Cleveland Browns: Storylines to watch vs. Miami Dolphins

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Several storylines stand out as the Cleveland Browns head down south to take on the Miami Dolphins with another new quarterback at the helm.

Another week, another injured quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns will be starting their 26th quarterback since 1999 on Sunday when rookie Cody Kessler takes the field. Only two games into the season and Hue Jackson has already faced an immense amount of adversity with many key players going down with injuries. In addition to the loss of Josh McCown, the team will be without starting center Cam Erving, starting defensive lineman Carl Nassib and starting wide receiver Corey Coleman.

Coleman, who shined scoring two touchdowns last week, broke his hand Wednesday afternoon at practice. The team seems to be on the wrong side of luck and the broken hand to Coleman is the latest bad news. The Browns released a statement on Coleman’s injury saying he will not require surgery to repair his hand and he will miss 4-6 weeks.

Despite the obstacles Hue Jackson is remaining positive and pressing forward:

“No, I keep telling you guys, I’m not blinking. I think you guys know me. I’m never going to do that. This football team and this organization depends on me to have a positive outlook about it all, and I do because I have seen this before. We all have. When you are changing things and you are trying to come from where we’ve been, these are the things that you have to go through. That saying, ‘Without struggle, there would be no progress.’ We are struggling, but we are going to get some progress here pretty soon. I promise you that.

The key for Jackson this week in Miami is to keep the team positive and under control no matter what adversity faces them throughout the game. The offensive supporting cast will need to play solid around Kessler to ease the rookie into the game during his debut.

If the Browns can design a mix of run and pass plays to comfort Kessler early, it will allow the rookie to settle in the game, much like how New England eased rookie Jacoby Brissett on Thursday night. If Kessler can stay poised and the defense can generate turnovers the Browns will be playing in a close game yet again late in the fourth quarter.

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The Browns offense will be at a severe disadvantage Sunday without veteran quarterback Josh McCown and rookie playmaker Corey Coleman. This means Isaiah Crowell must take lead of the offensive production for the team.

A week ago, the offense fed Crowell early and often and it sprung him to a long 85-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Crowell finished the day with 18 carries for 133 yards and one touchdown. The Browns stayed committed to the run for most of the first half and it led to scoring three early touchdowns. In the second half, the Browns shied away from the run and it led to no points. If the Crowell and the run game can produce early, moving the chains frequently, it will give Cody Kessler a chance in the passing game.

Expect the Dolphins to stack eight or nine defenders in the box early with only one thing in mind, shutting down Crowell and the running game. However, Coach Jackson must stay committed to the run even if it seems to have little success early in the ballgame. The commitment to the run game will give Kessler a chance to play some plays off of play-action and roll outs. Getting Kessler comfortable on some simple read throws will be key for the offense. This is only possible if the Browns stay persistent running and Crowell fights for tough yardage in the trenches.

Another facet of the offense that must be utilized is Duke Johnson. The offense must create touches and incorporate him more into the game plan. Johnson is a fast, shifty playmaker and can be deadly with the ball in the open field. It would be wise for the team to feed Johnson as well on outside runs, screens and designed pass plays. Johnson is a change of pace back compared to the downhill run style of Crowell and will serve as another weapon to help aid the rookie quarterback in his debut.

If Crowell can pace the team offensively, with a ground and pound, control the clock approach, the Browns will have opportunities to win the game. If the Browns offense can rush over the 100-yard mark again, led by the Crow, it will take pressure off the Browns defense to win the game and take pressure off the rookie Cody Kessler. Kessler remains a huge wildcard in what kind of performance the team will get, but if the team can run effectively it will be a tough fought game.

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What the Browns will get out of Cody Kessler remains to be a huge mystery heading into Sunday’s game. The first key to the game is establishing the run early in the ball game with Crowell and mixing in the versatile Duke Johnson. Establishing the run is key, but Kessler will need to make plays and convert on third downs for the team to have a chance in the game.

Despite what Coach Jackson may say in his press conferences, not even the coaching staff knows what to expect in Kessler’s play Sunday. However, if other rookie quarterbacks around the league are any indication, he will fare well. Dak Prescott and Jacoby Brissett, both drafted lower than Kessler, are a combined 2-1 and have played solid, managing the games for both their respective teams. If Kessler fails to live up to the bar these other rookie quarterbacks have already set, the media will grill the Browns for drafting Kessler and already label him as the wrong draft selection.

