Pregame Observations: Cleveland Edition

The Dolphins find themselves in dire need of a victory as they travel to Cleveland for Sunday's game at Cleveland Browns Stadium. But they once again will have to do it without their full complement of players on the active roster.

• Yes, injuries remain a problem on defense. Defensive end Tony McDaniel will miss a second consecutive game because of a hand injury, Vontae Davis also has been ruled out because of a hamstring injury, and Will Allen and Karlos Dansby also are nursing injuries.

• That's a pretty significant group of players there. The biggest worry, obviously, would have to be at cornerback because if Allen can't go, then you're looking at Sean Smith, Nolan Carroll, Jimmy Wilson and recently signed Nate Jones. That doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence.

• Then again, if you're going to be short at cornerback for a week, this is the week. That's because the Browns just don't have very imposing wide receivers. Mohamed Massaquoi, Greg Little, those guys don't exactly create a lot of fear.

Josh Cribbs, you say? Yes, Cribbs is a game-breaker. But as a returner, not a receiver.

• That's why Tony Sparano says the only time he breathes easy on kickoffs is when the ball goes through the end zone. But that's not exactly been Dan Carpenter's forte lately, has it?

• Fact is, Carpenter is not exactly on a good run going back to the last few weeks of last season. Yes, he missed some long ones in December of 2010, but he's also coming off a really bad game against Houston where he had one blocked because he kicked it too low and he later missed a 34-yarder.

• Of course, the Dolphins wouldn't depend on Carpenter so much if they were better in the red zone. Only three teams have made more than the Dolphins' 10 trips inside the red zone this season, but Miami has only four touchdowns on those 10 drives. That's just not good enough. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll says it comes down to execution, while Sparano says the biggest problem has been negative plays. From this end, the passing game needs to be much sharper in the red zone, with Chad Henne needing to be more accurate and his receivers needing to make the tough catches.

• In the running game, it will be interesting to see how the Dolphins utilize Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas and whether they line up together in the backfield. Bush probably needs to get the ball more often than he did against Houston, but Thomas showed in that game he deserves to get his share of carries.

• One thing about the running game: It probably will be more difficult to run against the Browns than the Texans. While Houston's defense is much improved under Wade Phillips, it's not exactly a run-stuffing group mainly because it lacks a big-time nose tackle. Cleveland, meanwhile, has two big run stuffers in its 4-3 in Ahtyba Rubin and rookie Phil Taylor. Don't expect to see the gaping holes up the middle we saw last week.

• Moving beyond X's and O's, though, perhaps the biggest obstacle for the Dolphins in this game will be playing with confidence, something that wasn't apparent in the first two games. It's especially critical, more so than most weeks, for the Dolphins to get off to a good start.

• Calling any game a must-win in the NFL doesn't make sense because the 16-game schedule automatically makes every game critical, but it's clear things could get ugly in Miami if the Dolphins don't find a way to beat Cleveland.

Jason Taylor talked Thursday about getting on the plane and kicking "somebody's ass," but any victory at this point will do. It doesn't have to be a blowout, it doesn't have to be pretty, but the Dolphins need for something good to happen. Going back to last year, they have lost their last five, so it's time.

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