Tony Sparano is now only three days away from arguably the biggest make or break game in his coaching career.
A win will keep hope alive in Miami and temporarily take some heat off of Sparano’s seat. If the Dolphins fall to the Browns a 0-5 start to the season will become likely and Sparano’s fate will be all but sealed.
Fortunately for Sparano and the Dolphins, however, Sunday is surely a winnable game and on paper they are probably a better team than the Browns.
But in order to preserve the season these Dolphins are going to have to dial up that “road warrior” mentality that enabled them to go 6-2 away from Sun Life in 2010.
Here’s what needs to happen for the Dolphins to earn their first victory of the season.
Contain Josh Cribbs
It’s no secret that poor special-teams play has haunted this regime over the past couple years. It hasn’t gotten any better this season as Dan Carpenter missed two “gimme” field goals last week and returners have been a block away from taking one back to the house on more than one occasion through two weeks.
Enter the second most feared kick returner in football, Joshua Cribbs. The Dolphins may outperform the Browns on both sides of the ball on Sunday, but if they concede a big return they could easily still fall to 0-3.
The Dolphins’ coverage teams need to stay disciplined in their assignments and fly to the football. Of course, if Dan Carpenter could just utilize the new kickoff rule and boom some footballs out of the endzone like many kickers have been able to do consistently, this wouldn’t even be an issue.
Time for the run defense to step up
The run defense that was nothing short of dominant at the tail end of 2010 is nowhere to be found. It’s only been two games, but the Patriots and Texans were able to find enough success on the ground that the Dolphins now rank 22nd in the league stopping the run.
And in last week’s game in particular, the Texans were basically able to put the nail in the coffin late in the fourth quarter by picking up a few first downs with three straight runs. Not being able to stop the run when you know its coming is a cause for concern.
Maybe Channing Crowder’s ability to fill running lanes was severely underappreciated. Maybe Paul Soliai was a one-year wonder a year ago. Whatever the case, the Dolphins need to right the ship in a hurry.
It doesn’t get any easier this week, as Peyton Hillis may be the toughest man to bring down in all of football. I think the Dolphins matchup better against more of a power running game than speedier, shiftier backs, but then again that was in the past.
Time for the offense to find an identity
In Week 1, Chad Henne was the quarterback we always hoped he’d be, tossing for more yards than any quarterback in Dolphins’ history not named Dan Marino. In Week 2, Henne didn’t even complete 50% of his passes and rookie running back Daniel Thomas was a fumble away from stealing the show with a 100-yard performance in his NFL debut.
The Browns haven’t exactly been stout against the run in the first two weeks of the season, so I expect Brian Daboll to give his old team a heavy dose of Daniel Thomas with a little Reggie Bush sprinkled in early on.
If an attempt to establish the run is stuffed by the Browns’ front seven, all the pressure will once again be placed on Henne’s shoulders. The picture is somewhat murky now, but it shouldn’t take long to finally figure out if Henne is really a different quarterback in this new system.