 21-yard line.
13:43 remaining in the third quarter
Ryan Tannehill finally did it. He finally tried to get wide receiver Mike Wallace involved in the game. The problem? The throw came in short and inside. It very well should have been intercepted by Browns corner Joe Haden.
From there, poor pass protection took hold of the Dolphins' offense. Jonathan Martin got walked back by Jabaal Sheard on the pass attempt to Mike Wallace, which saw the Dolphins throwing double-teams in Martin's direction on the third down. On second down, right tackle Tyson Clabo got bulled right back into Tannehill, allowing pass rusher Paul Kruger to sack the quarterback.
As I said earlier, Davone Bess has proven himself to be the Browns' only competent wide receiver. The Browns, sensing this, called his number on 1st-and-10 and were rewarded with a good gain over the middle of the field.
However, the Browns' problems elsewhere make it difficult for the offense to keep any momentum going. On the following play Weeden was pressured from Cameron Wake and threw a catchable ball to Greg Little, who (typically) popped it up for another near-interception.
On the following play, right guard Oniel Cousins (we've heard that name a few times) got called for holding which gave the Browns a very difficult task on the following second and third downs.
However, as I feared all week, tight end Jordan Cameron is proving himself to be the Browns' only physical mismatch player. He has his issues as he showed by tipping up a ball which was intercepted earlier in the game, but he is still difficult for the Dolphins to match with physically because of his athleticsm.
Jordan gained 16 yards on the 2nd-and-20, which allowed Weeden to throw a quick pass to Davone Bess to convert the ensuing 3rd-and-4.
Even so, the Cleveland Browns continues to shoot themselves in the foot with a false start penalty, and from there defensive end Cameron Wake did the rest. He beat Mitchell Schwartz for the second time on this drive and sacked Weeden for a big loss.
The Browns' goal on the next play was clear. they wanted re-claim the yardage necessary to get the field goal range. Weeden threw an absolute strike to Davone Bess underneath who got the Browns back to the 30 yard line. Dolphins corner Dimitri Patterson was flagged for grabbing Bess' facemask and the Browns were brought that much closer to the goal line.
The Browns once again featured tight end Jordan Cameron by calling a moving pocket and having Brandon Weeden hit Cameron on the back side for a run-after-catch play. Cameron rewarded Weeden with a 10 yard gain and a 1st-and-Goal.
On 1st-and-goal, Weeden could not find an option and was forced to roll out of the pocket and throw the ball away. However, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was flagged for defensive holding. This gave the Browns a 1st-and-goal, and then it was the Browns' turn for a sloppy penalty to push them back as they were flagged for illegal formation.
The Dolphins showed some sloppiness on the next two plays. Corner Brent Grimes was bailed out of a potential pass interference penalty because defensive tackle Paul Soliai tipped the ball at the line of scrimmage. On the following play, Phil Wheeler and Brent Grimes bracketed tight end Jordan Cameron on a corner route. However, Weeden threaded the needle and both players lost Cameron in the coverage. Touchdown Browns.
Miami Dolphins - 6
Cleveland Browns - 7
3:36 remaining in the second quarter
The Dolphins are still having a difficult time running the ball against the Browns, even with the added wrinkle of a read-option play. The offense is placing everything on Ryan Tannehill's shoulders.
Ryan Tannehill was proving himself up to the task. Very quick decisions and very accurate throws had the offense moving down the field expeditiously.
On 1st-and-10, Tannehill attempted to hit tight end Charles Clay up the middle of the field as he crossed from left-to-right on a post pattern. Ryan failed to see a defensive back floating from right-to-left as he read the quarterback's eyes. This is a consistent mistake that Ryan Tannehill will make during games, as he lacks eye discipline. D'Qwell Jackson tipped the pass up and safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted it.
5:56 remaining in the second quarter
I appreciate the refs on the field for allowing plays to go on before blowing the whistle. On the other hand, this gave Dolphins fans a scare they did not need. The Browns offensive line gave Brandon Weeden all kinds of time to find a target, and much as he did at Oklahoma State, he found one. He hit tight end Jordan Cameron perfectly for a big play. Somehow the referee initially missed Dolphins corner Brent Grimes touching Jordan Cameron as he went down, so when Cameron popped up and ran for the touchdown, the officials initially called the score. The play was overturned, of course.
On the following play, once again Brandon Weeden got victimized by his receivers. This time, he didn't help matters by throwing a little bit behind tight end Jordan Cameron. However, that is still no excuse for Cameron's popping the ball up in the air. The ball was scooped up (again) by corner Dimitri Patterson.
8:33 remaining in the second quarter
The Dolphins' own offensive line woes continued as left tackle Jonathan Martin got beat by depth player Quentin Groves for a sack of Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins threw a screen pass to Daniel Thomas on the next play to try and produce a manageable first down, but a false start on Mike Wallace resulted in a 3rd-and-14 which the Dolphins predictably could not convert.
On that 3rd-and-14, Desmond Bryant once again came up with the sack of Tannehill as he pulled the ball down, sensing pressure. Possibly as a result of left tackle Jonathan Martin's previous pass protection gaffe, the Dolphins sent a tailback his direction to chip on his assignment's outside shoulder.
