Dolphins at Browns: Who has the edge?

Okay so 0-2 wasn’t exactly what everybody had in mind. Two games behind every team in the division, the Buffalo Bills included, was definitely not what everybody had in mind.

Losing the first two games of the season at home, where this franchise is desperate for success following the 1-7 disaster a year ago and a rapid free fall in ticket sales is a nightmare beginning to the 2011 season.

It’s sent the majority of the fan base into panic mode. Frustrated fans have already started the “Fire Sparano” groups on Facebook while others have attempted to get #FireSparano trending on Twitter.

It’s safe to say these are ugly times for a franchise that’s seemingly been on a downward spiral for the past decade. But rock bottom is still a ways down.

Panicking after losses to the Patriots and Texans- probably the best team in football and a virtual lock to win the AFC South- may be a slight overreaction. But there’s no overstating how vital Sunday’s trip to Cleveland will be.

A win preserves the season, this regime, and any fragments of hope remaining in Miami. With a loss you might as well kiss this season goodbye, kick off a coaching search, and seriously entertain the possibility that these Dolphins are in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

But let’s not venture down that path any further. They haven’t lost yet and beating the Browns is a very reasonable task. Let’s evaluate the matchup.

Dolphins’ ground attack vs. Browns’ run defense

Lost in an ugly performance against Houston was the fact that the Dolphins may have found themselves a running back and an interior offensive line that’s beginning to come together.

Daniel Thomas was brilliant, outside of that one costly fumble of course, in his rookie debut, taking his 18 carries 107 yards on nearly 6.0 yards-per-carry. Mike Pouncey and Vernon Carey were solid in the trenches, finally igniting some hope for a running game that was abysmal in the preseason.

The Browns have surrendered 124.0 yards-per-game in the season’s first two weeks, ranking in at 24th in the league. I would say establishing the run early will be a priority for Brian Daboll against his former team.

Edge: Dolphins

Dolphins’ run defense vs. Browns’ ground attack

Perhaps the most disappointing revelation of the 2011 Miami Dolphins has been their struggles against the run. They rank 22nd in the league through two weeks, a far cry from finishing 7th in 2010.

What exactly is the reasoning behind the falloff? Could it be that the Dolphins severely underestimated how crucial Channing Crowder was to their success against the run?

I’m not ready to jump to conclusions after two weeks as the Patriots and Texans bolster two of the top offenses in football, but the Dolphins need to find an answer rather quickly.

The Dolphins handled Browns’ star running back Peyton Hillis very well a year ago, holding him to 3.2 yards-per-carry in their Week 13 matchup. Sunday should give us a good indication if the Dolphins have really digressed as much as it appears.

Edge: Browns

Dolphins’ passing attack vs. Browns’ pass defense

Okay, so maybe Chad Henne hasn’t arrived yet. I’m not saying he was to blame against the Texans as his only interception was due to his arm getting hit as he threw, but elite quarterbacks don’t have 12 for 30 afternoons.

The Browns have given up the second fewest yards through the air in football, but their secondary has yet to be tested. Facing Andy Dalton and Kerry Kollins is a nice way to ease into the season.

I expect there to be plays to be made down the field for Chad Henne, but only if Jake Long (can’t believe I’m saying that) and Marc Colombo get it together from a protection standpoint and a productive running game is able to relieve him of some pressure.

Edge: Push

Dolphins’ pass defense vs. Browns’ passing attack

After getting beat up by Tom Brady and Matt Schaub to start the year, the Dolphins’ secondary surely welcomes their matchup with Colt McCoy and not one intimidating receiver on Cleveland’s offense.

McCoy has been solid through two games and Mohamed Massaquoi could put up respectable numbers this season, but make no mistake, this is far from a prolific passing attack.

With a healthy Vontae Davis there wouldn’t be much to worry about outside of containing tight ends Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore, but if Nolan Carroll gets the start due to Davis’ hamstring injury it could be another long day for the Dolphins’ pass defense.

I would be more comfortable moving Will Allen to boundary corner and giving the newly signed Nate Jones nickel corner duty if I was Mike Nolan.

On an encouraging note, the pass rush finally began to materialize against Houston. If that trend continues on Sunday it could be a long day for Colt McCoy.

Edge: Dolphins 

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