- In a tanking season, the Dolphins made the decision earlier this year to go with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick over second-year quarterback Josh Rosen. Fitzpatrick has had many highs and lows in his NFL career, but it has mostly been highs against Cleveland, a team he has a 5-1 record against. This season, he’s completing 63.2% of his passes with 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. With all the changes up front for Miami’s offensive line, Fitzpatrick has been sacked 18 times over his last 4 games.
- The stock is back up for Baker Mayfield, who in his last three games has thrown for 5 touchdown passes to 0 interceptions. Also improved during that stretch is that he’s taken just 5 sacks in 3 games. After facing a long stretch of tough defenses (at San Francisco, at New England, at Denver, and then against Buffalo and Pittsburgh), Mayfield finally sees a secondary that can be shredded with relative ease.
- The Dolphins’ running back situation is a mess. Mark Walton was their starting back as of a few weeks ago, but he was suspended for now just released for several conduct issues, including striking a pregnant woman. Walton had 53 rushes for 201 yards (3.8 YPC).
- Kenyan Drake is no longer with the Dolphins after playing 6 games this year. He ran 47 times for 174 yards (3.7 YPC). That means that Kalen Ballage is the team’s new starting back, who has an eye-popping 64 carries for 122 yards (1.9 YPC) and 3 touchdowns this year. I should note that he had a 75-yard rushing touchdown in 2018. Running back is definitely not a position of strength for Miami.
- Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should be ready to feast. Both of these backs have shown great skillsets against top defenses, and now they face a defense that is terrible against the run. The Dolphins are allowing 148.3 yards rushing per game, which is 31st in the NFL. The Dolphins allowed two 100-yard rushers in the same game against Dallas in Week 3, and James Conner took them for 145 yards rushing in Week 8.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- The Dolphins’ best offensive weapon is DeVante Parker, who has 40 catches for 604 yards and 4 touchdowns this year. The former first-round pick has not lived up to his draft status in Miami, but now in year No. 5, he is on pace to have the best season of his career.
- Undrafted free agent Preston Williams was coming on strong for Miami, but sadly tore his ACL a couple of weeks ago. Besides Parker, taking reps at receiver is a rotation of Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson, and Jakeem Grant. Tight end Mike Gesicki has 28 catches for 294 yards, but has been kept out of the end zone.
- It’s pretty amusing how similar the stats are through ten games for Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry:
- Beckham and Landry have been seeing a lot of targets recently, and one would also imagine that Landry would love to have a big game against his former team. Rashard Higgins went without a target last week, but still saw 40% of the snaps and will be ready for whenever the ball comes his way.
- At tight end, it was announced that David Njoku will not be activated this week yet. Expect him to be ready for the Steelers game; in the mean time, that means one more week for Stephen Carlson to make a name for himself.
- The Dolphins’ starting offensive line features LT Julien Davenport, LG Michael Deiter, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Evan Boehm, and RT Jesse Davis. There are long-term reasons to be concerned about the Browns’ defensive line being depleted, but for the first week, this is an ideal match-up. The weaknesses stem across the board; aside from Davis, I’m not sure how many of these guys would be able to start for other teams in the NFL. From PFF:
The Dolphins offensive line is ranked 32nd in pass-blocking efficiency through 11 weeks (pressure allowed per snap, weighted toward sacks) at 79.3.
- Cleveland’s offensive line is starting to stabilize, much like it did last year after the midway point of the season. The improvement coincided a bit with when Wyatt Teller became the starting right guard, although I wouldn’t say there’s been a vast improvement since he replaced Eric Kush. The line is leaps and bounds better than Miami’s, which should tell you something.
Defensive Line / Linebacker
- The Dolphins run a 3-4 defense, with DE Avery Moss, NT Davon Godchaux, and DE Christian Wilkins as the starters up front, with veteran DE John Jenkins and DE Taco Charlton as part of the rotation. Wilkins, their first-round pick, doesn’t put up flashy stats, but was noted by our Dolphins affiliate as having a solid rookie year, lining up on the interior in 4-3 looks and at defensive end in the base 3-4. It’s unclear if Charlton will be available with an elbow injury.
- Cleveland will be without Myles Garrett the rest of the season, Larry Ogunjobi is suspended this week, and Olivier Vernon will miss his third straight game with a knee injury. We are probably looking at a starting defensive line of Chad Thomas, Sheldon Richardson, Devaroe Lawrence, and Chris Smith. Like I said earlier, against a good team, that would be terrible for Cleveland. But this comes off as a preseason second-string vs. second-string. Cleveland won’t have a defensive advantage in the trenches, but Miami won’t have the talent to take advantage of that.
- The Dolphins’ linebackers are Sam Eguavoen, Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, and Charles Harris. McMillan, the former Ohio Stater, has been a bright spot on Miami’s defense:
#Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan made our first-quarter all-pro team @PFF— Ryan Smith (@PFF_RyanSmith) October 4, 2019
He currently leads all qualifiers at his position in overall grade (88.0) and ranks fourth in run-defense grade (84.3) #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/9Rrg8a5l76
- Perhaps the more concerning thing for Cleveland’s defense this week is the fact that Joe Schobert could be a game-time decision after he came down with a groin injury during the week. If Schobert can’t play, then Sione Takitaki might be thrown into the fire. Both teams are thin or weak in the front seven this week, so it’s an even match-up.
