This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Miami Dolphins in Week 3 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
- Ryan Tannehill has started all 66 games since he was a first-round pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2012, the same class where Cleveland squandered a pick on Brandon Weeden. Things have turned out pretty well for Tannehill when you look at the massive $77 million contract extension he signed last year.
- Personally, I don’t think Tannehill is worth it. There are certain quarterbacks who have made me say, “I’d rather be in quarterback disarray [like Cleveland] than commit financially to a quarterback who ultimately will not get you anywhere.” Those quarterbacks were Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton. I got it right with Cutler, but to Dalton’s credit, he’s started to prove me wrong. Miami's record under Tannehill's watch has been 7-9, 8-8, 8-8, and 6-10.
- Tannehill’s touchdown to interception ratio during that span is quite good, but the mark of a franchise quarterback to me is how many times you can rely on that guy to put the team on his back and be the reason why you overcome the odds. I haven’t seen it from him...but maybe new head coach Adam Gase can help change that. As far as mobility goes, he isn’t as immobile as Joe Flacco, and in fact leads the Dolphins in rushing through two weeks.
- Cody Kessler gets the start for Cleveland, making him the third different quarterback to start in three games this year for the team. When you couple that with the fact that the Dolphins’ defense played a role in injuring the two quarterbacks they faced (Russell Wilson in Seattle, Jimmy Garropolo in New England), that doesn’t seem very encouraging. I hope Charlie Whitehurst is ready.
- From the time he was drafted, the scouting report on Kessler has been clear: he’s an accurate short-range thrower, but lacks accuracy and zip on downfield throws. This preseason, he also lacked a sense of awareness and had one-too-many dear-in-the-headlight moments.
- The optimistic take we can present on Kessler is that we’ve only ever seen him with the Browns’ third-team offense. Working with the first-team offense will help him considerably, but he’s also working with a first-team unit that lost its top receiver (Corey Coleman) and is dealing with two position changes on the offensive line.
- The Dolphins’ running game has gotten off to a really slow start. Taking the quarterback’s rushing data out of the equation, Arian Foster leads the backs with 16 carries for 47 yards (2.9 YPC). He’s out with a groin injury this week.
- Jay Ajayi, a fifth-round pick from 2015, will start for the Dolphins. He has 5 carries for 14 yards (2.8 YPC) this year. That's a small sample size, but consider that this preseason, he had just 2.7 YPC and Foster was at 0.7 YPC. The Dolphins are just a bad rushing team. Third-round pick Kenyan Drake is expected to see some work this week.
- Some fans may roll their eyes when I pump the statistic that Isaiah Crowell leads the NFL with a 6.5 YPC average. Heading in to Week 3, he was also third in the NFL in rushing yards. It’s not often that we have a running back ranked among the league leaders, and there’s not much to look forward to this season, so let’s savor it.
- Earlier this week on talk radio, it was discussed how Crowell and Duke Johnson really work well as a tandem because of how much Johnson has embraced his role. He’s not throwing a fit about a lack of carries or a lack of touches. He’s said that Crowell is doing great on first and second down right now, and then he’s ready to work as a receiver on third downs. To keep defenses guessing, I think Johnson should get a tad more carries, but overall, I think the running back utilization has been fine in 2016.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- Jarvis Landry is the Dolphins’ top receiver, and he’s really coming in to his own. A second-round pick in 2014, he flourished a year ago with 110 catches for 1,157 yards and 4 touchdowns. This year, he already leads the NFL with 17 catches to go with 194 yards. That puts him on pace for 136 grabs for 1,552 yards. If Miami’s ground game keeps struggling, Landry will continue getting touches.
- The Dolphins are going to play in three-receiver sets the majority of the game. Besides Landry, the other two featured receivers are Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker. Parker is looking to rebound from a rather lackluster rookie year, and Stills is a home-run hitting receiver. Last week, all three players played in at least 92% of the team’s offensive snaps. Leonte Carroo, the team’s third-round pick, won’t see much work unless Parker’s hamstring injury limits him.
- Jordan Cameron will face Cleveland for the first time since he bolted from the club in free agency last year. He didn’t live up to expectations with Miami in 2015 and is off to a slow start this year, with our Dolphins affiliate saying, “He just seemed to have forgotten how to catch the ball, with seemingly every pass thrown to him either being a drop or an incompletion.” Given the week that Dennis Pitta had against Cleveland last week, though, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Dolphins gameplan to get Cameron free.
- Cleveland will be without No. 1 receiver Corey Coleman this week after he broke his hand. Terrelle Pryor will remain in the starting lineup, and Andrew Hawkins will get starting reps. The most likely scenario is that Rashard Higgins will see a lot of snaps in three-receiver sets, as he could move to the outside while Hawkins goes to the slot. We could also see Ricardo Louis or Jordan Payton be asked to step up. I really don’t know what to expect when it comes to Kessler’s chemistry with any of these guys, though.
