Miami is similar to the Browns in that they are undecided upon being a running team or a passing team. They have the backs to pound the ball repeatedly when they choose to do so but they also possess talented receiving threats, which can spread out opposing defenses. So far this season they are more of a throw to set up the run type of offense but that will likely change after these last 2 weeks of losing games in the final minute because they tried to throw the ball in goal line situations.
The Dolphins offensive line is not the same line that was struggling earlier in the year. Hudson Houck, in my opinion, is the best offensive line coach in the business. All he has managed to do is once again turn a very suspect line into an exceptionally cohesive unit. Individually the talent is somewhat lacking but Houck understands how to coach and teach. The Dolphins have not given up a sack in the last two weeks and they are opening up running lanes for Ricky and Ronnie despite the right side having two very inexperienced players manning the guard and tackle positions.
Tackle Vernon Carey and guard Rex Hadnot are a young but talented tandem on the right side. Both are second year players. Rex was a sixth round selection and Carey a first. At right tackle, the emergence of Vernon Carey has been a blessing for the Dolphins. Vernon is very mobile, likes to get out into the secondary, and continues to block until the whistle is blown. He is the blocker that Ronnie Brown likes to get behind and follow up the field. Rex plays with a very low center of gravity and has a knack for planting his feet, getting low and just driving into the defender. This is the strength of the line despite the inexperience.
Many refer to the Dolphins as the Ricky and Ronnie show but Ricky Williams has only been a shadow of himself since his year away from football. Ronnie Brown on the other hand is the leading candidate for rookie of the year. Ronnie is a big powerful back that can wear you down but he also posses that speed and balance to leave defenders grasping at shoestrings. He possesses excellent hands receiving the ball. If both backs can find their groove over these final seven games, the Dolphins may just find themselves back in the AFC East title hunt.
Mistakes at the quarterback position have been the issue for the Dolphins since Dan Marino traded in his helmet for a microphone. This has not changed with Gus Frerotte at the helm. He has had his moments and put up incredible numbers at times but mistakes at key moments is one of the reasons this talented Miami team is struggling. It is not the pressure that rattles Gus but the mixing up of zone coverage. Keep him guessing and he will make mistakes but continue to show the same defense and he will shred it. Gus remains questionable for Sunday's game with an injury to a finger on his throwing hand. If Gus does not go, look for Sage Rosenfels to get the nod.
Miami has five legitimate threats receiving the football. Receivers Chris Chambers, Wes Welker, and Marty Booker along with tight end Randy McMichael and running back Ronnie Brown all bring different threats in the passing game. They like to use multiple receiving threats to isolate the one on one match up against the linebacker while spreading out opposing defenses.
Chris Chambers is the go to guy in this offence but he must show more consistency to be regarded as that true #1 receiver. He has good speed and he will go up and fight for the ball. He is also Gus's favorite red zone target.
Randy McMichael is only one reception and one touch down behind Chambers. He will go across the middle proving that big target, and is willing to take the big hit just to move the chains. He is another favorite goal line target, which usually consists of blocking and then sliding out into the secondary once the defense has committed.
Wes Welker is a threat the moment he walks out of the locker room. If I had to pick a Dolphins MVP at this point in the season, it would be Wes Welker. Wes is a dynamic athlete that is always finding a way to be involved whether its returning punts, returning kicks or out in the slot. Wes has speed and that balance which is a nightmare for opposing defensive backs. The best way to slow him down is off the snap. When Wes enters the slot, jam him hard at the line and make him fight his way up field.
Defensively the Dolphins play a base 4-3 scheme but they will also move into the 3-4. Their scheme is dependant upon pressure from the outside with defensive ends Jason Taylor and Kevin Carter while allowing the defensive tackles to play the run and eat up blockers. This allows Zach Thomas the luxury of sliding into the gaps and stopping the run or getting pressure upon the quarterback when need be.
When they move into the 3-4, Jason Taylor will often drop back into the outside linebacker role. This is to prevent the wear and tear upon his body. This team still has not fully grasped the 3-4 scheme and is struggling at times when they make the switch to this alignment.
This is the most experienced unit in all of football. Kevin Carter, Keith Traylor, Vonnie Holiday and Jason Taylor combine for 43 years of NFL experience between them. No other team comes close to that kind of experience. The front four will make very few mistakes. Carter and Taylor can bring the heat off the edge, while Traylor and Holiday are good at not only stuffing the run but also opening lanes for Zach Thomas to come in and make plays. To defeat that kind experience and pressure, you have to wear them down by pounding the ball right between the tackles.
This unit is arguably the best LB core in football from sideline to sideline. Junior Seau is not the same player that once dominated the game but you cannot overlook anyone with 16 years of experience. That experience is a tremendous benefit for rookie Channing Crowder. Crowder is having a superb year and once he masters this Nick Saban defense, he could be the next star on this very good Dolphins defense. Zach Thomas solidifies the interior of the line. Zach struggles when Miami switches to their 3-4 but you would not know it by going on stats alone, as Zach is leading the NFL in tackles.
The Miami secondary is the weakest unit on this team. Travis Daniels has talent but he is a rookie and with any rookie corner there is that 3-year learning curve. On the opposite side, Sam Madison is one of those vet corners that simply understands the position. He is not one of those ball-hawking corners but he makes very few mental mistakes. The safety position remains a glaring issue as neither safety has ever seen a play action fake that they did not love. This leaves them extremely vulnerable on the deep pass.
Browns Battle Plan
The Browns are going to run at Zach Thomas play after play. Reuben Droughns may get 35 rushing attempts this game as the Browns look to wear down the aged defensive line and the smaller inside backer, Zach Thomas. Zach is not as good when the back is coming directly at him. He prefers angles due to his lack of size and he does not like going head to head against the bigger backs. Also, look for center Jeff Faine to attack Zach early and often.
The Browns will also look to throw over the safeties and test the rookie corner Travis Daniels. Braylon Edwards has been extremely vocal about his opportunities within this offense and he just might get his wish this week against Daniels.
Ronnie Brown is a nightmare for any defense and when you consider the Browns have struggled against the speed backs, this game will not be easy. Safeties Chris Crocker and Brian Russell must show more willingness to come up in run support. Another effort like the one they had in Pittsburgh will produce the same results that we saw last week. The Browns may look to have Andra Davis follow Ronnie Brown wherever he goes, as he is a double threat in this offense.
The Browns need Daylon McCutheon to get healthy. Last week Daylon was hampered by an ankle injury, which resulted in his being picked apart by Charlie Batch and Hines Ward, until, he left the game due to injury. His replacement Ray Mickens looked like a rookie corner making his first start. The Browns will need to jam the Dolphins receivers at the line and slow them down. Mickens covering Wes Welker is not something that I am looking forward to seeing and it might be a good time to introduce Michael Lehan to the nickel package.
If the Browns are to win this game, they must establish their offense early. In the first quarter, the Dolphins have been outscored 47-23.