Welcome to Hard Rock: Stats, Predictions and Key Matchups for Browns vs. Dolphins

The Narrative: 

The Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns are both entering Sunday’s matchup looking for their first wins of the 2016 season. However, their journeys to this point have been very different.

Cleveland has lost its top two quarterbacks to injury. RGIII went down in Week 1, with Josh McCown not far behind in Week 2. Now the team is down to Cody Kessler and Clipboard Jesus (aka Charlie Whitehurst). Kessler and Jesus are both dismal options, and the Browns cannot feel good about where the team stands, on pace to lose 16 quarterbacks to injury during the 2016 season.

If this keeps up, maybe JaMarcus Russell will get that comeback after all.

The Miami Dolphins will be frustrated entering Week 3. While the team is 0-2, they could have been 2-0 after defensive failures and missed offensive opportunities cost them wins in the NFL’s two harshest road environments. The team left points on the board against Seattle, and the defense failed to seal the deal against New England. Regardless, the coaching (at least offensively) seems to have Miami moving towards where they want to be.

Yes, both teams are 0-2, but the auras surrounding these groups could not be more different.

The Stats:

The Dolphins’ biggest problem entering this game remains the team’s inability to convert third downs on offense. I wouldn’t worry too much about the defense facing Cleveland’s offense; it is simply a matter of whether or not the offense can score big.

Miami’s offensive unit has only converted on 8 of their 24 third down attempts this season. However, the Browns could be the right team to get back on track against. Cleveland’s defense allows the NFL’s tenth highest third down conversion rate with opponents, getting the necessary distance 48.4% of the time.

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(Photo: Sporting News)

The scariest element of this matchup for the Dolphins could be Cleveland’s running attack. The Browns have averaged 6.0 yards/carry over the first two games of the season with 132.5 yards/game. They are not a high volume attack, ranking 23rd in rushing attempts, but they will run in situations in which they know it will be effective. Browns’ HC Hue Jackson ran one of the NFL’s best two-headed backfields last season with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, and he knows how to engineer a strong ground attack.

The Dolphins’ defense is the second worst in the NFL against the run through two games, allowing 273 between the Patriots and Seahawks. Now, once again, those were the Patriots and Seahawks. While the Browns’ rushing attack clearly hasn’t helped them do much winning, it will still be important for the Dolphins to focus on what could be the most effective attack the Browns can offer.

Switching gears, we can review an element of this matchup that bodes very well for the Dolphins: the Browns’ inability to rush the passer. Cleveland has only notched two sacks so far this season. While the Dolphins’ offensive line is far from perfect, it is a huge improvement over the team’s 2015 unit. With that being said, the Dolphins should be confident in their ability to let Ryan Tannehill sit in the pocket as routes develop deep. This could help the Dolphins exploit not only the Browns pass rush, but also their secondary, which has allowed an average of 286 yards through their first two games against Joe Flacco and Carson Wentz respectively.

If the Dolphins can hold down Cleveland’s rushing attack, and if the Dolphins’ offense can exploit the Browns’ weakness up front, things should turn out positively for the Miami Dolphins in this one.

Keys to Victory:

Ndamukong Suh vs. John Greco and Alvin Bailey: 

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While the Browns have Joe Thomas at LT, the rest of their offensive line is a disaster. This struggling unit is particularly vulnerable at center and right guard, with John Greco and Alvin Bailey as the starters at each position respectively.

Pro Football Focus has John Greco graded as a 69.9, which is below average. Alvin Bailey’s mark is a 54.1, which is designated as poor.

Ndamukong Suh, the man they will have to block, received an 84.4 grade for his first two games. Suh’s early performances also pass the eye test, showing that he is ready to dominate for a second consecutive season in Miami.

Shifting the right tackle over for help? It wouldn’t do much good. Austin Pasztor has struggled mightily through two games, appearing overwhelmed almost constantly. His PFF grade reinforces this fact, coming in at a 42.9. (For the record, Pasztor has not graded above a 50 since 2013.)

While the Browns are weak in several areas, this could be where they are weakest. Cameron Wake is not being used consistently in order to maintain his health, so it will come down to Ndamukong Suh’s ability to wreak havoc up front.

Faced with a fledgling Cleveland offensive line, he should be able to do just that.

Don’t Let Browns Running Backs Get Rolling:

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(Ron Schwane/AP)

This matchup did not inspire fear before Josh McCown and RGIII went down with injuries. Now, it would be a disappointment if the Dolphins don’t win by three scores.

