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Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns - What to Watch For

Why the long faces, guys? You're all making it seem like the Dolphins are 0-2 and in for some serious misery this season. I mean, it's not like Dolphins players are cramping into the fetal position during games, falling victim to South Florida's hot weather conditions while the defense is getting blown out of the stadium.

Oh wait, that's exactly what has gone down this season. Never mind; commence the panicking.

I wish I could sit here and tell all of you Dolphins fans that things are going to be okay, but I can't. Tony Sparano is in a worse place right now than he was at the end of last season, when he was nothing more than a pariah wearing a mustache and a windbreaker. And the Dolphins' defense--the absolute strength of the team in 2010--has been out to lunch the last two weeks. Just what happened to these guys? Did Mike Nolan have his body taken over by Paul Pasqualoni?

Look, I love this team, and I pride myself on being optimistic even in the face of severe coaching ineptitude and mediocrity, but the Dolphins' situation in 2011 is too much, even for me. Sparano is absolutely headed for the NFL equivalent of Custer's Last Stand, and we get little-to-no respect from other teams, even when our roster is utterly jam-packed with talent. What gives? It's all about coaching, my friend, and we need a big-time change of scenery. David Hyde can chastise me for suggesting that Sparano needs to hit the bricks as soon as possible, but I think I speak for several people here when I say that I've seen enough.

We've started 0-2 (or worse) in three of Sparano's four years as head coach. If this was a horse race, Sparano would be Barbaro. No one expected that horse to get up and actually challenge the field for a win; why do we expect not-so-fat Tony to turn it around in year four?

(Rant mode turned "off")

Anyway, the Dolphins can get some revenge this Sunday by waltzing into Cleveland and taking it to a Browns team that "shocked" them at Sun Life(less) Stadium last December. Problem is, these Browns aren't the punching bag they used to be, and have some very good talent on both sides of the ball. Let's break down what should be the keys to getting that all-important first win of the season.

A shift in strategic focus

After two weeks of air-oriented offensive juggernauts, the Dolphins finally get to play a team that doesn't throw the ball particularly well. This isn't to say Colt McCoy is inadequate or anything (he's actually been really impressive), but the Browns' receivers struggle to get open and don't bring a lot of size to the table. This is good news for a Miami secondary that has been straight-up violated throughout the middle-third of the field. The bad news? The Browns favor the ground game, and the Dolphins' defense hasn't  looked too hot against the run, either. Add in the fact that Cleveland has a high-octane boulder (Peyton Hillis) in its backfield, and we could be in for an unpleasant afternoon. Simply put, it's time for Miami's defensive line to return to 2010 form, and Paul Soliai needs to start earning that franchise tag.

Return of the Mack (Truck), Act II

So much for Daniel Thomas' supposed inability to hit the hole fast and make quick cuts. D-Train repeatedly ripped into Houston's second level of defense the way the Kool-Aid Man blasted through the walls of suburban homes during the 1980s. We all certainly could've done without Thomas' lone fumble last Sunday, but there's no denying that he looked fast, strong and somewhat elusive while carrying the ball. He'll now face a young, raw Browns defensive line (featuring rookie studs Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard) with plenty of talent, and almost no support from its linebacker corps. Advantage: Miami ... maybe.

Always Da-boll Down on 11

The biggest connection we have to the Cleveland Browns is offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who called the plays in the Dawg Pound the previous two seasons, and is currently trying to resurrect the offensive Titanic here in South Florida. Things have looked better on offense for the Dolphins, but short strides aren't going to be enough to satisfy a bloodthirsty Miami fan base ... or the always-on-the-cusp-of-flipping-out Brandon Marshall. That means Daboll and the Dolphins need to up the ante in the passing game pronto, and hopefully do so while staying away from Browns headhunter safety T.J. Ward. Cornerback Joe Haden is another serious talent in Cleveland's secondary, but when Brandon Marshall is matched up against a 5'11" defensive back, you must find a way to get him the ball.

Also, now that D-Train has proven to be a workhorse between the tackles, can we please stop running Reggie Bush through that minefield several times per game?

Get Dan Carpenter a Psychiatrist

I am in no way a fan of kicking field goals (as people who play me in Madden will gladly attest), but if Dan Carpenter converts his first two attempts last week, chances are that we're right there at the end against the Texans. Of course, Carpenter (and his golden mullet) kicked the ball as if he thought the crossbar was about five feet high. As a result, several strong drives from our offense resulted in zero points. That's a back breaker. Not to sound like a master of the obvious, but Carpenter needs to get back into form in a hurry, or he'll be joining Sparano at Waterloo.

The curious case of our offensive line

The media has a made a big deal of Jake Long and Joe Thomas playing in the same game, but I am more interested in seeing the rest of our offensive line lock it up (except for Mike Pouncey, who has been even better than advertised thus far). Marc Colombo and Vernon Carey have been a disaster over on the right side, and Richie Incognito has struggled with penalties. Can we at least try to clean up the shoddy line play? Cleveland's defensive line is quickly becoming a load to handle in the middle, but this is a match-up the Dolphins should (and need to) win.

Prediction: Our front office if full of dead men walking, and our defense is full of live men cramping, but the Dolphins have done well as road dogs the last two seasons, and actually match up pretty favorably against the Browns. And in a season where even the Bills look good, Miami needs to ring up every favorable match-up it gets.

Dolphins 30, Browns 21