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The Importance of the Dolphins Game for Donovan Peoples-Jones

The Cleveland Browns were thoroughly defeated on the road by the Miami Dolphins, but Donovan Peoples-Jones had a performance provided hope that he still has room to grow.
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Donovan Peoples-Jones has grown into a reliable receiver for the Cleveland Browns this season, but his performance against the Miami Dolphins begs the question if there's further room for growth. DPJ led the team in targets, receptions and receiving yards, posting a season-high mark for yards with 99, yet had a few plays he'd like back.

After the 2021 season where injuries forced DPJ into being the number one receiver at times, a role he was not yet equipped to play, he's found the right fit as the third option behind fellow wide receiver Amari Cooper and tight end David Njoku. He's been effective with contested catches and moving the chains in key situations. Early in the season, there were times when quarterback Jacoby Brissett simply missed him wide open because he was looking elsewhere, but that is rarely the case anymore as DPJ has earned his trust as well as that of the coaching staff, gaining confidence along the way.

The past two games, the Browns have been without Njoku due to a high-ankle sprain, making Jones the second option in the passing game. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, DPJ had a relatively normal outing with four receptions on four targets, though he did make a terrific run after catch when he hurdled a Bengals defender as part of a 37-yard gain. The Browns overpowered the Bengals in the game overall.

This past Sunday, the Dolphins dominated the Browns, which helped to shine a light on the positive contributions from DPJ, one of a scant few who played well in the game. On the opening drive of the game, DPJ had a 37-yard reception on a wheel up the left sideline. He might have gained more yardage on the pass if the ball wasn't thrown short forcing him to pedal down to catch the pass.

On a play-action pass from the four yard line, Brissett tried to find DPJ in the end zone on a delayed crossing route working right to left. The pass was incomplete but drew a defensive pass interference play on linebacker Jerome Baker who grabbed DPJ's left shoulder, pulling it down so he couldn't get his hands up to catch the pass. The Browns would score on a one-yard touchdown pass to Harrison Bryant.

On their second drive, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-12 situation on their own 32. After dropping back, Brissett stepped up in the pocket looking to his left, seeing DPJ who had found a hole in the zone by the numbers 17 yards down field. Brissett threw a laser between two Dolphin defenders to DPJ, who then picked up another six yards working back to the middle of the field. A terrific play from Brissett, it not only extended the drive but put the Browns into Dolphins territory.

DPJ isn't simply converting third downs, he's creating explosive plays on third down. Twenty of his 35 receptions are for first downs and eight of those are plays of at least 20 yards.

The Browns would try to go back to DPJ on 4th-and-3 later, a play he would like to have back. After failing to pick up 3rd-and-1 on an ill-fated counter to Kareem Hunt, the Browns flexed DPJ to the left where Kader Kohou was aligned head up on him. If it wasn't clear from the initial alignment that it was man coverage, it became apparent when the Browns motioned Bryant and his defender followed him.

DPJ attempted an outside to get Kohou to take a false step, worked back inside for a quick slant. Kohou didn't bite, simply backing up slightly to then closing ground. DPJ still had inside position to box out Kohou, but was unable to secure the catch.

A disappointing result, but the Browns were not afraid to run a play designed to go to DPJ in a clutch situation, which is important.

On their first drive of the third quarter, the Browns were facing 3rd-and-8 on their own 27. From a condensed set with DPJ on the left, the Browns ran a mesh concept that sent DPJ to the right on sail route. Brissett felt pressure and couldn't get quite as much as he would have liked on the throw. Still, it traveled 40 yards in the air and found DPJ trying to catch it while going to the ground in a seated position. He simply couldn't wrangle the ball, even trying to use his legs to help corral the pass only for it fall incomplete. Had he caught it, the Browns gain almost 30 yards. Instead, the Browns relied on a questionable roughing the passer call to keep the drive going.

Another key situation where the Browns tried to go to DPJ and unfortunately, the second he was unable to convert.

DPJ would catch two more passes in the game. Both hitches. They tried to hit him on a pair of fades. One was too far and flat for him to catch in the end zone and the other was too short, allowing the defensive back to break up the play.

Undoubtedly, some of the targets DPJ is getting are out of necessity with the injury to Njoku. Nevertheless, the Browns have used this as an opportunity to push the envelope to see just how much DPJ can give them, featuring him within the offense. It's good for his development, but also may be indicative of the Browns plans for the young receiver beyond his rookie contract. The Browns like to identify players to extend early and that may be what's happening here as DPJ has one more year remaining deal.

DPJ is a great fit for the power offense the Browns run. He's got size and strength with enough speed to be a problem. His toughness both enables him to make contested catches and contribute as a run blocker.

He's still not great when it comes to creating separation, though perhaps that is improving as the season moves along. DPJ is definitely gaining confidence with the ball in his hands as he gets more opportunities, enabling him to make defenders miss. He's using his power to finish runs, falling forward as opponents tackle him, gaining extra yards in the process.

The experience as a featured weapon will hopefully benefit him not only when Njoku returns from injury, but as the Browns prepare for the debut of Deshaun Watson in December. Watson's passing proficiency should help DPJ make more plays and maximize his yards after the catch. If DPJ is able to create more separation, he will raise the ceiling of what he can become.

The game against the Dolphins was far from perfect, but Donovan Peoples-Jones continues to provide reason to want to believe he can be a key contributor for the Browns for years to come.