Every week there’s a path to winning for the Dolphins. Here’s this week’s way:
1. Ride the big play. This game’s strength for the Dolphins plays directly into Cleveland’s weakness. The Dolphins’ big-play passing game with Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle has been dynamic the past couple of games against troubled Detroit and Chicago defenses. Cleveland is a similar defense. It ranks 28th in giving up 11.1 yards per completion. Tagovailoa ranks first among quarterbacks in 9.2 yards per completion. Waddle ranks fifth among receivers at 17.3 yards per catch and Hill is 16th at 14.6 yards per catch. Throw in the fact the Browns defense gives up 24.9 points a game (same as the Dolphins) to rank 25th and this should be a game people walk away from again marveling at the Dolphins’ deep passing game.
2. Nick Chubb vs. Dolphins rushing defense. Chubb averages 105.1 yards a game to rank only behind Derrick Henry’s 108.8. But he averages 5.6 yards a carry compared to Henry’s 4.8 so you can see the damage he can do. The Dolphins run defense has been middle-of-the-pack statistically — 14th in yards allowed per game, (117.4), 19th in yards allowed per attempt (4.6) and 13th in rushing first downs allowed (13). It’s better than those numbers, though, because running quarterbacks are their problem. Lamar Jackson (119 yards rushing), Justin Fields (178) and Josh Allen (47) were the leading rushers in those games. The New York Jets’ Breece Hall ran for 97 yards on 18 carries to be the most effective running back against them. Dalvin Cook ran for 77 yards on 13 carries, but that included a 53-yarder in the final minutes with the Dolphins losing. Is this a good run defense? The nightmare of Tennessee last January still looms. Chubb will put it to the test.
3. Myles Garrett vs. the Dolphins tackles. Garrett can rush from either side, has 7.5 sacks and is essentially the Browns pass rush. He’s really their defense. The rest of the team has 8.5 sacks to tell you how much of a force he is. Left tackle Terron Armstead can handle Garrett about as well as anyone (with the weekly qualifier that Armstead plays with his bad toe). The question is if the Browns tend to place Garrett up against right tackle Brandon Shell (or Greg Little). Then it’ll be a team effort with keeping a tight end or running back to help out on Garrett. The Dolphins’ pass protection has been good of late in part because it’s improved and faced teams that don’t have a pass rush. Cleveland isn’t a great pass-rushing team, ranking 14th in sack percentage. But Garrett is a force.
4. Home and the fourth quarter. If it’s close, it’s fine. The Browns defense ranks 32nd in surrendering fourth-quarter points (10.4 a game). That’s the kind of opponent you want to play in today’s NFL considering so many games come down to the fourth quarter. The Dolphins defense hasn’t exactly been good there, ranking 22nd. But the Dolphins defense at home is different than the Dolphins defense on the road. At home, they’ve given up 7 points to New England, 19 to Buffalo, 10 to Pittsburgh and 24 to Minnesota. That’s a good defense compared to the numbers on the road: 38 to Baltimore, 27 to Cincinnati, 40 to the Jets (with the offense’s help), 27 to Detroit and 32 to Chicago.
5. Don’t sleep on the Browns. They’re 3-5 and Jacoby Brissett is their starter (the Dolphins missed Deshaun Watson’s comeback by a week). But the Browns stack up statistically in some parts: ranking third in red-zone trips to the Dolphin’ 12th); fourth in first downs to the Dolphins’ 11th; 12th in incompletions to the Dolphins 14th. These are some of the numbers I look at and it says Cleveland can play better than their record suggests.
PREDICTION: Dolphins 30, Browns 23.