3TFO: Dolphins @ Browns, Week 1

Pete Damilatis has found what could be the three key battles to determine whether its the Dolphins or Browns who get to feel good about their sophomore QB after Week ...

| 4 years ago

3TFO: Dolphins @ Browns, Week 1

2013-3TFO-WK01-MIA@CLEWhat a difference August makes. A few weeks ago, the Miami Dolphins faithful were giddy to see their haul of free agents in action. However, a fumbled handoff on their first preseason offensive snap portended a team which may not add up to the sum of its parts. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns seemed to be in full rebuilding mode, with a new coaching staff and a sophomore quarterback left for dead. But a few impressive performances by Brandon Weeden has everyone wondering if there’s a sleeper playoff contender in Ohio.

Neither of these conclusions are wise, of course. You just need to look at the Atlanta Falcons’ 1-3 record or Sam Bradford’s 116.3 quarterback rating in the 2012 preseason to know that it’s foolish to read too much into August football. What we do know is that both these teams are hoping their sophomore quarterbacks can lead them out of the NFL desert. Will Miami’s new pieces fit together to lead them to the playoffs, or will they be just the latest team whose desperate GM dragged them into salary cap doom? Will Cleveland’s injection of young talent blossom, or will they play down to their inexperience? Here are three matchups that could decide which of these two teams starts the 2013 season on the right foot.

Swag Out

As I was typing this preview, I saw the news that Mike Wallace promises to bring his swag versus Joe Haden this Sunday. Some storylines just write themselves. There’s good reason to doubt Wallace will play up to his brash words and big contract in Miami. After establishing himself as one of the NFL’s premier home run threats with 571 yards on Deep Passes in 2010, that number dropped to 263 in 2012. After forcing 13 missed tackles in 2011, he managed just two last season. And of the three targets Wallace saw when Haden was covering him in Week 12 last season, he dropped one and watched the other two get intercepted by the Browns.

However, Wallace isn’t completely to blame for his misfortunes. Note that in that game against Cleveland it was Charlie Batch delivering the ball for the Steelers. Haden’s interception came on a woefully underthrown go route after Wallace got a step on him. Wallace’s catchable target rate as a whole dropped to 60.3% in 2012, from 67.3% in 2011. And his rate of accurate deep targets plummeted even further, down to 25.8% from 45.8% the season before. By comparison, Ryan Tannehill’s 43.1 Accuracy Percentage on deep passes in 2012 was 10th among quarterbacks with more than 10 deep throws. Despite his pedigree, Haden’s 169 yards allowed on deep passes last season was more than you’d like from a cornerback of his caliber. If Wallace is going to back up his contract, and his words, he’ll have some chances this week.

T-Rich Inside

Norv Turner plans to run the ball early and often with sophomore running back Trent Richardson, and I would too if I had one of the NFL’s best offensive lines leading the way. Joe Thomas gets all the publicity for his pristine pass protection, but the meat of Cleveland’s run blocking lies in its interior. John Greco was the Browns’ Secret Superstar last season, earning the fourth-highest run block grade of any left guard and a five-year contract extension in the process. Alex Mack anchored the middle with the sixth-highest run block grade of any center. Throw in Richardson’s relentlessly punishing style, and you can see why Cleveland gained 4.1 yards per carry and nine touchdowns inside the tackles versus 3.5 and three touchdowns when running to the outside.

When the Browns attack the Dolphins inside, Miami may not have the muscle to stop them. Randy Starks is an accomplished pass rusher, but his 3.9 Run Stop Percentage was among the lowest marks of any defensive tackle. After moving inside from defensive end, Jared Odrick’s negative run defense grade this preseason shows the transition may not be going smoothly. After another middling campaign, Paul Soliai’s productive 2010 season is looking more and more like an outlier. If Miami’s line lets Richardson past them, it will be up to the Dolphins’ new middle linebacker to step up. Dannell Ellerbe led the Baltimore Ravens in defensive stops last season and earned four run stops in a Week 9 victory in Cleveland. He is adjusting smoothly to his new role in Miami, posting a sparkling 26.9 Run Stop Percentage this preseason. The success or failure of Cleveland’s ground game will likely depend upon who wins when Ellerbe and Richardson meet in the middle.

Mitchell Schwartz vs. Cameron Wake

There was plenty of attention heaped on Cleveland’s rookie offensive trio of Weeden, Richardson, and Josh Gordon last season, but the Browns’ best 2012 pick so far has been their second-round right tackle. Playing on every single Browns offensive snap as a rookie, Mitchell Schwartz earned the third-highest pass block grade at his position and formed a reliable pair of bookends with Thomas. He got better as the season went along — after surrendering 23 quarterback pressures in his first eight games, he allowed just 10 in his last eight. However, he will face the toughest challenge of his young career this Sunday.

Across from Schwartz will be the incomparable Cameron Wake, the best 4-3 defensive end in the league last season. With 86 QB pressures in 2012, he tied Von Miller for the most in the NFL. He regularly schooled even the league’s best tackles, notching six pressures against Sebastian Vollmer in Week 13 and adding two sacks off Anthony Davis the next week. Schwartz’s weakness last season came on his outside pass blocking, where he allowed 61% of his pressures. Wake in turn is one of the most devastating outside rushers in the league, converting 49% of his outside pressures last season into sacks. And as good as Weeden looked this preseason, he still had a 39.6 passer rating when pressured. If Schwartz isn’t up to the task, Wake could single-handedly deflate Cleveland’s air attack.


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  • Steffen

    Go Phins!

  • John

    You guys do realize that the Dolphins are nowhere close to being in cap trouble, right? They’d been saving up for this year. All of the money they spent this offseason was more than made up for by big name cuts/trades (Dansby, Burnett, Marshall, etc.) and few new signings over the last few years.

