I always feel uneasy when the Dolphins are the consensus pick in any game. Here's a completely useless stat to chew on: the Dolphins are just 3-3 dating back to the 2009 season when they are favored to win at home. And in their last 20 games as favorites, the Dolphins are just 12-8.
The Browns come in as five point underdogs on Sunday - which likely means we should expect another classic gut-wrenching game that comes down to the fourth quarter.
With that thought in mind, allow me to share with you what I see as the three main ingredients to a Dolphins win this week:
1. Make the Browns one-dimensional. This is really the most obvious key for the Dolphins. As I mentioned yesterday, the Browns are 3-1 this year when Peyton Hillis runs for over 100 yards. Hillis is really what makes this Cleveland offense go. If you can keep his impact on the ground somewhat limited, you then force the Browns to turn to the air - and Jake Delhomme.
With rookie quarterback Colt McCoy likely out on Sunday (he hasn't practiced this week), Delhomme will start his third game of the season. Though he is 1-1 in his two previous starts this year, Jake has thrown six interceptions in three games - including two last week against the Panthers.
The Dolphins should be able to drop an eighth man in the box to contain Hillis when you consider that the Browns don't exactly have a threat on the outside at receiver. Their leading receivers are Hillis and Ben Watson. No receiver has over 300 yards receiving. And outside of Josh Cribbs, who is still slowed a little by a foot injury, the Browns have no speed threat. If I'm Mike Nolan, I'm going to use a ton of run blitzes to fill any running lanes and force Jake Delhomme to beat me with his group of receivers.
2. Protect the football. I said yesterday that the easiest way for an inferior team to steal a win was by making big plays on special teams. But I should have said that great special teams play was the second easiest way. The reality is that bad teams can steal wins when they create turnovers. That's the easiest way - and that's what the Browns have done this year.
The Browns have forced 23 turnovers through 11 games this year - the third most in the league. And ten of those turnovers were forced in their four wins - including wins over the Saints and Patriots. If Cleveland can force Drew Brees to throw four interceptions, then Chad Henne needs to be careful.
I love his new mentality as much as anyone. Henne is being aggressive and trusting his arm. He's not over-thinking things out there - he's just throwing the football. But ball security will be important on Sunday.
3. Turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This has been a season-long problem for this Miami offense. They have settled for field goals far too often. I'm as big a fan of Dan Carpenter as anyone else. But it's getting old seeing him trot onto the field after drives stall inside the opposition's 20 yard line. And recently, the problem has only gotten worse.
Over their last three games, the Dolphins are converting just 37.5% of their red zone opportunities into six points. Last season, the Dolphins were second in the NFL in red zone efficiency, with a 64% success rate. So what gives?
The offense's struggles to run the football is probably the biggest culprit. The play along the interior line has been far worse than last year, giving Miami's backs nowhere to run. But you also have to be surprised with how ineffective Brandon Marshall has been in the red zone.
The Browns have a top ten red zone defense. So things aren't going to be any easier this week for the Dolphins as they look to find ways to get into the endzone.