Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns vs. Dolphins – Week 3

Fresh off their first win in the Pat Shurmur era, the Cleveland Browns return home to take on the Miami Dolphins and try to turn up the temperature on Dolphins coach Tony Sparano’s chair.

The Opposition

Miami record: 0-2
Offensive rank: 10th overall/9th passing/8th rushing
Defensive rank: 32nd overall/30th passing/22nd rushing
All-time record: Dolphins lead 9-7 (including playoffs), but Browns are 5-4 in Cleveland
Last meeting: Browns won 13-10 in 2010
The line: Browns (-2.5)

What to Watch For

How the Browns respond to being back at home following the mistake-filled season opener against the Bengals.

The Dolphins come into the game as the worst defense in the NFL, but that has a qualifier to it. They have given up the third-most passing yards and the second-most passing touchdowns in the league so far, but those numbers came against New England’s Tom Brady and Houston’s Matt Schaub, quarterbacks who can make any defense look silly when they are on their game.

Is the Miami defense really that bad, or are the numbers skewed because of the level of the opposition?

This will be a good game to see what kind of progress the Browns have made as they transition to the West Coast offense. The offense should be getting better each week as they make up for the repetitions they lost during the shortened workout.

If Colt McCoy and the receivers are on, they should be able to take advantage of the Dolphins, especially since Miami will be without starting cornerback Vontae Davis and possibly back-up corner Will Allen. Miami is giving up 30.5 points per game and allowing opponents to convert on 46.4 percent of their third downs.

Sounds like a potential good day for the offense.

Of course, the Browns may be without starting running back Peyton Hillis (strep throat), as well as starting wide receivers Josh Cribbs (groin) and Mohamed Massaquoi (ankle), who are all questionable for the game.

If all three are out, then the Dolphins can key on back-up running back Montario Hardesty, pay a little attention to rookie wide receiver Greg Little and ignore Brian “BlutarskiRobiskie, which would make for a long day for McCoy and the offense.

Much as the Dolphins defensive ranking may be artificially low because of the opposition, the Browns No. 6 ranked defense (No. 2 against the pass) may be a bit high because of playing Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

The Dolphins can still run the ball and, even under Dick Jauron’s “play fast” defense, the Browns are struggling to stop the run.

But the Browns have been tough in the red zone as they are tied for third in red-zone defense and didn’t give up a touchdown to the Colts until there were 24 seconds left in the game. The Dolphins may play right into that strength as they are weak in the red zone under offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (think field goals on Sunday, not touchdowns) and have made the eighth-most negative plays in the red zone in the league.

The Most Frustrating Browns vs. Dolphins Game We’ve Ever Seen

The 1986 playoff game where the Browns blew a 21-3 lead in the third quarter as Miami rallied back to win 24-21.

We can still see Miami’s Ron Davenport running over Don Rogers on his way to the end zone.

The Prediction

If we knew the Browns were going to be healthy on offense we would feel a lot better about this game. There’s no such thing as an “easy win” for the Browns, even if the other team is 0-2 and falling apart under a lame duck coach.

We’re worried that the Dolphins are not as bad as they’ve looked over the first two weeks, but that the Browns are what they’ve looked like: a young team adjusting to a new offense and new defense that can play well in spurts, but possibly not yet for an entire game.

And the Dolphins do have the third-best road record in the NFL since 2008.

But the Browns did look noticeably better at times last week against the Colts, which gives us hope.

The Browns should think touchdowns, not field goals, just enough on Sunday to pull out the win and stay on pace with Pittsburgh and Baltimore at the top of the AFC North division.

Take the Browns and the points.

Record picking the Browns (using the point spread) this year: 1-1-0.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

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