    • dgabriel

      I know, right? All the critics & the pseudo-experts on NFL Network & ESPN have to bring up about the Miami Dolphins in 2013 is how much they spent in free agency. They spent a lot, granted. They had a whole lot to spend!! Can you name one FA they signed in 2012? Do any come to mind? It is because they were saving it for players they really valued. Other than Ireland’s supposed “miscalculations” (underestimations) on what the market would be for guys like Vincent Jackson, they stayed away from players the “experts” reported them to be going after. But after passing on guys like QB Matt Flynn, who the some “experts” trashed Miami for not being “able” to sign; reporting Miami as a place FA’s don’t want to go to & a team no one wants to play for, now they are the team who signs too many players & spends too much money!! What a difference a year makes…But what has not changed (and probably won’t ever) is that when the Miami Dolphins are the team being reported on, the report is going to be negative no matter how many positive things are going on with the team. All of our FA’s with substantial contracts are young & they are the future & foundation of this team. The one year guys like CB Brent Grimes & FS Chris Clemons, have this year too prove they too, are the future of this team. The biggest negative to me, is the loss of the other one year guy, TE Dustin Keller for the season. Man…What could have been…

  • http://blog.cleveland.com/barks-from-the-pound/index.html Keith B McGlothin

    SWAG OUT – I was wondering if you would mention who was at QB for the Steelers that day…there was no way the Steelers were going to come to Cleveland, and win with Charlie Batch at QB. While Tannehill improved the 2nd half of the season, is he ready to take the next step? I think what Wallace actually does, is make Brian Hartline even MORE dangerous. While I like Joe Haden as a CB, I just can’t label a guy “shutdown” who ONLY plays one side (left) of the field. That self imposed limitation alone, allows the offense to dictate favorable match-ups. How many opportunities will Wallace have vs Haden, or will see the Dolphins taking advantage of his size and strength vs Buster Skrine (whom I really like as well). I have been waiting for the last 2 seasons for Haden to take the next step, and put himself in conversations among the NFL’s elite CB’s with his play, not potential, or perception. I think he rises to the occasion.

    T-Rich Inside – When you look at the moves the Browns made this off-season, none of them dictated running the ball between the tackles. You look at the RB’s that were brought in, and currently on the roster, all are better at catching the ball out of the backfield. as opposed to pounding the ball between. the tackles. Richardson has not not proven at this level that he can carry an offense. What is it about Ogbonnaya at FB screams running Richardson between the tackles? He has poor vision, doesn’t read blocks well, and doesn’t seem to trust what’s developing (blocking wise) in front of him. His longest run last year was 32 yards (weren’t many of those) and he WASN’T more productive, the more touches he got, or as the game went on. As the 3rd overall pick in the draft, the first RB selected (perceived best) he was a disappointment (based on perception and projections) Remember, he was SUPPOSED to take the pressure off of Weeden, and instead pointed out Weedens struggles.

    For Richardson to be MOST effective, the Browns need to spread the Dolphins out, create space and run lanes (improving the vision of Richardson) and get him the ball in that space. See the hole, hit the hole, not hit the hole as it develops in front of you. I would not be surprised if Richardson is targeted 6-10 times in the pass game (getting him the ball in space) In looking at what the Browns have done at the position of WR (Gordon suspended) Richardson might find yards inside even far more difficult to come by. Little who was a favorable matchup for the Browns inside (size and strength) and his ability to stretch the field, now moves outside. Now as the #1 WR on the field, puts him at a disadvantage (he’s still learning the position) The other WR’s Bess #2, Benjamin #3, and Copper #4 (still confused here, other than Weeden factor) are all 5’8″ and not physically imposing ie Steve Smith (CAR)

    Bess is tough, but far more valuable as a #3 or #4, Benjamin is fast, but gets physically taken away at the point of attack,and struggles with press coverage (best contribution is in the return game) could have an impact if the Browns fall behind early, and the defense allows him to run free in space, or blow a coverage. and Cooper (who should not be the 4th WR on ANY NFL roster) was a go to guy for Weeden at OSU, but he had a beast on the outside in Blackmon, who could command,and BEAT double teams. All 3 are 5’8″ in the huddle, how smaller do they get 20 yards down the field, and Weeden another 7 yards deep in the pocket, under duress? For a QB that struggles with accuracy, getting through his progressions quickly, and the propensity to LOCK on WR’s, what he NEEDS most is SIZE at the position, BIG targets. How easy is the Dolphins game plan going to be? Press the WR’s, beat them up, and get after Weeden, and flood the run lanes with pressure and bodies.

    Mitchell Schwartz vs Cameron Wake – Schwartz has been very impressive, and the Browns OL has played well as a whole. McCoy had a way of making an OL look bad, EXTREMELY bad, and even though Weeden has a far superior arm, his pocket presence, and awareness, is no better, IMO. Weeden tends to operate from the right side of the pocket, with what the Brown have outside (WR’s) I expect Schwartz to get a lot of pressure at Weedens strong side. Doing so will almost force Jordan (TE) who’s the Browns biggest target on the field at 6’5″, to stay in and help block (not his strongest attribute) Jordan had an excellent camp, and should provide that big target underneath, and intermediate, that Little provided, but thats all but taken away, if he has to help in protection.

    The one sure fire advantage the Browns would NORMALLY have going into this game would have been at K with Phil Dawson, but he’s taken that advantage to san Francisco. Browns finally settled on Billy Cundiff earlier in the week. I honestly do not know who the P is, without going to look… For the record, Spencer Lanning is the P and H on FGA’s #OIC

    For all things Cleveland Browns and NFL Football follow me on twitter @BrksfronthePnd