Dolphins Watch

December 4, 2010 2:39 PM

Dolphins try to gain ground against Browns

HILLIS.bmpWith the Patriots and Jets facing off Monday night, Sunday presents a great opportunity for the Dolphins to gain ground on the loser of that game if they beat the Cleveland Browns.

Miami would be one game behind the loser of Monday's AFC East first-place showdown for second in the division, with just four weeks to play.

But Cleveland is no pushover. During the past month, the Browns have whipped the Patriots 34-14 (handing them their last loss to date) and taken the Jets to overtime (before falling 26-20). This is a team that has been extremely competitive all season, despite its 4-7 record.

The main focus in the Browns offensive attack is running back Peyton Hillis, who has run for 905 yards, averaged 4.5 yards per carry, and scored 11 rushing TDs, putting him in elite company in franchise history with Hall-of-Famers Leroy Kelley and the great Jim Brown as the only Browns RBs to total 10 TDs in a season.

Hillis is also a threat out of the backfield, leading Cleveland with 46 receptions for 414 yards and two more scores.

Each week, opposing defenses enter the game knowing the key to stopping the Browns is stopping Hillis, but few have been successful thus far this season.

And the Dolphins will be further hampered by the loss of linebacker Channing Crowder, who is doubtful with a knee injury. With Crowder, the Dolphins held Oakland's second-ranked rushing offense to just 16 yards last week, and have limited opponents to an average of fewer than 100 yards per game. In the first three games of the season, which Crowder missed, the Dolphins allowed an average of 116 yards rushing per contest.

Still, the Dolphins can key on the run because Cleveland doesn't have much of a passing attack.

The Browns rank 28th throwing the football, and they're 27th in total offense. Besides Hillis, Cleveland's top receiver is tight end Ben Watson, who has just 40 receptions.

Colt McCoy, who led the Browns to wins over the Saints and Patriots, is out with a foot injury, which means Jake Delhomme will again be the starting quarterback.

Last week, Delhomme passed for 245 yards, but in what has become a recurring theme for him, he threw two interceptions -- one of which was returned for a TD, and the Browns had to rally to beat Carolina, 24-23. Delhomme has now thrown an astounding 24 interceptions in his last 12 games played.

The Dolphins have just nine interceptions this season, and after cutting Jason Allen, no player has more than one. Look for that to change Sunday.

Miami should also continue to build on its best rushing performance of the season, when the Dolphins rumbled for 186 yards against Oakland. Cleveland ranks 21st against the run, and 19th against the pass, meaning Chad Henne should also find plenty of open targets among Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Brandon Marshall, who is returning after a one-game absence due to a hamstring injury.

In a season in which it's been difficult to predict anything the Dolphins will do, I don't see them losing to the Browns at home.

Dolphins 24, Browns 16.

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