Beyond how quarterback Tua Tagovailoa put together another stellar performance, the Miami Dolphins did something that successful football teams, at their core, are historically able to do: They ran the football and stopped the run.
The Dolphins went into Sunday’s convincing 39-17 win over the Browns a bit questionable in both areas. They ranked 29th in the league through nine weeks in rushing offense, and although they’ve been generally stout against the run, they were coming off a season-worst 252 yards rushing allowed in Chicago — granted, 178 of that came from quarterback scrambles of the Bears’ Justin Fields.
Against Cleveland, the Dolphins ran for a season-best 195 yards. In his second week with the team, running back Jeff Wilson Jr. went for 119 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Raheem Mostert, receiving half the workload with eight carries, rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown.
“There’s no shortcut around it,” coach Mike McDaniel said. “It’s something that you’re very proud of as a coach because it’s an entire group really dedicating themselves to the craft.”
McDaniel was known for coordinating a strong ground game at his previous stop in San Francisco. With two former 49ers tailbacks now together in Miami and 10 regular-season weeks of working on his wide-zone scheme, it’s starting to come together.
“Just happy with how everyone kept their head down and was grinding to earn that result,” McDaniel continued. “That’s months and months of strain and deliberate practice that you can be fortunate enough to have a game like that.”
Miami wouldn’t have nearly been able to dominate on the ground like it did if its defense had not contained Browns running back Nick Chubb and Cleveland’s rushing attack that went into Sunday third in the league.
Chubb, outside of a fourth-quarter 33-yard touchdown run when the Dolphins already led by multiple scores, was held to 30 yards on his other 10 carries. Kareem Hunt was limited to 9 yards on six attempts. Jacoby Brissett, not nearly the mobile quarterback that Fields is, did have 40 rushing yards on seven carries.
“That’s something that we’re pretty confident in,” said McDaniel of the run game, understanding some statistics have been skewed by not containing running quarterbacks. “It was a tremendous challenge. They do an unbelievable job in Cleveland to really dominate the time of possession and utilize one of — if not, the best — runner in the league. It was cool to watch our team rally behind that. They knew the challenge that was in front of them.”
The physical tone on both sides of the ball was set early when linebacker Elandon Roberts, who finished tied for the team lead with seven tackles, drove all 227 pounds of Chubb into the ground violently. Wilson did it on the other side with hard running on a fourth-and-1 conversion and going downhill for 18 yards.
“Sometimes, it’s just time to be a Mike linebacker,” Roberts said of his big hit. “I feel like I’m one of the top run stoppers in the league so when a guy like Chubb and other guys in the NFL are great backs and physical and do what they do I like to embrace that challenge and just wanted to send a message out there to my defense.”
Stopping the run also allowed the Dolphins pass rush to come at Brissett in waves. Three times, Miami had instances where two rushers combined for a sack with Christian Wilkins and Melvin Ingram finishing with a full sack each and Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips both getting half a sack.
“Everybody’s hungry,” said Wilkins, “Everybody’s trying to go eat, but we’re doing it for each other and we’re doing it together.”
Ogbah, Crossen injured
Dolphins defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah left the game Sunday with an elbow injury. Ogbah, who has struggled in 2022 and dealt with a back injury earlier this season, was ruled out for the remainder of the game upon the start of the second half.
Cornerback and special teamer Keion Crossen was seen walking off the field and into the locker room with a shoulder injury suffered on a punt return play. He was also ruled out shortly thereafter.
Crossen had a special teams tackle Sunday while Ogbah was held without a stat.
Ogbah didn’t start either as he remains at three starts on the year. After signing a four-year, $65 million contract, he has just 10 tackles and one sack in 2022.
Jackson active, doesn’t play
Dolphins offensive lineman Austin Jackson was available to play for the first time since the team’s Sept. 11 opener against the New England Patriots, but he did not play Sunday against the Browns.
The Dolphins kept their same offensive line as last week with Brandon Shell at right tackle and Robert Jones at left guard, where he’s playing for the injured Liam Eichenberg.
Jackson suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 1. He was placed on injured reserve and activated last week but he remained inactive for the win at the Chicago Bears, when he entered doubtful.
This past week, Jackson ramped up his practice workload to participate in Thursday and Friday drills. Since he’s been out, the veteran Shell has impressed at the right tackle spot that belonged to Jackson to start the season. Eichenberg is now on IR with a knee injury, and Jones has played for him there.
Left tackle Terron Armstead was also active and played throughout after going into Sunday questionable with his nagging toe injury and a calf ailment.
Dolphins backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was out against the Browns. Bridgewater had a flare-up with a chronic knee issue this past week and the Dolphins “wanted to be smart about it,” according to an NFL Network report.
With Bridgewater down, rookie Skylar Thompson had backup quarterback duties behind Tagovailoa and even got in at the end of the blowout victory.
Dolphins wide receiver Trent Sherfield played and scored a touchdown after he was a late add to the team’s injury report on Sunday morning with a toe ailment.
Healthy Dolphins inactives were wide receivers River Cracraft and Erik Ezukanma, running back Myles Gaskin and cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. Ezukanma, the rookie fourth-round pick, has been inactive all 10 weeks this season.
Miami had both safeties Verone McKinley and Eric Rowe active and rotating on Sunday with Rowe getting the start and most of the snaps. In weeks prior, one was kept inactive while the other played a majority of defensive snaps in the team’s effort to replace injured strong safety Brandon Jones.
Last week in Chicago, it was Rowe starting while McKinley remained on the practice squad before getting signed to the active roster Saturday. On Oct. 30 in Detroit, Rowe was made inactive while McKinley received an elevation for the game.
When playing with Rowe, Jevon Holland would play his usual free safety spot. When with McKinley, Holland would drop down into the box while McKinley plays back in a center-field role.