The Cleveland Browns have an outside shot at the playoffs. They helped themselves by defeating the lowly Miami Dolphins 41-24 in a contest they led at one-time 28-0. Every aspect of the game was dominated by the Browns.
So, can the Browns now at 5-6-0 still make the playoffs? Can they run the table and finish 10-6-0? Keep in mind, only one team has ever began the season 2-6-0 and subsequently made the post-season – the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals. With the defeat, the Dolphins are now 2-9-0.
Prior to this game, Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 4-1-0 against the Browns with several clubs he played for and 3-0 at Cleveland. So, trends do indeed change.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry – This was one of Landry’s finest career games. If he wasn’t on the receiving end of many awkward catches he was hustling downfield with valuable yards-after-the-catch. 148 yards on a mere 10 catches with two touchdowns and a 14.8 average. This man catches footballs like Emeril cooks up a roux on the way to a tasty crawfish etouffee dish. Before this game he was ranked the fourth best wide receiver in the league. His touchdown snag in the second quarter was a drag route in which he outleaped Dolphins’ defender Steven Parker for the jump ball.
Middle linebacker Joe Schobert – Is it possible to bypass the Pro Bowl voting process and simply have Schobert’s name printed in the slot for AFC linebackers? This man is a tackling stud with great hands as evidenced by another game with a pair of interceptions. Led the entire defense with passes defended with four. His first pick killed a Miami drive at Cleveland’s 31. Schobert is a key player on pass coverage on the opposing tight end or running back. Can the man play tight end with those hands?
Pass Blocking – For most of the game, the offensive line gave quarterback Baker Mayfield plenty of time to throw. Mayfield was only flushed out four times, sacked only once with a single holding call. LT Greg Robinson, LG Joel Bitonio, C J.C. Tretter, RG Wyatt Teller and RT Chris Hubbard had very few issues and overall did a fine job in protection.
Pass Rush – No Larry Ojunjobi and Myles Garrett? That only meant other players had to step up - and did. Whether it was defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (two sacks) putting pressure from the inside or linebacker Chris Smith on a blitz, Fitzpatrick was hassled all day with a steady stream of bodies every time he dropped back to throw. Others that provided a good pass rush included T.J. Carrie (sack), Devaroe Lawrence, Chad Thomas, Bryan Cox, Jr. (sack), Mack Wilson, Porter Gustin (sack) and Eli Ankou. It was Richardson who saved a touchdown scramble by Fitzpatrick in the middle of the field with no defenders in sight just before the fourth quarter and just before Fitz actually scored.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield – The Browns’ signalcaller had almost a career day. His pinpoint accuracy is getting better each game as evidenced by the sideline pass he tossed to Landry with 9:03 left to go in the game in which he threaded the needle for a 22-yard gain. Two plays later, he found Landry again and placed the ball in a spot which only his receiver could catch it for a 37-yard completion that put the Browns in positive scoring position. Mayfield only scrambled four times, one of which he found Landry for a seven-yard touchdown to raise the lead to 21-0. One of his most impressive decisions occurred in the second quarter with 2:31 to go until the half. Running back Kareem Hunt fumbled to which Landry tried to pick up the loose ball but whiffed. Mayfield’s decision was not to be the hero and humbly fell on the ball to retain possession. 1:25 later Hunt found the end zone. Finished the game with 24 completions on 34 attempts for 327 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The pick was one of those freaky lucky catches for the defense.
Cornerback T.J. Carrie – Carrie is one of the club’s best tacklers. He was sent on several corner blitzes and just barely missed getting Fitzpatrick on several occasions in which the Dolphins’ quarterback ran for positive yardage instead. He finally netted a sack on Miami’s first possession of the fourth quarter which forced a punt near midfield.
Opening drive Touchdown – Was this a thing of beauty or what? Two big pass completions to Landry and running back Nick Chubb aided the eight-play 72 yard drive that culminated with Mayfield leaving the pocket and threaded a pass to Landry in the end zone. Could the Browns keep that up? That could, and they did.
Pass Defense – The good news was that Fitzpatrick could only muster 192 passing yards. The bad news was that quite a few of his completions were for critical third downs. In the first half, this unit was sterling but the second half was a completely different situation. The trend began just before the half on the Dolphins final drive that culminated with a field goal. Before that drive, Fitzpatrick had only five completions on 10 attempts for 40 yards and an interception. He then completed six of eight passes for 63 yards on that one drive and had Miami sitting on the Browns’ 18-yard line with the clock down to one second remaining and no chance at the end zone. The Dolphins were able to carve big chunks to keep their drives alive in the second half.
Protection Of the lead – Often when one team is up big at the half, they somehow assume the game is over. Up 28-3 at intermission, Miami did not collapse and take their football and go home. The contest quickly became a 28-17 game. After Mayfield threw behind Odell Beckham, Jr. and landed in the unaware hands of Dolphins’ cornerback Ryan Lewis, they marched down in seven plays to cut the previous halftime lead to 28-10. Next, after a missed field goal, Miami took over on their own 36 and 11 plays later found the end zone to cut the lead to 28-17. That drive was aided by pass completions of 16, 10, and 15 yards, a 13-yard run and two key third down conversations.
Penalties – Once again, several key penalties called at the worst time. Greedy Williams had two bad plays, one of which resulted in a pass interference call that kept a Miami drive alive. Tretter’s holding call negated a nice first down run by Nick Chubb.
Milk Bones –virtuous but a bad after-taste
Defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. – Was excellent in rush defense and decent in pass rush. Had three total tackles, but his block in the back penalty after the Schobert interception cost the team excellent field position when the Browns had set up camp at the Dolphins’ 17-yard line.
Running back Tandem – The Browns’ duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt need a catchy nickname. When called upon, both had an excellent game and are very dependable with pass blocking when kept in. Chubb had another 100-yard game with 106 and added 58 receiving yards while Hunt added 37 yards rushing. Both scored touchdowns. My suggestion is “the Brown Bombers”: the B-24 and the B-27.
Special Teams – Kicker Austin Seibert was 2-3 on field goals and 5-5 on extra points, but his untimely miss came at a juncture when Miami had just scored 10 unanswered points. Kickoff coverage was excellent especially Smith, Tae Davis, Dontrell Hilliard, KhaDarel Hodge and Sione Takitaki. Punter Jamie Gillan was only called one once, but in his lone attempt to drive it inside the 20 he misjudged the distance and only netted a 37-yard kick to Miami’s 28. Browns’ kick returner Taywan Taylor brought out the kick from two yards deep in the end zone and was nailed at the 15. One of Seibert’s kickoffs was only to the nine yard line whereas another went out-of-bounds which set the Dolphins up at the 40. Takitaki and Hodge stuffed Miami’s fake punt attempt on a fourth-and-seven from their own 42 which set up Cleveland’s third touchdown. Dolphin kick returner Marcus Sherels took it one yard deep in his own end zone and was slammed by Davis at the 19-yard line.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. – Happy to again see some positive playing time for the talented receiver. Was targeted eight times and caught six for 84 yards and a touchdown. The Mayfield interception hit him in one hand but was behind him. Was a very good downfield blocker as well.