Browns inch closer to potential in win over Miami

MLB Joe Schobert picks off the Fins' Ryan Fitzpatrick, one of his four interceptions over the past two games. (Galvin/USA TODAY)

The Cleveland Browns took care of business, winning their Week 12 match-up against the Miami Dolphins 41-24. Cleveland had been favored at home by 10.5 points.

The first half was all Browns, and while the Dolphins made it a game early in the second half, Cleveland’s superior talent allowed them to pull away. Things still aren’t perfect, but they’re vastly improved ahead of the Browns’ (new) most important game of the 2019 season.

Cleveland posted 40 points for the second time this season, impressive no matter the opponent. The Dolphins have an awful dearth of talent, but they play hard. Baker Mayfield wasn’t able to just roll out of bed and have his best game of the season. He finished 24-for-34 for 327 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. He had a few typical iffy decisions, and one poor throw that resulted in his first pick since the New England game, but overall he threw the ball better than he has all season, and that’s encouraging.

Neither Nick Chubb nor Kareem Hunt was able to put together a dominant showing on the ground, but the duo did combine for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Their performance was admirable given another poor showing from Cleveland’s offensive line, even against a weak defensive front. It’s a major issue that won’t be fixed until new players are added to the line over the offseason. After that, Chubb (and perhaps Hunt, if the RFA-to-be is still around) should really be able to take off.

Jarvis Landry had a career game against his old team, catching 10 passes for 148 yards and two scores. Odell Beckham Jr. also got in on the action, grabbing six balls for 84 yards and a TD. The pair perhaps hasn’t been as explosive as many had hoped, but they are still both on pace for 1,100 yard seasons. It’s a process, but the offense is slowly coming together. Just in time, too.

The defensive performance was somewhat disappointing, although to be fair it is missing some significant pieces. Giving up 24 to Miami isn’t great. Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted twice and sacked five times, but he also threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.

The defensive line struggled without Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon, and Larry Ogunjobi. Sheldon Richardson continued his strong play, but everyone else was average or worse. Chad Thomas finished with an excellent 89.9 grade from Pro Football Focus, but that is skewed by an elite coverage grade of 90.6. He was, again, otherwise average, but that’s a step in the right direction for the much-maligned third-rounder from 2018.

New additions Bryan Cox Jr. and Porter Gustin combined for seven pressures on 57 snaps. Nothing special. In his first game with the team, Brandin Bryant played well enough to remain on the roster, while Devaroe Lawrence was cut to reactivate the suspended Ogunjobi.

Denzel Ward had another solid day, while Greedy Williams continued to struggle. Splitting time at strong safety, Juston Burris and rookie Sheldrick Redwine were fine. Certainly a downgrade from Morgan Burnett, but not disastrously so.

A rematch with the Pittsburgh Steelers is next, as the Browns travel to Heinz Field and will again be playing for their season. Cleveland is currently the AFC’s 10th seed at 5-6, while the Steelers own the second wild card berth at 6-5.

Squaring the teams’ records at 6-6 and claiming the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh would be a monumental achievement for Cleveland. They’d suddenly be in a good spot to make the playoffs, a ridiculous thought a few short weeks ago.

If the Browns can win on Sunday and do what they’re supposed to against Cincinnati and Arizona, welcoming the Baltimore Ravens to FirstEnergy Stadium three days before Christmas could be the most playoff-like atmosphere Cleveland has seen in a very long time.

But we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it. For now, the Browns must focus on going 1-0 once again.