The key for Kessler is to not let the moment of getting his first NFL start so early in his career get to him. Kessler must remain poised, confident and become the leader of the offense. Kessler talked to reporters about the big moment Wednesday after practice:

“For me, I have not looked at it as a dream come true. For me, I look at it as I want it to be positive. I want to go out and play my best and do everything I can possible to help this team get a win. Obviously, I have worked very hard to get here, but you have to perform now. That is what you have to do in this league. They want performance. You want to play your best and be at your best on Sunday. Repeating this process throughout the week to help me get there.”

If Kessler can show these qualities it will be a positive day for the rookie despite the outcome on the scoreboard. For Kessler to succeed, he must rely heavily on the running game between Crowell and Johnson. In the passing game, Kessler must rely on tight end Gary Barnidge. Barnidge has had a quiet first two weeks of the season but will serve as a big target and safety blanket for his rookie signal caller.

It would be ideal for the Browns offense to call many early three-step drop passes, quick play-action fakes, and roll outs, where Barnidge is Kessler’s first read. The veteran Barnidge is the team’s most reliable and steady pass catching weapon. If Kessler finds himself in trouble he should look to check down to Barnidge and be protective with the football. Barnidge should receive a heavy volume of targets on Sunday.

The last key for Kessler to manage the game and be productive is to play turnover-free football. If Kessler is rattled and turns the ball over the Browns will have no chance to pull off the upset in Miami. Kessler must utilize his check downs and make smart accurate decisions. The second Kessler starts to force the ball into tight spaces is when the offense might be in trouble.

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Injuries have begun to take a toll on the Browns as they prepare for Sunday’s Week 3 game against the Dolphins. Starters like Corey Coleman, Josh McCown, Cam Erving, and Carl Nassib will be out of the action Sunday with their respective injuries.

In addition to those players, starting safety Ibraheim Campbell was ruled out for the game on Friday with a hamstring injury. This means fourth-round pick Derrick Kindred will start in his place. Kindred has received extended playing time in each of the first two games and has produced well. The physical safety has already showcased his toughness and his wiliness to get his nose dirty, with his hard-hitting ability.

Kindred was praised for these attributes coming out of TCU last season where he played the entire season with a broken collarbone. Kindred has made standout plays thus far this season and will get an opportunity to start and showcase his aggressive tackling and play.

Kicker Patrick Murray also got hurt Friday, injuring his knee, and is now questionable for the game Sunday. The severity of the injury is unknown, but the Browns signed veteran kicker Cody Parkey, formerly with the Eagles, to fill in at kicker if Murray is unable to kick Sunday. Parkey was a Pro Bowler following his stellar rookie season in 2014 where he set a new NFL scoring record for a rookie with 150 points. Parkey missed all of last season with a groin injury, and now will get another chance with the Browns.

Additionally, cornerback Joe Haden was listed questionable for Sunday’s game with a groin injury. Hopefully, Haden can go Sunday after turning in a stellar performance in Week 2, intercepting two passes. Haden showed his ability when he is fully healthy last week and the star corner doesn’t need to be hampered this season by a groin injury.

Even with all the early injuries, Hue Jackson is still confident in his team. Coach Jackson addressed his next man up approach in his press conference Thursday giving no excuses to the rapid amount of injuries the past week,

 These things happen, maybe not to the rate we have. I will be the first to tell you, I have never lost two quarterbacks in two weeks and turnaround and lose a young defensive player and here comes your receiver. No, that is a bit much, but I do know that these things happen. Like I said, if we were not going to get them back, maybe I would not be sitting here right now, but we are. That is just part of it. Our guys, they will be the first to tell you, honestly, I haven’t really made any mention of it other than ‘Here we go,’ because that is all you can do. They are not going to change the schedule. They are not going to tell us, ‘You guys get a couple weeks off and see if they can heal up.’ They say, ‘You have a game to play’ so we have a game to play and we are looking forward to playing.”

Jackson is confident, but Sunday’s game will give fans a clear sense of how well this team can do after already suffering so many injuries.

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