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
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.
: 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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."
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."