A perennial problem for the defense is making it difficult for the Browns to get off the field again.
The Browns pass rush this season is even more anemic than it was in 2005 and 2006. After five games, the Browns have four sacks. They finished with 23 in 2005. Kamerion Wimbley was drafted in the first round in 2006 and the sack total climbed to 28, 11 of them by Wimbley. The converted defensive end from Florida State made the decision by general manager Phil Savage to take Wimbley over nose tackle Haloti Ngata seem like the right one.
But this year, the Browns are averaging less than a sack a game, and Wimbley, whose personal goal was a sack a game, has only two. Both occurred in a 26-24 loss to Oakland. Robaire Smith sacked Carson Palmer once. Chaun Thompson and Antwan Peek combined for a sack against the Steelers.
The Browns have gone two straight games without a sack. They will try to end the drought Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium against the 0-5 Dolphins. The Dolphins have scored 97 points, 29 fewer than Cleveland, but that does not mean the Browns are in for an easy afternoon defensively.
Dolphins starting quarterback Trent Green suffered what might be a career-ending concussion in Houston, which means the Browns will face Cleo Lemon. Lemon, in his fourth season, has been sacked only once in 28 pass plays. Green was sacked seven times. The numbers indicate getting to Lemon will not be easy.
A meager pass rush has contributed to problems in the secondary. The Browns have allowed 15 touchdown passes less than a third of the way through the season. They allowed only 20 all last season while going through a series of injuries.
"It has something to do with it," coach Romeo Crennel said, referring to the inferior pass rush. "When you don't have the pass rush, the quarterback has more time and the receivers have more time to get open, so it kind of goes hand in hand."
The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes in the opener, the Bengals' Palmer threw five touchdown passes in the second game and the Patriots' Tom Brady threw three last week. Crennel isn't letting his team off the hook just because they were scorched by three superior quarterbacks.
"They're throwing the ball over our head this year," said Crennel. "We're not disciplined enough to stay back, where as last year we were more disciplined. We're working on that to try and be more disciplined to get back and not let them throw the ball over our head."
Crennel said the same thing after playing Pittsburgh, Cincinnati (even though the Browns won) and Oakland. The receivers did not get behind the secondary against Baltimore and even though the Ravens posted 418 yards of offense, they scored only one touchdown. Crennel could live with that.
"I can't pinpoint what's happening," cornerback Leigh Bodden said. "Last year, we didn't let them throw it over our head. We made them earn it. This year we haven't been doing that. We have to get back to that."
-- The Browns nearly ended Miami's perfect season in 1972 in a divisional playoff game. They led 14-13 in the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins retook the lead on an eight-yard run by Jim Kiick and won, 20-14. Mike Phipps threw five interceptions.
-- The Browns and Dolphins met again in a divisional playoff game on Jan. 4, 1986, with similar results. The Browns led 21-3 in the third quarter, but Miami rallied with three unanswered touchdowns to win, 24-21.
-- Earnest Byner set a Browns' playoff record in the 1986 game with 161 yards rushing. Byner also has the second-most playoff rushing yards with 122 against the Colts on Jan. 9, 1988.
-- Trent Dilfer was the starting quarterback when the Browns shut out the Dolphins 22-0 two years ago. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown and had a passer rating of 103.2. The game marked the debut of Charlie Frye. Frye completed six of 11 passes for 58 yards. He led the Browns to a field goal on the final play of the first half. Dilfer took over in the third quarter. Frye was the starter two weeks later.
-- One of the low points of the dismal 2004 season was a 10-7 loss in Miami the night after Christmas. Olindo Mare won the game on a 51-yard field goal with seven seconds left. --The game Sunday will be the first for Miami in Cleveland since 1993. The Browns lost that game 24-14.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have some things for him. He's playing more wide receiver in a more normal situation for us. That package will continue to grow." -- Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, on expanding the role of kick return specialist Josh Cribbs.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Browns added some youth and beef to their defensive line this week when they claimed 330-pound rookie nose tackle Louis Leonard on waivers from the Rams.
Leonard broke into the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Chargers a week after the 2007 draft. He was assigned to the Chargers practice squad on Sept. 2, and was claimed by the Rams Sept. 12. He was inactive in Games 2, 3 and 4 and waived one day before the Rams lost to the Arizona Cardinals.
Last week, coach Romeo Crennel deactivated 39-year-old nose tackle Ted Washington. Crennel said the decision to not dress Washington was made because the defensive formations he expected the Browns would use against the Patriots did not require a nose tackle most of the time.
"It was the game plan," Crennel said. "There were a lot of multiple wide receivers and shotgun formations so we thought it was going to be more of a nickel game -- which it was."
Crennel said he expects Washington to be part of the lineup playing against the Dolphins Sunday. Washington started every game for the Raiders in 2004 and 2005 and every game for the Browns in 2006 and the opener this season. He came off the bench to play in the next three games before being deactivated against New England.
Washington is in the final year of his contract. The Browns want to see if Leonard can help in the future.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns WR Braylon Edwards vs. Dolphins CB Michael Lehan: Lehan played for the Browns from 2003-2005. Edwards practiced against him as a rookie. He has the speed to run by Lehan on a go route. Derek Anderson has a good touch on a deep pass and can deliver the ball to Edwards if the line gives him enough time to throw.
Browns RT Kevin Shaffer vs. Dolphins DE Jason Taylor: Shaffer has something to prove. Ryan Tucker replaced him in the second quarter last week. Shaffer was back with the first team in the second quarter, but the temporary switch to Tucker showed Romeo Crennel will make the switch if Shaffer falters. Taylor leads the Dolphins with three sacks. He relies on quickness more than bull-rushing, so Shaffer has to be ready.
The Browns are already thin at wide receiver. They will be thinner if a knee injury that limited Jurevicius in practice Wednesday prevents him from playing against the Dolphins. Tim Carter would start and Josh Cribbs would be the third receiver.
A hand injury prevented TE Darnell Dinkins from practicing Wednesday. He would be missed on special teams if he cannot play.