Browns-Dolphins: Game Snapshot

ESPN has to be thanking their lucky stars that they've got the "Clash of the Titans" tonight as the Dolphins brace for the 3-11 Browns. At least the ouster of Jim Bates (pictured) in favor of Nick Saban will add some intrigue to the matchup. Here's the game preview from NFL Scout...

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 ET

GAMEDATE: 12/26/04

SURFACE: Grass

TV: ESPN, Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, Suzy Kolber

SERIES: 11th meeting. Miami leads, 6-4. The teams have not met since 1003, when Miami won 24-14.

2004 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 29th (27th rush, 25th pass); defense 20th (31st rush, 7th pass). Dolphins: offense 31st (31st rush, 22nd pass); defense 8th (30th rush, 2nd pass)

 
KEYS TO THE GAME: Browns rookie QB Luke McCown said he felt like he improved in his third start last Sunday and is eager to show his progress in better conditions in Miami. To do so, he needs another strong game from RB Lee Suggs, who hits the holes harder than William Green and needs to set up shorter passing situations for McCown to have success against the league's No. 2-ranked pass defense. The Dolphins are dealing with several injuries on defense, but the unit is still playing very well. With the Browns unlikely to score much - if at all - it's up to Dolphins QB A.J. Feeley to protect the ball and sustain drives. He's getting more help from his ground game, but also needs to prove in the final two games that he can be the team's quarterback for next season so he will push the ball downfield. While Feeley has played better, Miami's receivers continue to struggle with dropped passes.
 
FAST FACTS: Browns: Have been outscored 100-22 in three games under interim coach Terry Robiskie. ... Their opponents' winning percentage of .628 is the highest in the NFL. Dolphins: Interim coach Jim Bates was a Browns defensive assistant coach from 1991-93 and 1995. ... TE Randy McMichael has set a single-season team record for tight ends with 62 receptions, breaking Keith Jackson's (59) previous mark.
 
PREDICTION: Dolphins 20-10
 
PERSONNEL NEWS

Browns

  • TE Aaron Shea is responding slowly from a sprained right knee and right ankle. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.
     
  • RB Lee Suggs will start against the Dolphins. It will be the first start via a coach's decision in his career. He started against the Steelers earlier this season because William Green was ejected for fighting with Steelers linebacker Joey Porter before the game began.
     
  • Rookie RT Kirk Chambers is expected to see playing time against the Dolphins, but Joaquin Gonzalez will start.
     
  • FS Chris Crocker has been out three weeks with a bruised biceps. He has been unable to practice and probably won't play in Miami.
     
  • DE Kenard Lang, who went to the University of Miami, vows to play against the Dolphins despite a sprained right knee. He did not practice Wednesday but he took his full practice load Thursday.
Dolphins
  • MLB Zach Thomas (hamstring) participated in practice Wednesday and Thursday but remains listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Cleveland. Thomas has missed the past three starts because of a slightly torn hamstring.
     
  • SLB Eddie Moore (calf) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against Cleveland. Moore was replaced by Brendon Ayanbadejo in last Monday's 29-28 upset of New England.
     
  • C Seth McKinney (knee) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against New England. If McKinney couldn't play, the Dolphins would move RG Rex Hadnot to center and insert Taylor Whitley at RG.
     
  • CB Sam Madison (calf) returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session. Madison remains listed as probable for Sunday's game against Cleveland.
     
  • K Olindo Mare returned to practice Thursday because of a lingering calf injury that was aggravated two days earlier in a 29-28 upset of New England. Mare remains listed as probable but the Dolphins are prepared to re-sign Bill Gramatica if he suffers a setback.
     
  • RG Rex Hadnot practiced at center Wednesday and Thursday and would start at that position if Seth McKinney (knee) can't play Sunday against Cleveland. Hadnot has started at left and right guard in the past five games.
     
  • RG Taylor Whitley would return to the starting lineup Sunday against Cleveland if Rex Hadnot were forced to move to center to replace the injured Seth McKinney. Whitley was benched in favor of Hadnot starting with a Dec. 5 loss to Buffalo.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Browns

Luke McCown will make fourth straight start Sunday in Miami against the 2-12 Dolphins, but coach Terry Robiskie is thinking about using Kelly Holcomb if Holcomb's broken ribs are deemed ready to take a hit. As of Thursday night, team doctors declared Holcomb not ready to play.

"If Kelly is healthy and ready to go, the discussion is 'Does Kelly, a more veteran guy, give us a better chance to win, or do we see what Luke can do in Miami?'" Robiskie said. "We're still trying to win a football game. The future is Miami on Sunday. For me, I don't know if I could find a better Christmas present than to win Sunday."

McCown says he improved from the Buffalo game to the San Diego game last week. Robiskie agrees, but he won't let go the interception McCown threw on first-and-goal from the 5 in the first quarter against the Chargers. He wants McCown to run or throw the ball away and try again on second down the next time that situation arises.

"The hardest thing for a young quarterback is to get him to understand he doesn't have to win the game," Robiskie said. "I'm sure Luke watched great quarterbacks like Jim Kelly and Donovan McNabb win football games. The problem with the young guys is you put them in and they believe they have to be that person."

Despite being 0-3 as a starter with a quarterback rating of 51.2, McCown says he will be ahead next season for his experience this year.

"You can't put a value on it," McCown said. "The experience of playing in the situations we've been in and the teams we've played is invaluable for next year. You learn how to prepare and stay focused through the hardships of the team and grow from it."

McCown played on losing teams at Louisiana Tech, but he put up huge numbers - 12,994 yards passing and 88 touchdowns. He also threw 65 interceptions.

"It's tough being a rookie quarterback," he said. "You're learning a new system and getting a feel for the game. It's not like college where you can turn the ball over and still have a chance to win. You can't learn those things on the sideline. You have to learn by playing."

 
Dolphins

Word that Nick Saban was offered Miami's head coaching position didn't generate shouts of joy in the Dolphins locker room.

It's not that Dolphins players dislike Saban, who is a coach most players have never spoken with. Rather, there was strong sentiment for interim coach Jim Bates to keep the position.

"It hurts, but there's nothing signed in ink or anything," Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison said. "He's going to continue to do his job and we're going to continue doing our job for him."

Bates has a 2-3 record since replacing the departed Dave Wannstedt, but that includes last Monday's 29-28 upset of New England. The Dolphins also have made statistical improvement across the board under Bates, who had served as Miami's defensive coordinator before the interim promotion.

Bates declined comment on Saban, who spent Thursday weighing whether to accept the job offered him the previous day by Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga or remain at Louisiana State University. But Bates did address a question about his future with the Dolphins.

"When I started, the main focus was to prepare this team, improve this team and give this team a positive outlook as far as with a tough year and with everything that's taken place," Bates said. "That is still my objective. A week from Sunday, we'll talk more about this."


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