MIAMI (AP) — Quarterbacks keep coming off the bench against the Miami Dolphins, who are still looking for a backup they can beat.
Last week they couldn’t stop Jimmy Garoppolo or rookie Jacoby Brissett, who combined to fill in for Tom Brady and help the New England Patriots win 31-24. On Sunday the Dolphins face the Cleveland Browns, who will start their third QB in as many games.
Rookie Cody Kessler becomes the Browns’ 26th starter since 1999, replacing the injured Josh McCown, who replaced the injured Robert Griffin III.
The Dolphins have learned the hard way not to take a sub lightly.
"We played against a third-string quarterback last week, and he did very well against us," linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. "The NFL is the best of the NFL."
Not always. Here are things to know about this week’s only matchup between 0-2 teams:
The Dolphins gave up 465 yards to an offense led by Garoppolo and Brissett, including 326 passing. But those backups had a much better supporting cast than Kessler has.
"We are not getting dragged under, I promise you that," Browns first-year coach Hue Jackson said. "We are going to keep fighting. This is so early in the season. I would probably feel a little bit different and I might be hanging from the rafters up here if this was Week 14 or something and all this was going on, but it is early."
If it wasn’t bad enough that Jackson had to rush his third-round draft pick into the QB spot before he was truly ready, Kessler lost his top target when rookie wide receiver Corey Coleman broke his hand in practice Wednesday. After being slowed by a hamstring injury in training camp, Coleman was beginning to show signs of being a dependable playmaker. He had two touchdowns last week against Baltimore and has given Cleveland a deep threat while the team awaits former Pro Bowler Josh Gordon to return from a four-game suspension for numerous drug violations.
The loss of Coleman could mean more touches for Terrelle Pryor, the quarterback turned receiver, who seems to get better every time he takes the field.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is the Dolphins’ leading rusher, which shows how bad their ground game has been.
Miami running backs have combined for 82 yards in 25 carries (3.3 average), while Tannehill has 52 yards in 11 attempts (4.7 average). With Arian Foster hobbled by a groin injury, second-year pro Jay Ajayi is likely to make his first NFL start.
"We need to do a better job," Ajayi said. "This week is going to be a week for us to make that statement. We can be downhill guys."
Slow starts have been a problem for the Dolphins, especially on offense. In the first half they have yet to manage a touchdown while being outscored 30-6.
"The last two weeks, as an offense, we’ve hurt our defense by not getting them off the field early in games," Tannehill said. "It has come back to bite us at the end of the games. So we need to move the ball early, get points on the board and give our defense a break."
The Browns, by contrast, blew a big lead last week. They led Baltimore 20-0 after less than 10 minutes, but didn’t score again and lost 25-20.
"To be a real successful team, you have to finish," Jackson said. "That is something that we can learn."
The game will be the Dolphins’ first chance to turn up the volume in their renovated stadium .
A $500 million renovation includes a canopy that protects fans from the sun and is expected to make the stadium louder. The Dolphins’ only previous appearance under the canopy was a sparsely attended exhibition game, but Sunday’s game is a sellout.
The Browns are in a stretch of playing three road games in four weeks, hardly an ideal way for a team to break in 16 rookies or get off to a good start. And even after they return home on Oct. 9 to host New England in Brady’s return from his "Deflategate" suspension, the Browns will play their next two games on the road, giving them five in the first seven weeks.