Skip to main content

Defeating Dolphins Defense Starts with Solving Star-Studded Front

The Cleveland Browns boast one of the most talented offensive lines in the league, but they will have their hands full against the Miami Dolphins, who just added Bradley Chubb to an already strong defensive line.
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

Even as the Miami Dolphins have a battered secondary the Cleveland Browns hope to exploit, the versatility and sheer amount of talent they have at their disposal in their defensive front makes them a formidable opponent. This could prove to the most challenging test the Browns offensive line has faced this season, both physically and mentally.

To this point, the New England Patriots are the only team that has really gotten the better of the Browns offensive line. The Browns fared far better at a more talented front in the New York Jets.

The Dolphins, like the Jets, have the capability to play big and strong and then switch to a faster front more focused on attacking the quarterback. In their base front, the Dolphins operate out of an odd front with a massive nose in Raekwon Davis. He's been pretty bad this year, but nevertheless is a 337 pound body they will have to move.

Their two ends, Christian Wilkins and Zach Seiler. are both over 300 pounds and have good length. Flanking them on the outside is Jaelan Phillips and now Bradley Chubb as standup edge rushers. Chubb is only slightly smaller than Myles Garrett and Phillips is 6'5" 265 pounds.

When they switch to their nickel look, the Dolphins have moved Phillips inside to bring Melvin Ingram onto the field as an extra rusher off the edge. Wilkins is their other defensive tackle and Chubb would presumably be the other end. However, having added Chubb, they have the flexibility to move guys around to try to cause confusion and generate mismatches. While the Browns have nothing to really go off of when it comes to Chubb as a member of the Dolphins, the bye week could prove valuable in getting prepared for all of the different looks they could throw at them. Fortunately, the Browns have talent across the front so they don't have an obvious turd to be exploited.

For all of their talent, the Dolphins run defense hasn't been great. Chubb might potentially improve the situation, but they are far more geared to shoot through gaps and attack the quarterback. The Browns must be able to create movement up front, so they can stay on schedule and prevent the Dolphins from being able to deploy their various personnel looks.

A key throughout the season, the Browns must win first down. The Browns need to be a threat to run and pass on every play to dictate how the Dolphins can play them. Getting into obvious passing situations consistently will allow the Dolphins to put their best unit on the field. Not only is that a risk for the Browns to stall on offense but could result in turnovers.

The Browns will try to establish the running game with their wide zone scheme. If they can win those individual blocks, Nick Chubb could have a monster day. However, because of the talent the Dolphins have, the Browns might be forced to rely on their pin and pull action, using traps and counters to try to pick on individual players and use their aggressiveness against them.

Tight end David Njoku is trending towards playing in this game as he continues to recover from a high-ankle sprain. That would be a huge boost for the Browns. Yes, he's a great option in the passing game, but the Browns tight ends could shift the balance of power in this matchup in the running game. 

The Dolphins are built like the Browns on defense with their linebackers and defensive backs. Their safeties are above average sized but their linebackers are eerily similar to the Browns. Jerome Baker is the same size as Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah while Elandon Roberts has similar dimensions to Anthony Walker Jr. even if he's not as talented. The Dolphins are hoping for as much disruption from their front as possible to try to create opportunities for their linebackers to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. They also have one of the highest blitz rates in the NFL to further that goal. 

If the Browns offensive line can hold up, their tight ends may enable them to overwhelm the second level to create chunk plays in the running game. Playing bigger could work to the Browns advantage as it does against so many other teams.

The most dangerous member of the Dolphins secondary is safety Jevon Holland. He's aggressive in trying to play the ball and cause turnovers, presenting a similar dynamic as Minkah Fitzpatrick of the Pittsburgh Steelers even if he's not quite on Fitzpatrick's level. The Browns have to know where Holland is on every play. The Dolphins only have four interceptions on the season and he has two of them. He's also tied for the team leads in pass break ups and they utilize him often as a part of their blitz package.

Xavien Howard cannot be taken lightly, but he's also having a miserable season relative to his level of talent. It's similar to the Browns situation with Denzel Ward. Ward has not played well this year, but it'd be foolish to simply dismiss him if he's on the field.

The challenge the Dolphins have been trying to overcome is the injuries to the rest of their secondary. Corner Byron Jones has yet to play this season and safety Brandon Jones is currently on injured reserve. The Dolphins have found a gem in undrafted rookie Kader Kohou to play opposite Howard. Despite having played at Texas A&M Commerce, Kohou has been able step in and play well. Noah Igbinoghene, the former first round pick has been disappointing but he's contributing along with Keion Crossen when the Dolphins need additional corners on the field.

At safety, the Dolphins are relying on Eric Rowe, but he has struggled and could be a player the Browns attempt to exploit. Especially if they are successful in getting Holland out of the play or catching him on a blitz, they could try to isolate Rowe on one of their receiving threats. That could be an avenue to get Njoku going in the passing game if he's able to play.

Play-action should be a huge part of the Browns game plan. It would appear the Dolphins blitz as often as they do in hopes of beating play-action passes before they have a chance to develop. Nevertheless, if the Browns are successful in running the ball, it might cause them to back off the blitz or risk creating massive running lanes. They could get a similar effect if they simply pull a guard to help sell the fake and move the linebackers. In the event the Dolphins backers or safeties to hesitate if even only for a moment, that could create passing windows.

The Browns should utilize a significant amount of motion, as they should every game. The Dolphins are a heavy zone team and try to keep plays in front of them. Partly a product of how often they blitz, it's also due to their loss of personnel. Motion could enable the Browns to create a numbers advantage or a better angle on blocks in the running game. It would reveal man coverage if the Dolphins choose to run it, but could help reveal where blitzes might be coming from and enable the protection the opportunity to adjust.

One of the areas where Jacoby Brissett has struggled most is identifying extra blitzers. If a defense is sending six and the Browns have five in protection, Brissett is responsible for the extra rusher. He also must get the ball out on time consistently. Brissett will occasionally get caught in situations where he holds onto the ball too long and takes a bad sack, which has proven costly in previous games.

The Browns may attempt to help Brissett by utilizing max protection looks more often this week than at any point in the season. That could aid him in avoiding those mistakes while betting on their receivers to exploit holes in the zone. Amari Cooper thrives against zone coverage and Donovan Peoples-Jones has had his own share of success against it.

Likewise, the Browns might have some opportunities for a back or tight end to capitalize on delayed release routes. Getting a chip or selling a block before getting into their route could be a cheap way to pick up a first down or few. This could also be helpful in setting up the screen game, another area where the Dolphins could be potentially vulnerable.

Anything the Browns do offensively starts with winning at the line of scrimmage. If they succeed there and neutralize the talented Dolphins front, it will open up the rest of the playbook and allow them to play from a position of strength. Failing that, the playbook shrinks down and the Browns could be in for a long afternoon.