J.D. Bagley, @jdbagley5
This week the Miami Dolphins come into town as the Browns look for their third straight victory, hoping to keep their slim postseason aspirations alive. ‘Tank for Tua’ is no longer the forefront of the Dolphins season after the Alabama QB went down last weekend with a season-ending hip injury that could affect his future playing career. Under first-year head coach Brian Flores, Miami is not a team the Browns can overlook as they have won 2 of their last 3 games after starting 0-7. The last time these two teams met was in 2016 down in South Beach where the Dolphins came away with a 30-24 OT victory. With Flores having his team playing good ball as of late despite an inferior roster, the Browns can’t afford to look ahead to next week for their rematch versus Pittsburgh.
Keys for a Cleveland victory begin with Baker Mayfield extending his 3 game streak without a turnover. He hasn’t been playing amazing lately, but compared to the first half of the season I think any Browns fan will take what they’re getting from Mayfield at this point. The Browns are clearly a more talented team than the Dolphins, but giving them short fields could potentially keep them around long enough in this one to make the Browns uncomfortable. With Kareem Hunt now in the fold as another offensive weapon, this Cleveland offense has begun to take strides in the right direction. He and Nick Chubb must be the focal point of the offense moving forward and that should continue this week versus Miami’s 31st ranked run defense in yards per game allowed. Chubb’s 92-yard rushing effort last week put him over 1,000 on the season, also helping him earn the most Pro Bowl votes to this point among AFC running backs. David Njoku is expected to return to action this week after being placed on IR back in Week 2. The Browns red zone offense has struggled as of late and Njoku’s 6’4 246 lb presence should help immensely. After starting the season on a bad foot, the Cleveland offensive line has performed much better recently allowing just 3 sacks during the Browns 2 game win streak. Their run blocking has been highly effective for Chubb and Hunt, enabling the play action passing game to open up. Dolphins undrafted cornerback Nik Needham, has been a surprising bright spot for Miami’s defense this year. But, he will have his hands full this weekend with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, the latter looking to extend his touchdown streak to 4 games.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns will be without multiple starters. Most notably, star pass rusher Myles Garrett is out for the remainder of the season as a result of his actions last Thursday night versus Pittsburgh. Losing Garrett is a huge blow for this defense. 2018 3rd round pick Chad Thomas, who has flashed some potential as of late, will see more playing time during Garrett’s absence. The Browns will also be without Larry Ogunjobi for this matchup due to his involvement in the fiasco last week. Devaroe Lawrence will get the start in his place this week, taking on a Miami offensive line that has given up 42 sacks this year, tied for the most in the NFL. On the back end of the defense, Cleveland lost starting safety Morgan Burnett for the season to an achilles tear. Eric Murray will start in his place and the team called up J.T. Hassell from the practice squad for depth purposes. Earlier this week, the Dolphins released RB Mark Walton after he allegedly struck his pregnant girlfriend and was arrested for the 4th time this year. 2nd-year man Kalen Ballage will get the majority of the rushing attempts on Sunday for the Miami offense that ranks dead last in rushing yards per game. Browns linebacker Joe Schobert is coming off of what was likely the best game of his career last week when he picked off Mason Rudolph twice, sacked him once, and led the team with 7 tackles. Schobert will look to lead this Browns defense through the rest of the season amidst the Myles Garrett suspension.
The Browns need to continue to build off the last two weeks and begin to play their best football of the year down the stretch. Miami is one of the least talented teams in the league, but the Browns must take care of business and sustain this win streak heading into Pittsburgh next week. Only time will tell whether this team has what it takes to make a late-season playoff push.