- As expected, Gary Barnidge in the passing game isn’t as big of a part of this offense under Hue Jackson’s watch. The Dolphins’ defense did allow Martellus Bennett of the Patriots to go for 5 catches, 114 yards, and 1 touchdown against them last week, though. Seth DeValve could see some work at receiver too due to Coleman’s injury.
- The Dolphins starting offensive line consists of LT Branden Albert, LG Laremy Tunsil, C Anthony Steen, RG Jermon Bushrod, and RT Ja'Waun James.
- As our Dolphins affiliate told us, Miami is a much better pass protecting team than they are a run blocking team. They’ve basically got four offensive tackles playing on the line, so not having a true guard hurts a bit, and Tunsil and Bushrod are prone to making some mistakes. Steen, an undrafted free agent in 2014, will start his third straight game at center, filling in for the injured Mike Pouncey. Cleveland has the ability to generate some pressure over the middle.
- The Browns have a couple of changes on the offensive line this week. First, John Greco will move from right guard to center to take over for the injured Cameron Erving. When Alex Mack was first injured in 2014, Greco took over for him. The results weren’t the greatest, as he was clearly a better guard than a center. With that said, the film doesn’t lie: Erving has made way too many mistakes over the first two weeks of the season. I would expect an upgrade at center this week.
- Where things get scary is on the right side of the line. Alvin Bailey will move from the bench to the starting right guard spot, and Austin Pasztor doesn’t have the benefit of the opposing team being without one of their best pass rushers this week like he was with Elvis Dumervil of the Ravens last week. Those guys will be vulnerable in pass protection, but at least it won’t be on Kessler’s blind side I guess.
- The even ranking is attributed to the Dolphins not having Pouncey back, and the fact that they are so poor in run blocking.
- The Dolphins' starting defensive line in a 4-3 defense consists of DE Jason Jones, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Jordan Phillips, and DE Mario Williams, with DE Cameron Wake as a substitute. That is a nightmare if those guys can tee off as pass rushers. We’ll also see them operate in a little bit of the Wide 9 approach that the Eagles took in Week 1.
- Jones might not play this week as he turned an ankle during practice. He leads the team with 1.5 sacks. There has been a lot of debate in Miami with respect to the utilization of Wake. He played 20% of the snaps last week, and at 34 years old, the club is trying to utilize him in definite pass-rushing situations only. Part of the reason is that they feel he struggles against the run. However, even without him in there, the team has been awful against the run.
- For the Browns, NT Danny Shelton has had a great first two weeks of the season and has an opportunity to overwhelm a relatively inexperienced center this week. I credit him for much of the Browns’ improvements against the run, and with Miami’s run blocking issues, Shelton can really try to take some chances to make plays in the backfield and force Miami into some third-and-long situations.
- DE Carl Nassib will miss this week’s game with a broken hand. After passing the test last week of generating pressure, DE Tyrone Holmes should see some more snaps, especially since Miami runs with three-receiver sets on almost every down.
- The Dolphins' starting linebackers are OLB Koa Misi, MLB Kiko Alonso, and OLB Jelani Jenkins. Alonso will play the entire way, but the outside linebackers won’t be everydown players. They aren’t very good in pursuing the run, so outside linebacker is certainly a position this team could use an upgrade at.
- After a rough time in Philadelphia, Alonso has been the Dolphins’ best run stopper through two weeks. He leads the team with 22 tackles and also has 3 quarterback hits and 2 fumble recoveries. Pre-injury, he was excellent in coverage with the Bills. He’s had a rough start to 2016 in coverage, though.
- I’m going out on a bit of a limb here when I give the Browns the edge at linebacker this week, but Demario Davis and Christian Kirksey have been playing very well at inside linebacker, especially with Davis’ open-field tackling ability and how he’s actually connecting on big hits (the anti-Donte Whitner).
- At outside linebacker, it’s encouraging to see Emmanuel Ogbah, Joe Schobert, and Nate Orchard not be overwhelmed against the run. I haven’t seen any significant gaffes from them through two games in that department. Now, you’d like them to continue working on their pass-rushing, because it’s going to click for at least one of these three guys at some point.
- The Dolphins' secondary features Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard as their starting cornerbacks. To say that Maxwell has had some issues in tackling this season would be an understatement:
Forget something? We don't blame you Byron Maxwell. That's 250 LBS of Blount trauma heading your way. https://t.co/RIVIGKg0ZX— FanDuel (@FanDuel) September 18, 2016
- Howard is a second-round pick by the team, and he’s gotten off to a solid start, overshadowing the veteran Maxwell. He was looking forward to going up against Corey Coleman since they were college teammates, but of course that won’t happen now.