However, there is one way that the Browns could become a threat to Miami: their two-headed backfield.

Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell are both capable of gashing the Dolphins’ defense for big gains if they are able to get rolling early. Miami’s defense has struggled with opponents’ sustained drive, and the Browns could keep things moving by subbing in their two effective runners.

While the Dolphins have struggled, it has been against two of the better teams in the NFL. The rushing attack didn’t kill them in Seattle, and I don’t believe that Johnson or Crowell are as dangerous as LaGarrette Blount, who Miami faced in New England.

The Dolphins should go into this week intent on making their first true stand on defense, halting a fledgling Browns squad.

Pick Your Matchups, and Have a Day Ryan Tannehill: 

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(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

If the Dolphins have the worst secondary in the NFL, the Browns aren’t far behind.

Joe Haden, previously a star player, has lost a step as he ages, being burnt on multiple occasions during the first two weeks of the season. Jamar Taylor, starting opposite Haden, is a player Dolphins fans know well. Their slot corner, Tramon Williams, has also struggled so far this season. He will be faced with the task of covering Jarvis Landry, one of the NFL’s best slot receivers.

One of the Dolphins’ best strategies will be to shift Kenny Stills onto Joe Haden and take shots downfield. The Browns’ safeties should not pose a major threat to the Dolphins, and Stills would easily have a step on Haden.

This would leave DeVante Parker with Jamar Taylor, who could struggle with a receiver of Parker’s size.

My point: Ryan Tannehill could throw for a ton of yards against the Cleveland Browns. It is also possible that Kenyan Drake has a big day through the air, exploiting a weak Browns front-seven. However, the main focus should be on letting Ryan Tannehill attack this defense with high-tempo and frequent deep shots.

Predictions:

Max Himmelrich:

The football gods are angry. They are VERY angry. Cleveland, you have earned their wrath. This is what the city has to deal with for signing a pact with the devil that brought the Cavaliers their first championship.

A loss in this game would be a crushing blow for the Dolphins, who cannot afford anything less than a complete dismantling of this Cleveland Browns team.

28-7, Dolphins

Jacob Berkowitz:
The Dolphins may be 0-2, but so are the Browns. Considering Cleveland is starting their 3rd quarterback in three weeks, I like the Dolphins’ chances, especially defensively. As long as Adam Gase is aggressive early and allows Ryan Tannehill control at the line of scrimmage, the Dolphins should have no issue notching their first win of the season.

27-17, Dolphins

Ryan Romaine:

To say that this is a must-win game for the Dolphins would be an understatement, and I don’t see a way in which they manage not to end up 1-2 come Monday morning. I was a huge fan of Cody Kessler’s game at USC, but he isn’t ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL and probably never will be. Vance Joseph was brought to Miami to fix this secondary, and while the results haven’t been there thus far, a showdown versus Cleveland gives the corners a perfect opportunity to garner some confidence and momentum heading into another tough matchup against Cincinnati in Week 4. Ryan Tannehill’s upset bids came up short in each of the first two weeks of 2016, but he’ll lead the Dolphins to a comfortable win in their home opener.

27-13, Dolphins

Cobi Silverstein: 

The Dolphins had every opportunity to win in Weeks 1 and 2, but couldn’t pull either victory out with the game on the line. Week 3 should be a different story playing at home against the Browns. Cleveland is starting their third QB in three weeks, and Miami’s offense was rolling in the second half against the Patriots. While I don’t expect this game to be a complete blowout, the Fins should have absolute control from beginning to end.

24-13, Dolphins

Josh Houtz:

After losses to two Super Bowl contenders, the Miami Dolphins welcome Cody Kessler and the winless Cleveland Browns to Hard Rock Stadium.

With a rookie quarterback and no Corey Coleman, the Browns will rely heavily on their run game, which features both Isiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. Miami’s run defense has been shaky during the team’s first two games, but should rebound nicely against Cleveland’s one dimensional offense.

On the other side of the football, the Dolphins come into Week 3 bolstering a dangerous aerial attack. Ryan Tannehill looked nearly perfect during the second half of last week’s game, and will look to find a rhythm early against a sub-par Browns secondary.

Miami will need to find a ground attack, which remained stagnant over the course of the first two weeks. With Foster out, the Dolphins will lean upon running backs Ajayi, Drake, Pead and Williams to tote the rock. Currently, Ryan Tannehill is the team’s leading rusher, something that must change if the team plans to turn things around in 2016.

The Dolphins started the season against two tough opponents, but should have no problem routing the Browns at home.  

34-21, Dolphins

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