While much of the focus will be on struggling offenses, the Browns and Dolphins featured two defenses that dominated much of the game. The front sevens in particular took over the game and dictated what the opponents were able to do. The Dolphins all but abandoned the running game and just let Ryan Tannehill pass whle the Browns would allow Trent Richardson to occasionally break four tackles on the way to a three yard run in between Brandon Weeden passing attempts. Tannehill was able to work through the pressure and the lack of a running game and punch through in the second half that led to two Dolphins touchdowns and ultimately led them to the victory. The Dolphins ultimately won 23-10.
The Browns defense was exactly as it was touted to be. The front seven shut down the opposing running game, were able to send pressure at Tannehill and forced him to get rid of the ball out of awkward positions that allowed them to force punts and get off the field. The Browns were able to get four sacks on Tannehill all from free agent acquisitions: two from Desmond Bryant, one from Quentin Groves, and one from Paul Kruger.
As good as the defense played for the Browns, they had opportunities they missed. To Tannehill’s credit, he was able to avoid pressure in the pocket and make a few opponents miss on pass rushes with relatively subtle movements within the pocket, enabling him to buy time and make throws. The Browns also had an interception by Tashaun Gipson off of a D’Qwell Jackson tip but dropped two passes right in the hands of Joe Haden and T.J. Ward.
When Tannehill had time he was able to pick opponents apart. He was able to weather the storm, showed impressive poise and really hung in there and played well as the game wore on, even if the stats do not look pretty. Tannehill really picked on Chris Owens early and then took turns between Owens and Buster Skrine. Skrine will be skewered this week because of a coverage he was beaten on where Brian Hartline used an out an up double move to score a touchdown. This was two plays after Ward dropped the ball in the end zone, so a blown opportunity there resulted in 7 points. Skrine was later called for pass interference in the end zone on the next drive which resulted in a run for a touchdown that allowed the Dolphins to go up 20-10. The Browns defense goes as far as their front seven can carry them and when they were effective, the Browns coverage was effective. When they could not get pressure, the coverage was ravaged. The lone bright spot was Joe Haden who really stifled Mike Wallace. Wallace was not targeted the entire first half and the first time they tried to him in the second half was a dropped interception by Haden.
The Dolphins defense was absolutely dominant. As if the preseason were not enough of an indicator of the fact that Oniel Cousins has no business being on an NFL roster, Jared Odrick and Paul Solai hammered the point home, absolutely dominating Cousins from start to finish. They all but shut down the right side of the line and really crushed the running game. They were also able to put pressure on Weeden up the middle and deflected a couple passes as they put Cousins into Weeden’s lap. In all, the Dolphins racked up six sacks, three interceptions, forced a fumble they did not get, and took Richardson out of the game.
Cameron Wake is an elite defensive end and while Mitchell Schwartz is a promising right tackle¸Wake showed him how far he still has to go. Wake was dominant and was able to get pressures early on that turned into sacks as the game wore on, including a 4th and 2 play where he was able to beat Schwartz off of the snap and get the sack. Wake totaled 2.5 sacks total and was everything a dominant defensive end should be. The left side of the Browns offensive line held up in pass protection but after some initial success getting push, they had trouble creating any space in the running game.
It was apparent just how much Weeden and the Browns offense misses Josh Gordon as the receivers struggled without him. Greg Little had some catches but drops, one of which resulted in one of Weeden’s three interceptions. Travis Benjamin has talent but he gets pushed around physically and he gets pushed around on the field. Jordan Cameron and Davone Bess were the only players that seemed remotely threatening as the game progressed. In spite of a tipped ball that resulted in an interception that was more of a bad example of ball placement by Weeden, Cameron had a good game and was able to make a number of plays throughout the game and caught the Browns lone touchdown.
Weeden showed decent poise in the pocket and battled all the way until the end, but he was clearly the second best quarterback in this game. While one of the interceptions was really on Weeden and a bad forced pass on the first drive of the game, the one off of Cameron was debatable, but he just never looked effective. He made a few nice throws, but his accuracy was inconsistent and the Dolphins’ ability to take Richardson forced the game into his hands and he was not able to elevate his game. The Dolphins defense is a big time test and was incredibly impressive but the issues Weeden had are the ones that continue to dog him and make the rumblings louder and louder that the Browns will get a quarterback early in next year’s draft to replace him.
There are areas the Browns can be excited about including their front seven, which should only get better when they get Barkevious Mingo and Athyba Rubin back from injury. They have to like what Cameron showed in this game. Richardson looked explosive in spots but needs space to operate more effectively. The Dolphins have to love what their defense is doing and it should only get better as they are able to develop and integrate their rookie, Dion Jordan. Jonathan Martin was not great but he was not as bad as many expected. Tannehill had some issues but really looked good in spots, especially in the second half. Hartline excelled in his role across from Wallace and really took advantage. On the other hand, they have to find some way they can run the ball to take pressure off of Tannehill if they want to keep up with opponents. The Dolphins top the Browns 23-10.