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Brandon Marshall Expected Back for Miami, but is That Enough?

The Cleveland Browns take on the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, a team that is sometimes just as difficult to read as the Jacksonville Jaguars are. On an overall scale, I would rate the Dolphins as the better team because of their defense, which ranks sixth in the NFL in yards allowed this season.

The issue with Miami is their offense. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall is expected to return this week, but even with him in the lineup, that has not exactly made a significant difference when it comes to putting points on the board.

In six of the team's games this year, the Dolphins have scored 15 points or less. That includes the game two weeks ago when they were shut out by the Chicago Bears (although to be fair, that came with Tyler Thigpen making a spot start).

In most of their other games, the Dolphins have averaged around 20-23 points. That isn't bad, but for the amount of yardage they can put up at times, you almost expect that their point totals would be higher. The issue is that while Chad Henne and company can move the football, they do not have an identity down in the red zone and resort to kicking too many field goals. This is evidenced by the fact that Dan Carpenter has made 26 of 31 field goals this season. He leads the league in makes and attempts. When it comes to extra points, Carpenter is second-to-last in the NFL, only in front of the Carolina Panthers.

Last week, the Dolphins arguably played their best game of the season when they defeated the Oakland Raiders on the road by a score of 33-17. With that type of score, surely the Dolphins broke out of their red zone slump, right? Let's take a look at each of Miami's three touchdowns:

  • 29 yard touchdown pass from Henne to Cobbs
  • 57 yard touchdown pass from Henne to Moore
  • 45 yard touchdown run by Ricky Williams

The Dolphins had their success against Oakland as a result of "the big play." I know the Panthers and Jaguars ripped off some big plays late against our defense, but I'd like to think we can correct those issues with better tackling as opposed to better coverage, which is what Oakland failed at.

What strikes me as interesting from the Raiders game though is that again, the Dolphins struggled to get the ball into the end zone when they got into the red zone. Miami had a great drive just before halftime, starting with 5:29 left in the period. They had a 1st-and-goal from the 8-yard line with over a minute to play. That's where things stalled again. The first play was a one-yard loss by Ricky Williams. Second down was a four-yard completion to the tight end. Third down was an incompletion. Miami kicked a 23-yard field goal.

In the fourth quarter, Miami put together another long drive, starting with 10:51 left in the game. They had a 1st-and-10 at the 15 with over five minutes to go. They ran the ball three straight times for eight yards, and had to settle for a 25-yard field goal.

I'm not trying to nitpick one game for Miami -- I understand that teams don't score 100% of the time when they enter the red zone. If I went back and reviewed other games though, I would find similar results for Miami. They can't punch it in, and if the opposing team happens to finally score on their defense, Miami finds that they are on the wrong side of the scoreboard when the final whistle blows.

The Dolphins' Wildcat had been unsuccessful this season, but they featured it more heavily against the Raiders and had some success. Based on that, I imagine they won't hesitate to include it in the gameplan against Cleveland as they try to stay competitive in the Wildcard race.

Oh, and before I finish, here is one more nugget for you:

The Dolphins are 5-1 this season on the road. At home? They are 1-4. I'm guessing home-field advantage won't have much of an impact on this game.

Who do you think will come out on top this week?