After their one week vacation from playing teams with winning records, the Browns are back to business as they take their talents to South Beach to face the 6-5 Dolphins. Anyone who watched last weeks game against Carolina knows that the Browns literally played like they were on vacation, escaping from a very sloppy performance with a 1-point win. The Panthers game was the only one this season where the Browns were facing a team that had a losing record at the time of the game. The Panthers and the Bengals are the only of the Browns eleven opponents that currently have losing records. Needless to say, each week has been a dog fight for the Browns.
The Dolphins proved last week that despite their inconsistency throughout year, they are still a dangerous team when they get their running game going. The Phins smashed the Raiders with 186 yards on forty-nine carries. Slowing down the fast and physical combination of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will be a big challenge for the Browns defense, who seems to have lost the ability to tackle over the past three weeks. In that span of three games, the Browns have been allowing over 150 rushing yards per game on average. It is probably not a coincidence that this defensive lapse for the Browns coincides with the loss of their defensive captain Scott Fujita to a knee injury. Fujita will not be back to face the Phins so the rest of the Browns defense is going to have to do a better job of tackling to get a win this week.
Another Browns defender who has been making waves with his solid play is rookie CB Joe Haden. Haden seems like he has finally carved out a place for himself in the starting lineup after recording an interception in each of his last three games. His play has garnered recognition as he was named NFL Rookie of the Month for November. In addition to the three interceptions, Haden had seven passes defended during his award winning month. In total, Haden has four interceptions on the season. CB Eric Wright may find himself without his starting job when he returns from injury, as Haden has made the most of every opportunity he has had to play this year.
Haden’s importance to the outcome of this game might hinge on the injury status of Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall. Marshall, who is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL, missed last weeks game with a hamstring injury. He is listed as doubtful for this week, but he was able to practice on a limited basis. If he is able to play, he will be QB Chad Henne’s go to target.
Browns Coach Eric Mangini has suggested that QB Jake Delhomme will get his second straight start. Delhomme played poorly last week throwing two key interceptions which allowed the Panthers to claw back into a game that the Browns had been controlling. If you take a look at Delhomme’s past fifteen games, you’d notice that he has thrown an outrageous twenty-nine interceptions during that span. Delhomme has had a respectable career, but at this point all that’s left is a gun-slinger who lost his gun.
One would have to wonder why Mangini, who puts such a premium on temperance, is not going back to Seneca Wallace. Wallace is a duel threat who can make plays with his arm and his legs, and he played well earlier this year before falling victim to an ankle injury.
Honestly, Clevelanders do not want to see Delhomme or Wallace. They can not wait for the return of Colt McCoy. The talented rookie quarterback, who distinguished himself during an outstanding collegiate career at Texas, has energized the Browns fan base. He also has been bothered by an ankle injury that came during the Browns heartbreaking loss to the Jaguars on November 21. Mangini suggested that McCoy is getting closer to being back under center, look for his return potentially next week as the Browns face the Bills.
For my money, the Phins have been one of the most underrated teams in the NFL this season. All five of their losses have come to teams that are currently in first place in their respective divisions, or teams that are tied for first place. They have a signature win at Lambeau Field against the Packers week six.
If the Browns can figure out a way to win this game, then they can make a run at a .500 record as their following two games come against the Bills and the Bengals. It is difficult to figure out what to expect at this point in the season though. One thing is certain, the Browns will need to recapture their tough, bruising, workman-like style that they established earlier this season if they want to compete. It will be lights out if they show any hint of the mistake-prone, poor tackling team that showed up against the Panthers.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.