- Miami’s starting safeties include Isa Abdul-Quddus and Reshad Jones. Michael Thomas is listed as a safety, but plays more of the nickel role. Jones has been with the Dolphins since 2010, mostly as a starter. He had five interceptions, two that went for touchdowns, in 2015. Abdul-Quddus has bounced around several teams, but in his first year with the Dolphins has been a pleasant surprise.
- Joe Haden had a great game last week. It’s not a bad thing if you give up some plays, as long as you’re making some other ones. Given the Dolphins’ three-receiver sets, we’re going to see Tramon Williams and Jamar Taylor this week for the entire game. I personally don’t think Williams at nickel and Taylor on the outside has been much of a success, so I wish they’d pull a switcharoo and send Williams back to the outside and Taylor as the nickelback.
- At first, we thought Ibraheim Campbell was benched during last week’s game, but it turns out he suffered a hamstring injury. He’ll be out this week, which means Derrick Kindred will get the start. Kindred has had an aggressive nature to him, but both he and Jordan Poyer need to show better instincts when they are up near the line of scrimmage to cover the tight end.
- I thought I knew all of the kickers in the NFL until I saw Andrew Franks listed as Miami's kicker. Where the heck was I all of last season when he was their kicker then too? He had a shockingly low number of attempts in 2015, going 13-of-16 on the year and missing three extra points. This year, he's 2-of-3, with his one miss coming on a block.
- Matt Darr is the Dolphins’ punter. Last year, Darr was among the league leaders in punting average, but was below average in net yardage as Miami yielded a lot of return yards. The same story holds true for 2016 through two games.
- The Dolphins’ kick returner is WR Jakeem Grant. He has a 45-yard return through two games. Their punt returner has been a mix of Grant and WR Jarvis Landry. Landry proved to be a threat returning punts last year, but they might leave him to important situations for 2016.
- Cleveland’s kicker situation is in disarray after Patrick Murray suffered a knee injury on Friday. He also had an extra point blocked (and returned for two points) and missed a 52-yard field goal last week. Cody Parkey could be signed to take his place on short notice. Britton Colquitt remains fine on punt returns.
- On kickoffs, it was discouraging to see RB George Atkinson fumble last week. Just take a knee unless there’s like 30 seconds left in the half, should be teams’ motto on kick returns. CB Tramon Williams will probably continue to return punts (or should I say catch punts). CB Joe Haden got one opportunity last week and returned it 13 yards, but he’s dealing with a groin injury this week and probably won’t try to press it.
This year, we’re going to list predictions for multiple staff members here at DBN. If they opt to participate each week, we’ll also keep running tallies of everyone’s record in picking Browns games.
Chris Pokorny: “The Dolphins are 0-2, but both of their losses came in arguably the two toughest places to play in the NFL: Seattle and New England. They are going to be eager to play in their home opener against a quarterback like Cody Kessler, who didn’t look anywhere near NFL-ready this preseason. Those factors force me to take the Dolphins by a comfortable margin.
There is a definite blueprint to Cleveland winning, though, and it comes when you stare at the Browns’ solid running game (up to this point) against the Dolphins’ poor run defense, and the fact that Miami can’t run the ball. That’s what I’d bank on if I were taking my overly optimistic approach. The injury hits suffered this week will hurt the continuity the team was trying to build.” Dolphins 27, Browns 17
Matt Wood: “Browns can't block up front and Kessler struggles. Browns defense makes a play or two early, but DeVante Parker makes some plays late, goes over 100 and the Dolphins never really struggle.” Dolphins 38, Browns 10.
Zach Miller: “I think it'd be easy to peg this one as a blowout, and it very well (probably) will be. However, I'm just going out on a limb, and a gut feeling that the Browns will make this a semi-competitive affair. I don't think Kessler will be terrible, let's give him 164 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. But, it won't be enough to get the W.” Dolphins 31, Browns 17.
Josh Finney: “I've been really off so far this season. I expected the defensive struggle and close game to be Week 1, and the blowout to be Week 2. I don't expect the Browns offense to do anything, so that prediction should be easy. It's a question of how much a young defense continues to improve, and how well they can play given that they're likely to be on the field an awful lot.” Dolphins 27, Browns 6.
Dan Lalich: “Offense can't get anything rolling, but the defense has the game of their lives and puts up a TD themselves. Dolphins sleep-walk into the game thinking it's an easy win and get surprised.” Browns 11, Dolphins 5.
Joe Ginley: “The offense looks sloppy with Cody Kessler at the helm and Corey Coleman out. Kessler connects with Terrelle Pryor for a score, and Isaiah Crowell has a nice game, but the offense sputters in the red zone. The secondary struggles against Ryan Tannehill, as Jordan Cameron haunts his old team with a short TD reception.” Dolphins 24, Browns 13
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below!