CLEVELAND — Romeo Crennel will never be confused with the ubiquitous — at least on TBS — Frank Caliendo, but this week he tried his first impression in three years as Browns coach.
“They are the best offense and defense that we’ve ever seen,” Crennel said of the Dolphins, altering his voice slightly to mimic monotone Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “We better be at the top of our game.”
Belichick was over-complimentary of the Browns before their meeting last week, and Crennel joked that he’d consider a wardrobe change to a hooded sweatshirt to get the desired Belichick effect.
“I’ll cut it off at the arms,” he said.
Crennel was searching for ways to keep the Browns focused on their matchup with the 0-5 Dolphins. The Browns, rarely in this position, are 4½-point favorites, and professional athletes have gotten inflated egos from much less.
“We really haven’t done anything,” Crennel said. “We lost last week. I don’t think we’re in position to get a big head, believe it or not.”
“We’re no 5-0 team,” receiver Braylon Edwards said. “We’re not the Colts or the Patriots.”
The Browns seem grounded, but the “lookahead” question is a legitimate one. The Browns were expected to beat 0-2 Oakland in Week 3, but admittedly came out flat before rallying in the second half, only to lose on a blocked field goal as time expired. They say they’ve learned their lesson.
“That game could be a blessing to us for the rest of the season,” linebacker Andra Davis said. “Our focus is real good. We have a very mature team now. It’s not like in the past where we’ve been in this situation and favored to win. The veteran guys do a good job preaching to the younger guys.”
The season is only at Week 6, but plenty hinges on the outcome today. A win would give the Browns an unexpected 3-3 mark and tons to feel good about at the bye. They would be alive in the playoff chase and headed to winless St. Louis after the week off.
“It would mean a lot,” Davis said. “You don’t want to lose the game and have it lingering over your head for two weeks and people start talking about how terrible you are.
“It’s a great situation for us. We would be in good position.”
If they trip over themselves today, the Browns would be an irrelevant 2-4 with two weeks to dwell on their blown chances. That’s plenty of time for the fans to rev up the “Romeo must go” and “Brady (Quinn) must play” chants.
“We can’t look at it as a day off,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said.
On the surface, the Dolphins appear to be a sure thing.
Veteran quarterback Trent Green is out with his second serious concussion in two years. Replacement Cleo Lemon has thrown just 95 passes in his career and will make his second pro start. He’s more athletic and has a stronger arm than Green, but his downfield accuracy has been questioned.
The Dolphins rank 31st against the run — which is even worse than the Browns – and the South Florida media have already explored the possibility of a winless season.
But inside the Browns locker room, the players spoke as if Larry Csonka, Mark Duper and Dan Marino were still wearing the aqua jerseys.
“They’re a good team and we don’t want to be the team they get their first victory over,” Davis said, noting the Dolphins have lost three road games by three points each.
“We’re not taking anybody lightly,” said guard Seth McKinney, who spent five years with the Dolphins. “They have a good level of talent over there. They’re no slouches.”
Miami’s strength is running back Ronnie Brown on offense (three straight 100-yard games) and a veteran defense that should get better with linebacker Zach Thomas and hard-hitting safety Donovin Darius returning to health.
“It’s a really big game for them,” said running back Jason Wright, who will fill in for Jamal Lewis, out with an injured foot. “That defense is talented. It’s going to really be a challenge.”
The Browns expect to be buoyed by the home crowd. They’ve won two straight on the lakefront.
“I believe we play a lot better at home,” Edwards said. “Obviously it’s because of the fans, and we feel a lot more comfortable.”
They’ll feel even better if they walk off the field with the win everyone expects – and no one should take for granted.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Browns vs. Miami
WHERE: Cleveland Browns Stadium
TIME: 1 p.m.
RECORDS: Browns 2-3; Dolphins 0-5
LAST WEEK: Browns lost 34-17 to Patriots; Dolphins lost 22-19 to Texans
SERIES: Dolphins lead 9-5, including 2-0 in playoffs
SERIES AT CLEVELAND: Tied at 4
LAST MEETING: Browns won 22-0 on Nov. 20, 2005, in Cleveland
COACHES: Romeo Crennel is 12-25 with Browns and overall; Cam Cameron is 0-5 with Dolphins and overall
TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with broadcasters Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots;
WMMS 100.7-FM; WTAM 1100-AM
NFL RANKINGS (OUT OF 32 TEAMS): Browns — offense 8th (16th rushing, 9th passing), defense 32nd (30th rushing, 31st passing); Dolphins — offense 19th (19th rushing, 17th passing), defense 24th (31st rushing, 3rd passing)
BROWNS UPDATE: WR Braylon Edwards ranks fourth in the NFL with 485 receiving yards. He leads the league with 20.2 yards per catch.
