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Browns-Dolphins matchup of the day: Wednesday

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Posted Dec. 01, 2010 @ 3:20 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Browns-Dolphins game.

Browns special-teams coverage vs. Dolphins special-teams coverage

The Browns have a significant edge in punt and kickoff coverage against the Dolphins, who have surrendered three special-teams scores this season, with two on kickoff returns, the latest a 101-yarder by the Raiders' Jacoby Ford on Sunday's opening kickoff. The Dolphins had a chance to limit the fast and elusive Ford to a relatively short return, but he was able to pick his way through Miami's coverage team, and by the time he burst past Dolphins PK Dan Carpenter around the Miami 35-yard line, only the mythical turf monster would be able to trip him up.

So bad were the Dolphins' special teams in the Week Four loss to New England, when the Pats blocked a punt (which set up a touchdown), a field goal (returned for a score) and returned a kickoff for a TD, that head coach Tony Sparano fired special-teams coordinator John Bonamego the day after the game. (Dolphins assistant special-teams coach Darren Rizzi stepped into Bonamego's role.)

Overall, the Dolphins are allowing 26.3 yards per kickoff return, third-worst in the AFC. (Though, it should be noted, if the two TDs the Dolphins have surrendered are excluded, Miami is allowing just 22.5 yards per kickoff.) By contrast, the Browns are allowing a league-best 17.1 yards per kickoff. The Browns are also superior in punt coverage, allowing just 6.6 yards per return, with Miami allowing 7.8 yards.

Browns P Reggie Hodges leads the NFL with 12 punts downed inside the opposition's 10-yard line. Dolphins counterpart Brandon Fields has a 36.5-yard net average, with 19 punts downed inside the 20.

Dolphins PK Dan Carpenter has been stronger on kickoffs than the Browns' Phil Dawson, averaging 66.0 yards per kick to Dawson's 61.7.

The Dolphins have one of the AFC's better punt returners in WR Davone Bess, who is second in the conference in return average (12.4 avg.). Bess broke a 47-yard return vs. Oakland in impressive fashion; he started left, broke a tackle, eluded two other Oakland tackle attempts and found plenty of running room to his right, a credit both to his elusiveness and the Dolphins' blocking. RB Patrick Cobbs (20.9 avg.) is the primary kickoff returnerm though rookie Nolan Carroll is averaging 25.5 yards on 17 returns, with a long return of 46 yards.

Browns RS Joshua Cribbs has largely been held in check this season. Teams have done very well to limit optimal return opportunities for Cribbs by kicking short or away from him altogether, and opponents have been sound in coverage against him. Cribbs is playing with sprained toes suffered in Week 10 but is expected to be returning kickoffs (21.1 avg.) and punts (8.6 avg.) vs. Miami.

Browns S Nick Sorensen leads the Browns' in special-teams tackles with 12, with Dolphins S Tyrone Culver leading his club with nine special-teams stops.

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