The first week of the 2013 NFL season has finally arrived and the Miami Dolphins will kickoff their campaign with a matchup against the Browns in Cleveland.
Since the schedule was released, there has been a lot of debate in regards to this Dolphins-Browns tilt mainly due to the fact that the outcome will have a significant impact on Miami's season. Considering the four games that follow for the Dolphins leading up to their bye, its of the utmost importance that they leave Cleveland with a win in order to avoid an up hill climb in attempts to make the playoffs. If there is ever a "must win" game in Week 1, this is it.
Despite the general perception, this is not a guaranteed victory for Miami. In fact, there is no such thing in the National Football League. The Cleveland Browns are a team on the rise, featuring a second year quarterback with potential, a potent rushing attack and a stout defensive front seven. However, this is a winnable game for the Dolphins and its one they should win after their busy offseason.
Let's take a look at some keys that the Dolphins must execute in order to start the season 1-0:
1) Protect Ryan Tannehill
The Browns front seven will likely have success in containing Lamar Miller, therefore the offensive line must ensure Tannehill has ample time to operate and find a rhythm with his receivers. With the exception of cornerback Joe Haden, there are several holes in the Browns secondary that Miami must look to exploit which is something that can only be accomplished if Tannehill remains upright. Haden will have his hands full covering Mike Wallace, leaving Brian Hartline matched up with Buster Skrine. Skrine struggled mightily last season, especially when covering the boundary, so the Dolphins must take advantage.
Miami will catch a break with first round pick Barkevious Mingo being ruled out with a bruised lung but will still have to account for the likes of Jabaal Sheard and Desmond Bryant. The 24-year old Sheard will likely be the toughest test for Miami's offensive line as he has recorded 15.5 sacks in his first two seasons in the league. While the Dolphins starting offensive line showed improvement as the preseason progressed, it remains a work in progress and will be challenged in the opener.
2) Get pressure on Brandon Weeden
The Dolphins defensive line, and defense as a whole, has the chance to become an elite unit in 2013 but it must start playing to its full potential against the Browns. Getting consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback is always a formula for success especially when that quarterback had a quaterback rating of 67.3 against the blitz a year ago. It also doesn't help Weeden's cause that the Browns first and second string right guards are out with injury. That leaves Oniel Cousins to start on Sunday after making the transistion from tackle to guard. This is a matchup that Miami's stout pass rushers must win.
Keep in mind that the Browns will be with out their top receiver in Josh Gordon meaning Weeden's best options will be Davone Bess, Greg Little and Travis Benjamin in addition to tight end Jordan Cameron. Consistent pressure from the Dolphins defense and a mediocre cast of receivers to throw to could result in a long afternoon for Weeden and the Browns offense.
3) Stop Trent Richardson and the Browns run game
Without Josh Gordon, I expect the Browns to use a heavy dose of running back Trent Richardson. Entering his second season in the NFL, Richardson is already one of the best players at the position and poses a difficult challenge for even the best defenses. Miami's 13th ranked run defense in 2012 defense will need to be better than that against Cleveland in order to eliminate the Browns most dangerous weapon. Given the lack of options available in the passing game, if Miami is able to contain Richardson the only thing that could result in a loss is poor decision making and costly turnovers.