1:00 PM ET, September 25, 2011
FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH
The Cleveland Browns feel optimistic after splitting their first two games, and their defense is a big reason why.
The Browns can finish Sunday above .500 through three games for the first time in nine years as they host the winless Miami Dolphins.
Cleveland's defense shouldered much of the blame for a 27-17 loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 11, getting caught off-guard and allowing the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter while still in the huddle. However, that unit has otherwise been solid over the first two weeks, allowing 289.5 yards per game -- sixth-best in the NFL.
The Browns (1-1), who are tied for the AFC lead with six sacks, took advantage of a Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis team last Sunday to win 27-19. In the second half, they forced three three-and-outs, an interception and a fumble.
Last season, Cleveland allowed 350.1 yards per game to rank 22nd in the league, but an influx of young talent and new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron seem to have helped.
Phil Taylor, the 21st overall pick in this year's draft, is second on the team behind D'Qwell Jackson with 11 tackles -- seven solo. Jabaal Sheard, the team's second-round pick, had five tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery last week.
"I think they did a good job," coach Pat Schurmur said of the two defensive rookies, "and they're getting better. I'm seeing improvement each week."
The Browns, who were winless after three games the last three seasons and finished no better than 5-11, are looking to start 2-1 for the first time since 2002. That's the only season in which they made the playoffs since returning to the NFL in 1999.
"Players just taking our own initiative and put our foot down, we're not going to take this anymore," safety T.J. Ward said. "We're not going to be run-of-the-mill and accept these losses."
Thanks to the defense, the pressure on Colt McCoy hasn't been as great. The second-year quarterback, though, is coming off a solid performance as he went 22 of 32 for 211 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
McCoy, though, will not have the luxury of using running back Peyton Hillis as a safety valve. Hillis, who has 10 catches for 53 yards and rushed for 94 yards and two TDs last week, was ruled out of this game due to strep throat.
McCoy may still be able to exploit a Miami defense which is giving up a league-worst 483.5 yards per game.
The Dolphins (0-2) have been particularly bad against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks have a 120.4 rating against them -- worst in the AFC. After allowing Tom Brady to throw for 517 yards, they let Matt Schaub complete 21 of 29 passes for 230 yards and two TDs in a 23-13 loss to Houston last Sunday.
This is the fifth time in six years Miami has started 0-2, but the Dolphins play their next three on the road, where they went 6-2 last year.
"Us being in an 0-2 hole, it's kind of like a must win," safety Yeremiah Bell said. "We've got to turn this thing around. It's on the players."
While the defense is carrying much of the blame, the offense also has struggled with the beleaguered Chad Henne under center. After passing for 416 yards in the opener, he was mediocre last Sunday, going 12 of 30 for 170 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Miami has been limited to four TDs in 10 red-zone opportunities and has scored just 60 percent of the time, tied for 30th in the league.
"As a quarterback, you want to hit the plays down there, you want to create plays and score touchdowns," Henne said. "It's definitely disappointing down there if we don't get it done."
While it was expected Reggie Bush would help the running game, he was overshadowed last Sunday by rookie Daniel Thomas, who had 18 carries for 107 yards. Bush had seven touches for 21 yards after getting 20 touches in the opener.
The Browns have won three straight over the Dolphins, including a 13-10 victory Dec. 5 on Phil Dawson's 23-yard field goal as time expired. Henne threw three interceptions.
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|Avg Points Allowed||26.0||20.7|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||MIA|
|Rush Yds Allowed||MIA|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Cleveland leads 4-1|
|Dec 5, 2010||MIA 10, CLE 13|
|Oct 14, 2007||MIA 31, @CLE 41|
|Nov 20, 2005||MIA 0, @CLE 22|
|Dec 26, 2004||MIA 10, CLE 7|