The Dolphins had a very sloppy penalty on the following punt. This created a bad situation for the punt coverage team. On the first punt, they covered admirably and pulled return man Travis Benjamin down with very little or no gain. However, the coverage guys tend to get tired on the first go of these re-kick situations. So, predictably, Travis Benjamin found a lot more success on the re-kick. He returned the punt about 32 yards.
11:18 remaining in the second quarter
Davone Bess has made his appearance in the game and shown that he is the only competent wide receiver on the Cleveland Browns' offense, with wide receiver Josh Gordon suspended.
Bess easily created separation on a route up the middle, and Weeden hit him perfectly for good yardage.
However, the weakness at right guard nullified the gain as Oniel Cousins nearly ripped Paul Soliai's head off by his facemask, drawing the penalty.
The penalty on Oniel Cousins essentially ended the possession for the Browns by backing them up so much, but the Browns may have caught on to Bess' being their only competent receiver, as they called his number again on second down.
If this signals a change of focus on the Browns offense, they may begin to have more success throwing the football. But will it be enough to win the game? I still have my doubts.
13:34 remaining in the second quarter
Right away on the Dolphins' first play of the ensuing drive after the Greg Little pop-up interception, we can see why the Dolphins have an arguably unhealthy fascination with tailback Daniel Thomas. Thomas makes his first appearance in the ball game on 1st-and-10, and the Dolphins called a shotgun formation. This drive looks like it will involve some high-tempo passing.
On the first play, Thomas stepped up and drilled Browns linebacker Craig Robertson, who blitzed on the play. When the coverage was tight, forcing Tannehill to pull the football down and run for yardage, this hit allowed Tannehill to gain a few yards as opposed to losing yardage in a sack.
However, the next play showed why, despite the pass-protection prowess, the fascination with Daniel Thomas is not destined to go anywhere. On second down, Thomas got the call on a run out of the I-Formation. He cut back to the back side and tripped for a very small gain. This is a reminder that tailbacks are supposed to be more than just pass protectors.
On the ensuing 3rd-and-6, the Browns took advantage of Miami's weakness at right guard by having defensive tackle/nickel rusher Desmond Bryant completely destroy right guard John Jerry en route to a sack of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The Dolphins kicked the field goal that was given to them by the Browns' turnover.
Miami Dolphins - 6
Cleveland Browns - 0
0:10 seconds remaining in the first quarter
The Cleveland Browns are still suffering mightily from general ineptitude in their wide receivers unit with Josh Gordon suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season.
It is hard to fault quarterback Brandon Weeden as he hits receiver Greg Little perfectly on the front shoulder on a crossing pattern on 3rd-and-2. This is a play that needs to be caught and run the necessary two yards for a first down. Unfortunately, Greg Little is a player that has made a living disappointing his team since drafted. He popped up the football uncaught and it was intercepted by corner Dimitri Patterson off the tip-up.
Dolphins right tackle Tyson Clabo made a smart, veteran-savvy move by popping out of his stance when pass rusher Paul Kruger moved into the neutral zone too quickly on a 3rd-and-5. This gave the Dolphins a new set of downs.
They took advantage of the new set of downs by hitting tight end Charles Clay up the seam on 3rd-and-4. The pass was absolutely perfect, with ball placement on the back shoulder away from the safety.
On the next set of downs, the Browns showed that their own ground defense is extremely stiff by causing a loss of yardage on first down. Excellent coverage on Brian Hartline caused a 3rd-and-12, and the pass rush did the rest. On the third down play, the Browns crowded Dolphins right guard John Jerry's area of responsibility, forcing tailback Lamar Miller to step up and pick up a cleanly-blitzing D'Qwell Jackson. The result was a big hit on Ryan Tannehill as he threw an errant pass. The referees correctly picked up an ensuing flag that might have been called an illegal blow to Ryan Tannehill's head
Rookie place kicker Caleb Sturgis easily banged through a 45-yard kick to put the Dolphins up.
Miami Dolphins - 3
Cleveland Browns - 0
4:27 remaining in the first quarter
I mentioned in my game planning preview that Browns outside linebacker Paul Kruger may play the run poorly on the edge and the Dolphins would do well to take advantage. The Dolphins attempted to do this but Kruger actually played the run very well, surprising me.
On another note, Ryan Tannehill has had a nearly-flawless start to this game. His decision-making has been extremely quick, which has not allowed the Browns' pass rush to affect him. He is throwing accurate footballs and finding his outlets underneath the Browns coverage.
7:00 remaining in the first quarter
The Cleveland Browns continue to miss wide receiver Josh Gordon in the worst way.
Pressure up the middle by defensive tackle Randy Starks combined with a stiffening ground defense to deal the Browns another long 3rd-and-10.
Brandon Weeden threw a strike to Travis Benjamin on a deep slant and gave him the opportunity to run for the first down. Dolphins corner Brent Grimes made contact on the football and caused Benjamin to drop the football. Reshad Jones nearly scooped up what would have been the second interception of the day caused by Travis Benjamin's being a weak player.