- The Dolphins’ secondary has been such a mess with injuries that it is hard to tell who will play where:
Dolphins secondary that looked solid at start of the season included two former Pro Bowl players in Xavien Howard and Reshad Jones. Both on IR. Starting FS Bobby McCain on IR. Eric Rowe admittedly still learning to play S. And here come OBJ and Jarvis Landry.— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) November 21, 2019
- The one player to watch for in the secondary is undrafted rookie Nik Needham, who is one of the highest-graded rookies in the NFL this year, per PFF:
Top 2 have blown me away. pic.twitter.com/KHGrzx1F7r— Cris Collinsworth (@CollinsworthPFF) November 21, 2019
- Cleveland will be without S Morgan Burnett for the rest of the season, and Juston Burris — who has been opportunistic — figures to start in his place. The rest of the secondary is in tact, but I am a bit concerned with how Greedy Williams has been playing. Cleveland’s cornerbacks have been getting caught with about two long pass interference penalties a week, penalties that could be mitigated if they just snap their head around sooner. Nonetheless, the edge far-and-away goes to Cleveland here.
- Jason Sanders is the Dolphins’ kicker. He is 9-of-13 on field goals this year and 14-of-14 on extra points. Austin Seibert tasted his first two misses of the season last week, both coming at the Dawg Pound end of the field.
- Matt Haack is the Dolphins’ punter. He is 18th in the NFL with an average of 45.8 yards per punt, and 16th with a net average of 41.8 yards per punt. Jamie Gillan is tied for third in the NFL with 23 punts inside the 20. He had a few punts set up beautifully to be downed inside the 20 last week, but the coverage units botched it twice.
- Jakeem Grant will handle kickoffs and punts for Miami. He broke a kickoff return 101 yards last week for a touchdown. Defensively, the Dolphins rank 32nd in the NFL in covering kickoffs, allowing 32.4 yards per return. The Browns rank 3rd, allowing just 19.3 yards per kickoff return.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “If this were any other week, I’d be very concerned about the Browns’ front seven. They can hold their own against Miami, a team that even at there best will not march up and down the field for scores. Despite two recent victories, Miami’s defense is atrocious — They have lost games 59-10, 43-0, 31-6, 30-10, and have allowed over 30 points twice to the Bills this season. With the Browns’ offense starting to pick up steam, they can control the game on that side of the ball with a running game that can’t be stopped, and open receivers for big plays.” Browns 31, Dolphins 17.
Matt Wood: “Browns roll. Get back on the bandwagon y’all. Browns offense explodes as the passing game gets on track. Defense has a bit of a harder time but the secondary makes some plays to turn this one around halftime.” Browns 38, Dolphins 20.
rufio: “Our pass rush is nerfed because we are (rightfully) missing Myles and Larry, but Wilks turns to more blitzes as we rely on Ward and Williams to cover more man to man than we’ve seen. We get burned a few times but it works for the most part. Our offense finally begins to look like it should have all year and we score a bunch, with the WRs exploding for a few big plays and Chubb and Hunt heavily involved in the gameplan.” Browns 31, Dolphins 19.
Tom Moore: “If there was ever a time that a team needed to blow off steam and roll over an opponent, it is this week’s Cleveland Browns. Luckily, the schedule makers are sending the Miami Dolphins to town with their 29th ranked offense and 29th ranked defense. As cries of “Free Myles Garrett” ring out through FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns take out a season’s worth of frustrations on the Dolphins.” Browns 35, Dolphins 10.
BigTownBrown: “Miami is a two win team but FitzMagic is 5-1 all time vs the Browns. This time tho it doesn’t matter! Kitchens has his team playing 1 game at a time, and Baker Mayfield is playing up to potential. This is the week the Browns offense is clicking on all cylinders. Huge game for Odell ( 200 yards and 3 touchdowns). Nick Chubb runs for 150 and Hunt has 2 receiving TD’s to add to the score. ” Browns 38, Dolphins 6.
Barry Shuck: “This is the time to step up if the Browns have any chance of getting into the post-season. With upcoming games against the Ravens and Steelers, which Cleveland beat both convincingly, plus three potential wins against the Cardinals and twice against the Bengals, the Browns cannot afford to lose more than one more game or it is pretty much over. Let’s make it three wins in a row with a victory over Miami.” Browns 34, Dolphins 10.
Ezweav: “We are doomed, but somehow not sure that’s going to matter this week. That the Dolphins are awful is one thing, but I’m also thinking our guys are going to be more than a little perturbed after everything that has transpired over the last week or so. Baker is quietly putting together a solid string of performances and there’s nothing to suggest that won’t continue against a, charitably, complete trash Miami defense. The addition of Kareem Hunt to lineup has been like a jolt of energy, and that should be buttressed by the return to the lineup of David Njoku (whose absence I believe had a huge amount to do with our 1st half offensive struggles, particularly at the goal line).
Defensively, losing Myles sucks but having both our starting CB’s as well as Randall goes a long way towards at least partially mitigating that huge loss up front. I think will have more than enough for FitzBeard in this one and against my better judgement, the good guys roll.” Browns 29, Dolphins 13.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.