• QB Derek Anderson ranks last in the AFC with eight interceptions. He’s second with 11 TD passes.
• The Browns rank second in the AFC with 6.46 yards per first-down play. The Dolphins are first with 6.69.
• G Seth McKinney was drafted by the Dolphins in the third round in 2002 and played for them until 2006.
• RB Jason Wright will start in place of Jamal Lewis, who has an injured foot.
• WR Tim Carter caught his first touchdown pass as a Brown vs. the Patriots. He would start if Joe Jurevicius can’t go.
DOLPHINS UPDATE: QB Cleo Lemon will make his second NFL start. He was 15-for-27 for 151 yards and an interception after replacing Trent Green (concussion) last week.
• RB Ronnie Brown is fifth in the NFL with 425 yards rushing. He has three straight 100-yard games.
• LB Zach Thomas returned last week after missing two games with a concussion. He leads the team with 32 tackles.
• K Jay Feely has made 23 straight field goals.
• Dolphins WR coach Terry Robiskie was with the Browns from 2001-06, including finishing 2004 as interim head coach.
BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Out: S Gary Baxter (knees), RB Jamal Lewis (foot); Doubtful: TE Darnell Dinkins (hand); Questionable: WR Joe Jurevicius (knee), S Brodney Pool (thigh); Probable: FB Charles Ali (toe),
TE Kellen Winslow (shoulder)
DOLPHINS INJURY REPORT: Out: QB Trent Green (concussion), DT Vonnie Holliday (ankle), S Travares Tillman (knee); Questionable: WR Derek Hagan (hamstring), DT Rodrique Wright (ankle); Probable: RB Ronnie Brown (foot), LB Channing Crowder (ankle), K Jay Feely (neck), C Samson Satele (neck), DE Jason Taylor (neck), S Cameron Worrell (shoulder)
THE PICK: The Browns avoid looking past Miami, head into the bye 3-3. Browns 30-17.
KEYS TO THE GAME
What can Brown do to them?
If Miami’s Ronnie Brown rushes for 100 yards for the fourth straight game, the Browns could be in trouble. The Browns built their game plan around stopping Brown, and will try to make inexperienced quarterback Cleo Lemon beat them. If Brown (425 rushing yards, 5.1 average, four TDs) still manages a big day — which is possible against the 30th-ranked run defense (157.4 yards a game) — the Dolphins will be in the game. The Browns have allowed a 100-yard rusher in all five games.
Brown is also a threat catching the ball, leading the Dolphins with 25 catches for 287 yards and a touchdown.
Jump on them early
A quick start would go a long way for the Browns.
Their three losses have been largely due to terrible first-half performances, so they need to avoid a repeat. That means Derek Anderson can’t throw early interceptions, and the defense and special teams can’t allow easy scores.
The Dolphins are 0-5 and have the fragile psyche to prove it. If the Browns can get up by 14 points in the first half, the fans will be rocking and Miami, which has lost five straight on the road, will be reeling. If the Browns let Miami hang around into the fourth quarter, anything can happen.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor vs. Browns left tackle Joe Thomas
Taylor, the University of Akron product, has 109 career sacks, which rank 16th all time. He had 13.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in 2006 and was voted the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. He has three sacks this year.
Taylor’s known for his speed on the edge, but he also has deceptive strength.
Thomas’ athleticism is his best attribute, so he should match up well with Taylor. Thomas has had a strong start to his rookie year and must keep Taylor away from Derek Anderson, who has a nasty habit of fumbling.
Browns tight end Kellen Winslow vs. Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter
Their war of words adds a little spice to an otherwise bland game.
Porter continues to hammer Winslow for his lack of success — Porter’s Steelers swept the Browns last year — and reluctance to block. Winslow replied that Porter’s Dolphins are 0-5 and he’s not their best defensive player.
Winslow is battling a shoulder injury yet continues to perform on Sundays. He’s caught 24 passes for 416 yards, a 17.3 average and two TDs. He’s at his best running down the seam, and Anderson’s big arm allows him to take advantage. Porter is sackless and has had little impact in his first year with the Dolphins.
The two won’t be matched up often, but when they tangle it should make for good theater.