The Miami Dolphins travel to Cleveland in the NFL’s week 12 to take on the Cleveland Browns who are in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Cleveland should have the upper hand in the lopsided contest after Miami lost more defensive players this week.
Dolphins lose multiple starting players throughout the week
If waiving starting running back Mark Walton after his fourth arrest in 2019 wasn’t enough, the Dolphins also lost both starting safeties, Reshad Jones and Bobby McCain, to season-ending injured reserve. S Steven Parker, who has shown bright spots in recent weeks, will move into the starting role, likely opposite S Walt Aikens.
“I just do what I’ve got to do. I come in every week, prepare (on) both special teams and defense, making sure I’m ready at any given moment. As far as I’m concerned, I handle what I’ve got to do on special teams and when my name is called, I do what I need to do,” Aikens said.
Dolphins’ healthy WR core – a rarity
Additionally, Miami’s (2-8) receiving core is all healthy for the matchup. DeVante Parker will remain the team’s top wideout, with Allen Hurns taking over the No. 2 role. WR Jakeem Grant saw an odd statistical week last week with both a special teams and rushing score. He will likely need to help step up in the receiving core, something he has lacked in this season, if he wants to help give his team a chance to win. Albert Wilson has also been non-existent in the passing game, but with the lack of the Dolphins’ running game, his presence will need to be felt as well.
Ballage’s baggage not worth it, Turner to play?
Miami will lose this game if it sticks with RB Kalen Ballage again. He finished last week’s home loss to Buffalo with nine carries for nine yards. Ballage is now averaging 1.9 yards per carry this season and should be back on the bench where he was before Kenyan Drake was traded and Walton was released. The Dolphins must utilize rookie Patrick Laird who has 8.3 YPC this season. It could also explore the option of featuring rookie Myles Gaskin and throw in De’Lance Turner (acquired from the Ravens’ practice squad) for kicks and giggles.
“Turner, he’s done a real good job in the kicking game. He’s actually showed up in a good way on our show teams running the football, catching the football out of the backfield. I think this is a good, young, physical, fast, good, young player,” Miami head coach Brian Flores said. “Again, like I say to all the players on this team, your role on this team is what you make it, and I think he’s working towards carving out a role for himself, specifically in the kicking game but trying to do so offensively as well.”
If Flores stays true to his word about all players’ roles on the team are what they make of it, then we should see more than Ballage on Sunday.
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QB Fitzpatrick will start
Additionally, Flores named quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick the starter without question, despite Fitzpatrick being limited this week with shoulder/forearm soreness in his throwing arm.
Cleveland not lacking in offensive weapons
On the opposite side of the ball, Cleveland (4-6) will come in with an impressive offense despite its record.
QB Baker Mayfield should be able to take it to Miami’s plagued defense through the air with WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Landry has been the best WR for the team as of late and has found the end zone in three straight games. He’s also playing his former team, which is bound to put some pep in his step. Beckham should also have a successful game, and his abilities to work the outside coverage should come in handy with the backups in at safety and corner.
Beckham’s game should further elevate with the usage of RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The poor rushing defense for Miami will allow Chubb to expend the defense with his high volume of carries and the yards he’ll eat up. While the Dolphins are 20th in pass defense, climbing 12 spots in just a few weeks, their 31st ranked rush defense allows nearly 148 yards per game. With Miami not being able to guess which type of play will be dialed up, blown coverage will happen.
Flores knows Dolphins’ defensive heads must swivel
“Obviously they’re (Landry/Beckham) two of the top receivers in the league; but I don’t want this game to be about those two guys in particular because then you lose sight of (Nick) Chubb and you lose sight of (Kareem) Hunt and you lose sight of (David) Njoku,” Flores said. “There’s a lot going on here. Let’s read our keys, let’s play with our technique and fundamentals, let’s try to tackle these guys.”
While Hunt isn’t getting the chance to carry the ball on the ground with Chubb averaging 22 carries per game, he is getting more and more opportunities in the pass game as a pass-catching back. The dump pass will also be available for the Browns, in what will make it a long day for Miami all over the field.
“Anyone can see it’s a very talented team. That’s what we’re preparing for,” Flores said. “We’re preparing for their best and they’ve shown that. This is going to be a tough group to try to contain, to be honest with you. I can’t speak to what’s gone on. The only thing I can speak to is what I see on film and what I see is a lot of good players and a good scheme, and that’s what we’re preparing for.”