The Cleveland Browns take on the Miami Dolphins at home today, presenting another opportunity for the Browns to prove their relevance in the NFL. Winning this game would put them at 2-1, a record that many fans should be content with given the disappointing way in which the Browns opened the season.
Running back Peyton Hillis has been ruled out for today’s game, but that doesn’t make it impossible for this team to win. Will it be more difficult? Sure, but this now acts as a true test of where this team is at mentally.
Here are five keys to the game that will help the Browns beat the Dolphins:
1. Give the ball to Montario Hardesty: Even with Peyton Hillis ruled out for today’s game, it would be in the Browns’ best interest to give Hardesty the ball often. This offense likes to pass, but it will only go as far as the running game can take them. The Dolphins currently have one of the worst pass defenses in the league, giving up 361.5 yards per game, but they’re not exactly stout against the run, either. This is the Browns’ best chance to finally see what they have in Hardesty.
2. Continue getting pressure on the quarterback: The young defensive line was impressive against the Colts last Sunday, and needs to build upon that performance against the Dolphins. Rookies Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard are already making their presence known, helping the secondary turn in the NFL’s second-best, giving up only 165.5 yards per game.
3. Stop the Dolphins’ running game: Any time a team can present two quality running backs, it is enough to note as a potential problem for a defense. Rookie Daniel Thomas has taken over as the every-down back, while Reggie Bush appears to be settling back into a role similar to his in New Orleans. Their styles, mixed with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s penchant for unpredictability, will keep the Browns defense on their toes. As of today, the Browns are giving up 124 yards per game on the ground.
4. Get out to a fast start: The Browns can’t continue having abysmal first quarters and simply expect to turn it around in the second quarter of every single game. They need to limit the penalties and mistakes in the first quarter and jump out to an early lead. With Hillis out, there is a lot of pressure on the rest of the offense to perform, and it will only make things more troublesome to once again stumble out of the gate.
5. Forget about the past two weeks: Browns teams of the past have often seemed stuck in the past, resting on their laurels from a previous week or descending into a tailspin after a particularly disappointing loss. The Browns of yesteryear might come out slow against the Dolphins after taking care of business against the Colts on the road, but this is a new era of Browns football, or so we hope. The Browns simply have to operate in the moment, putting everything – injuries to teammates, past weeks’ successes or failures, etc. – else out of their mind. Doing so will go a long way in making this a game the Browns can win.