Miami Dolphins vs Cleveland Browns: Dolphins Playoff Hopes Are on the Line

Brandon ChillingworthCorrespondent IISeptember 23, 2011

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 18:  Miami Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas #33 runs for yardage during a game against the Houston Texans at Sun Life Stadium on September 18, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins have started off poorly in 2011, dropping consecutive games to the Patriots and Texans. The 'Fins have had a tough start to the schedule, but it was supposed to get easier. The Browns are looking good, and the Bills have been playing very well so far—maybe the rest of the Dolphins schedule isn't as easy as many predicted.

0-2 is never a good way to begin the season, but the Dolphins were expected to lose the first two games.  Fans knew they were going to dig out of that hole, but 0-3 is a much different story.

The Dolphins have to win a bare minimum of nine games if they want a shot to make the playoffs, but even 10 or 11 wins might not get them in.

This weekend's game against Cleveland is huge for the 'Fins, and has to be treated as a must-win.

The Dolphins offense looked very good against the Pats, but sputtered against Houston. Chad Henne still showed better decision making and poise in the pocket. He had trouble completing passes and moving the chains; this can't be a problem if the Dolphins are going to win in Cleveland.

Daniel Thomas had a big game last week, rushing for over 100 yards. He let go a costly fumble at one point, but we'll chalk that up as a rookie mistake.

Brandon Marshall has been much better this year. He's returning to dominant form, and it's clear that he'll be a big part of Brian Daboll's offense. He needs to be a bigger part of the red-zone offense though; I want to see him get some chances on fades and jump balls when the 'Fins are near the goal line.

The Dolphins have been aggressive so far this season; it's only a matter of time before they start  converting on their big-play attempts.

Clevaland's secondary has been playing very well thus far, limiting opposing offenses to 165 yards per game, which is good for second in the NFL. Their run defense hasn't been as good; the Dolphins will need to exploit that weakness.

Finally the Dolphins defense will get a bit of an easier task. They havn't been able to stop the run or the pass as of late; Mike Nolan needs to whip this unit into shape.

Colt McCoy is a good quarterback, but certainly isn't Tom Brady or Matt Schaub. He will represent an easier challenge for the Dolphins Secondary.

Tackling has been an issue in the run game and in the short range passing game. Big time players are missing routine tackles; this is a quick fix, and thus, needs to be fixed quickly.

The defense has been banged up, but this unit still has the potential to be one of the league's best. They will have to get it into gear fast. Vontae Davis and Chris Clemons are both missing practises lately, they both will be pivotal pieces that need to get back on the field.

This game could be the difference between playoff hunt, and Andrew Luck watch. I wrote in another article that I thought there was no chance the 'Fins would be bad enough to land the top pick in the draft.

As much as I'd like to see Luck in a Dolphins uniform, it would be very disappointing to have to see the 'Fins lose for the rest of the year.

The Miami Dolphins have to step onto the field Sunday with a playoff mentality; anything else, and they could be watching their season go down the drain.