Game Preview: Cleveland at Miami

When they play host to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Dolphins will seek to get two games over .500 for the first time since they were 2-0. More importantly, the Dolphins need to put together a winning streak if they are to have any chance of returning to the playoffs. Here's a complete breakdown of the matchup.

WHO: Cleveland Browns (4-7) at Miami Dolphins (6-5)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

SITE: Sun Life Stadium

SURFACE: Natural grass

TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf


KEYS TO THE GAME: Miami swarmed under the Raiders' vaunted running game last week and the same game plan could limit Browns RB Peyton Hillis. That strategy puts the spotlight on Jake Delhomme, the likely starter for Cleveland, who has one TD and six interceptions this season. The Browns have 23 takeaways and 23 sacks. If they get to QB Chad Henne -- he has 11 interceptions in the past seven games -- the Browns can be within shouting distance in the second half. But Cleveland is 2-8 in its last 10 road games and the Browns don't have many big-play threats.

FAST FACTS: Dolphins WR Davone Bess leads the NFL with 24 third-down receptions. ... Browns QB Jake Delhomme has a QB rating of 54.2 this season.



The secondary got some needed depth when the Browns were awarded Sabby Piscitelli after claiming him on waivers from Tampa Bay. Piscitelli practiced Thursday for the first time in a Browns uniform and hopes to get acclimated quickly enough to play against the Dolphins on Sunday in Miami.

Piscitelli was a second-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2007. He started 20 of 45 games. He had 13 tackles in 11 games this season.

"I don't want to look back on Tampa Bay," Piscitelli said before his first practice. "That's behind me. I'm happy to be here and I want to do what I can to help this team."

Coach Eric Mangini described his newest safety as "big, strong, fast and aggressive."

In past weeks the Browns have been forced to use Ray Ventrone in sub pass defenses. Ventrone is an excellent special teams player, but pass coverage is not his strong suit. Piscitelli has five career interceptions.

This week the Browns have devoted some practice time to preparing for the Dolphins' Wildcat offense. Two days might not be enough to get Piscitelli up to speed.

The Browns are familiar with defending the Wildcat because they see it in practice when they defend Josh Cribbs, but the Dolphins have more Wildcat plays than the Browns have.

"They have a lot more options and a lot more formations," linebacker David Bowens said. "Quarterback in the game, quarterback out of the game ... Fullback in, three tailbacks in, they're very creative."

By contrast, when Cribbs lines up behind center for the Browns, the opposing defense only has to figure where Cribbs is going to run. The exception was in the New England game when Cribbs stunned the Patriots by handing the ball to Chansi Stuckey from a Wildcat formation. The play worked so well it went for 11 yards and a touchdown.

"There's a tattletale on every play, so you have to lock into a specific key for each formation," Bowens said. "Conceptually there are a lot of similarities to what they do, but watching film this week and identifying those keys is very important."

One week ago the Dolphins used the Wildcat a season-high 12 times in a 33-17 victory over Oakland. The week before against the Bears they did not use the Wildcat at all and lost, 16-0.

Being shut out by the Bears was a result of Tyler Thigpen starting in place of Chad Henne at quarterback more than it was of not snapping the ball directly to Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams in the Wildcat, but regardless the reason, the Dolphins do not use the unconventional offense as much as they did last season. They do use it, though, and that's the predicament facing the Browns.

Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning, in his second stint with the Dolphins, used the Wildcat formation 91 times in 2008. He used it 93 times last season, but only 39 times so far this year.


Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline has drawn more than his share of flags for defensive pass interference, illegal contact and the like since entering the league in 2009 as a fourth-round pick out of Ohio State.

Nnamdi Asomugha, the Raiders' All-Pro corner, became Hartline's latest victim on Sunday. Flagged just four times through the Raiders' first 10 games, Asomugha was whistled for defensive holding against Hartline on a second-and-15 play in the second quarter. Five yards, automatic first down.

"He didn't say anything," Hartline says. "I kind of looked at him and he looked at me and kind of knew. I wasn't playing games. I was just making it difficult on him."

Hartline, a Canton, Ohio, kid who gets to play his hometown Browns this Sunday, has a way of doing that.

Instincts are a big part of Hartline's game, as is reconnaissance, both through film and talking to friends around the league. He'll even check out the stats to see which opposing defensive backs are more apt to be flagged than others.

"To me it's just part of the preparation," he says. "I watch guys and their feet and how they transition and how you can get yourself in (advantageous) situations. If guys have gotten more calls, I like to attack them in different ways. I've always thought it's part of the game."

Hartline has drawn all five pass interference penalties whistled against Dolphins opponents this year. Take out the one that was declined against the Ravens' Lardarius Webb, when Hartline still made the 34-yard catch, and Hartline has drawn four "PI" flags totaling 64 yards.

This comes in addition to his 43 receptions for 615 yards (team-high 14.3-yard average).



-- KR/PR/WR Josh Cribbs did not practice Thursday because of a foot injury sustained Nov. 14. He played last week but was limited.

-- QB Colt McCoy missed practice with a sprained left ankle.

--LB Eric Barton practiced Thursday. A shoulder injury forced him to miss practice Wednesday.

-- Fullback Lawrence Vickers missed practice Wednesday because of a calf injury, but he practiced Thursday.

--S T.J. Ward practiced Thursday. He missed practice Wednesday with a thigh injury.

-- The Browns are down to Peyton Hillis and Mike Bell as their only running backs after waIving Thomas Clayton Wednesday.


-- WR Brandon Marshall (right hamstring) again was limited Thursday as he practiced for a second straight day. Marshall has been receiving round-the-clock treatment since suffering the injury Nov. 18 against the Bears, including home visits from Dolphins trainer Kevin O'Neill.

-- ILB Channing Crowder (right knee) sat out a second straight day of practice. If he can't go, veteran backup Tim Dobbins would take his place against the Browns.

-- ILB Karlos Dansby (toe/wrist) was limited again Thursday in practice but continued to take the majority of the first-team reps next to Dobbins.

--D T Chris Baker earned praise from Tony Sparano after a 15-snap debut in his first NFL action. Baker, signed off the practice squad last week, was added for additional stoutness against the run.

-- CB Sean Smith drew praise from defensive coordinator Mike Nolan for his ability to shift inside and play strong safety in the nickel package, an experiment that has taken hold since veteran corner Al Harris was added three games ago.

Dolphins Report Top Stories