9:59 remaining in the first quarter
In one of my pieces this week, I detailed reasons why the Dolphins favor larger targets such as Brandon Gibson and Marvin McNutt as their slot receivers, as opposed to smaller, quicker, more traditional-looking slot players like Chad Bumphis and Davone Bess. I tried to frame the preference both positively and negatively by pointing out some of the benefits of having bigger players like a Brandon Gibson or Marvin McNutt, versus smaller, quicker, more savvy and experienced receivers.
On third down we just saw both the positive and negative. Gibson ran a route up the deep middle exactly as I detailed among the reasons Miami prefers bigger players in the slot. He presented a nice, big target and window through which quarterback Ryan Tannehill perfectly placed the football. However, because Gibson is a mistake-prone player (as we saw in St. Louis, as well as the 2013 preseason), he dropped the football right off his paws. The Dolphins were forced to punt.
10:11 remaining in the first quarter
Once again we find the Browns taking advantage of what I termed "soft edges" in the Dolphins' run defense. This time they ran against Cameron Wake's side of the defensive line and found a good 10 yards of real estate.
On the following play they attempted to run up the middle and found the anvil that I expected them to find on runs up the middle, as the Dolphins defense stifled them.
On the following 2nd-and-8, Dimitri Patterson jumped a short pattern admirably and very nearly picked off the football.
The next third down play showed a lot of exactly what I referred to in my game plan preview. A disappointing run play and an incomplete pass resulted in the long 3rd-and-8 situation. The Dolphins sent a linebacker blitzing around the edge of the offensive line. Brandon Weeden stepped up and threw the deep ball to the diminutive Travis Benjamin, who could not physically win his matchup with Nolan Carroll.
That was a ball that would usually be thrown to Josh Gordon, and we see already the Browns are missing Gordon from the line-up.
12:44 remaining in the first quarter
And we're off. Miami deferred the coin flip and kicked the ball through the back of the end zone, forcing quarterback Brandon Weeden to start on his own 20-yard line.
With the first play already we saw the "soft edges" I mentioned on the Dolphins starting defense come into play. The Browns ran off-tackle to Olivier Vernon's side and found a good nine yards of real estate before strong safety Reshad Jones could tackle Richardson.
What surprised me is that on the following 2nd-and-short, they found a little bit of a soft middle against the Dolphins' defensive line.
If the Browns can continue running this way, this could be a long day for Miami.
The game has not yet started but there are a few players and matchups that I will be watching closely during the game that I feel will go a long way in determining today's outcome.
Dolphins Offensive Line
I will be paying close attention to the Dolphins' offensive line, particularly right guard John Jerry and left tackle Jonathan Martin. The coaches have to be feeling confident in Martin based on a solid preseason. On the other hand, there is a definite sense of discomfort over the right guard position and Jerry as the starter. How could this translate onto the field?
The Dolphins may modify their protection schemes so that center Mike Pouncey spends a lot more time in pass protection baby-sitting John Jerry. This would have an effect on the left side of the line, putting more pressure on Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Incognito may not be able to pay much attention to Martin's inside shoulder and this could give Browns defensive end Jabaal Sheard optimal conditions to rush the passer.
Additionally, Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton is a big fan of double-barreled blitzes from the inside linebackers of his 3-4 defense. Even if they don't rush, they threaten the rush pre-snap in order to foster indecision and hesitation along the offensive line. If the Browns are able to exploit Miami's offensive line weaknesses, they may have a great chance.
Browns Offensive Line
As I wrote in my game planning preview, the Browns have a very big problem at right guard of their own. Reserve tackle Oniel Cousins has been forced into the game in place of Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston. The Browns will have to have center Alex Mack baby-sit Cousins much as the Dolphins may have Pouncey do the same for John Jerry. Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has the same tendencies as Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton when it comes to double-barreled linebacker blitzes around the A gaps. The Dolphins will attempt to exploit this weakness on the inside of the Browns' offensive line and Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is a quarterback whose effectiveness changes dramatically when pressured successfully, especially from the inside.
Tailback Trent Richardson versus Miami's Run Defense
The best hope the Browns have of winning comes with the establishment of an effective ground game. This will keep Miami from pinning their ears back and going after an immobile quarterback that can, at times, react to pressure in ways that damage his throwing effectiveness.
Miami's run defense should theoretically be up to the task of stifling the Browns' ground game. Norv Turner will not get cute attempting to run the ball by bringing out half-personnel (three receivers) so that the Miami defense is forced to bring out their nickel package. Norv will run the ball with normal personnel packages against Miami's base defensive personnel (the 4-3 package), and hope for the best. The Dolphins recently gave an expensive contract extension to Koa Misi, after having given dump trucks of dollar bills to Dannell Ellerbe and Phil Wheeler. The defensive front features Paul Soliai, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. Strong safety Reshad Jones will also be aggressive in stopping the ground game.
On paper, there is no way the Browns establish the ground game. However, you play the game for a reason. If the Browns are able to take advantage of soft edges (Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon) and cause the aggressive Miami linebackers to over-pursue, that would go a very long way toward victory today.
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