Dolphins vs. Browns Week 3: 5 Keys as Browns Go for 2nd W, Fins Just Try To Win
Not a lot of teams playing during Week 2 were in a "must win" situation, but the Cleveland Browns were not one of those teams.
If the Browns wanted to be relevant in the AFC North this season, they needed to rebound from a sloppy and disorganized first game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Well, Cleveland did what they came to do and picked up their first victory in the young season.
The defense came up big in the victory, as the Colts were held to four field goals throughout the game and did not score their first touchdown until the game was already out of reach.
Colt McCoy had an impressive game, throwing for 211 yards and touchdown, including a great pass to tight end Evan Moore to put the Browns up 7-6.
However, McCoy's performance was overshadowed by Peyton Hillis taking advantage of the Colts' weak run defense.
It took some time for Hillis to get into a groove, but he returned to the form that got him on the cover of Madden 12, barreling over defenders and rushing for two touchdowns.
While the Browns finally found themselves in the win column, the Miami Dolphins have yet to find it.
For the second straight week, the Dolphins played well at home, but came up just short against the Houston Texans.
The Texans went into halftime up 16-3, but the Fins fought back, getting within three points late in the game.
However, just as last week against New England, Miami's defense let up a big play late as Texans QB Matt Schaub hit a wide open Andre Johnson after there was a blown coverage in the secondary.
The Dolphins leave the Sunshine State for the first time all season, which could be a blessing, and will look to rebound against the Browns. Cleveland meanwhile, is looking for back-to-back wins to show they are a force to be reckoned with.
1) Dolphins Will Have To Stop Peyton Hillis
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After a mediocre performance against the Bengals, Peyton Hillis certainly rebounded Sunday against the Colts.
Indianapolis has had a struggling run defense for the past few seasons and Cleveland took advantage of that, running Hillis 27 times. Hillis totaled 94 rushing yards and two touchdowns, one being the nail in the coffin late in the fourth quarter.
Before Sunday, the "Albino Rhino" had not scored a touchdown since Week 11 against the Carolina Panthers last season.
Hillis will go up against a Dolphins defense that ranks 22nd overall in the league in opponent rushing yards.
The Dolphins allowed over 130 rushing yards to a Houston Texans team that lost star running back Arian Foster early on after he re-aggravated his sore left hamstring.
Cleveland will bring yet another heavy dose of Hillis against Miami, but they should be cautious about overworking him like former coach Eric Mangini did last year.
Pat Shurmur tried to work backup Montario Hardesty late in the game, but he only ran for one yard on three carries and fumbled at the goal line. Luckily, tackle Joe Thomas recovered and the Browns were able to get a field goal from Phil Dawson.
Shurmur said after the game that he will try to get Hardesty more playing time, but the fumble may have hurt the amount of carries he gets until he shows he can hang onto the ball.
Until he does so, expect Hillis to get a lot of carries Sunday in the Dawg Pound.
2) Browns Will Have To Key on Impressive Rookie Daniel Thomas
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Just as the Dolphins will have to contain Hillis, the Browns will have to do the same against rookie Daniel Thomas, who topped over 100 yards in his NFL debut.
Cleveland ranks just below the Dolphins in opposing rushing yards at 24th in the league, allowing both the Bengals and Colts to put together 100-yard rushing days.
Thomas will get a bulk of the Dolphins' carries against the Browns as he outshined Reggie Bush who was only able to put together six carries for 18 yards.
During the broadcast, it was stated that Thomas was getting more carries because he was able to run in between the tackles, which Bush was not able to do.
As much as Bush's carries will decrease, Cleveland will still have to keep an eye on the USC Trojan because once he gets to the outside, he could gash the Browns for big yardage.
Containing the Dolphins' rushing tandem will fall on the shoulders of the Browns' young front seven, with only linebacker Scott Fujita over the age of 30.
Two players to watch are defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin and rookie Phil Taylor. Both have done well in plugging the middle so far this season and the pressure will be on them to take Thomas and Bush out of the game.
3) Joe Haden's Ability To Cover Brandon Marshall
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Even though the Dolphins put up yet another poor performance in Week 2, receiver Brandon Marshall has been the team's consistent bright spot.
Mashall has 13 catches for 218 yards and a touchdown in two games and has definitely improved his relationship with quarterback Chad Henne from last year.
On Sunday, it will be the job of cornerback Joe Haden to shut down the top receiver like he has against the Bengals' AJ Green and the Colts' Reggie Wayne.
Haden held Green to only one catch that did not come until the end of the game when the entire defense was caught off guard. Clearly, if the defense was organized, Haden would have held Green to zero catches.
Wayne fared a little better against the 22-year-old, finishing with four catches for 66 yards, but Haden kept him from reaching pay dirt.
Haden has played well in two games, but drew two of the team's three penalties in Week 2, each giving Indianapolis a fresh set of downs on crucial third downs.
The last thing you want to give any team is another chance and Miami is no different, especially with such a talented weapon in Marshall.
The Browns significantly decreased the amount of penalties from 11 against Cincinnati to three against Indy.
If Haden has plans of stopping another top receiver, he will have to do the same on Sunday.
4) More Evan Moore
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With the Browns down 6-0 early on in the first half, quarterback Colt McCoy was slowly driving the offense down the field.
McCoy finally put points on the board as he hit a kneeling Evan Moore in the corner of the end zone to give the Browns the 7-6 lead.
The touchdown was Moore's second touchdown in as many games and he is slowly becoming McCoy's go-to-guy.
However, that was the last time Moore would catch the ball and even be targeted as he was not seen on the field much afterwards.
After the game, there was no injury reported to Moore, which makes his disappearance more questionable.
Third string tight end Alex Smith began to get more playing time after Moore's touchdown and surprisingly was the top receiving tight end at the end of the game, recording three catches for 19 yards.
Although Smith showed that he can contribute, Moore is a sure-fire target for McCoy and the Browns in the red zone.
Both Moore and Benjamin Watson have proven that they can succeed in the west coast offense and coach Pat Shurmur would be a fool not to use them to his advantage.
Against a pass defense ranked close to the bottom of the league in pass yards allowed, McCoy should excel with two of his favorite weapons.
The Dolphins' defense took another hit Sunday as linebacker Karlos Dansby injured his groin and could be out of the lineup.
5) Putting Pressure on Chad Henne
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Against the Texans, Miami's Chad Henne struggled early on.
To make matters worse, the Dolphins couldn't put any points on the board at crucial points in the game as kicker Dan Carpenter missed a "gimme" field goal and had another blocked.
After starting the second half down 16-3, Henne finally got going, throwing a beautiful touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall to bring the game to 16-10, but that's all he could put together.
Cleveland would be smart to put a lot of pressure on Henne as he has shown in Miami's first two games that he falters under pressure, throwing three straight incompletions on the team's final possession.
On Sunday, the Browns put a lot of pressure on an aging Kerry Collins, forcing an interception, as well as Collins' fourth fumble in just two games.
Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron switched the defensive ends after Week 1, putting rookie Jabaal Sheard on the left side, which the 22-year-old prefers, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
This proved to be a success as Sheard finished with five tackles, a forced fumble and hit Collins' arm, leading to the interception by Usama Young.
If Sheard can get to Henne early on, the Browns' defense should have another impressive day.