Rams vs Cleveland: What to watch, who to watch and other thoughts on tonight's game

Will St. Louis Rams DE Chris Long feast on a weakened Cleveland offensive line?

The St. Louis Rams take on the Cleveland Browns for their second week of preseason play in just a little more than 24 hours. 3k had the preview this morning, and I'm piling on with a few more thoughts on the game. Warning: This is stream of consciousness stuff here, so deal with the randomness and jump in the conversation.

Cleveland will be without the starting right side of their offensive line, which as 3k mentioned in his preview was already a little suspect. Right guard Floyd Womack will be out for the rest of the preseason and rookie RT Shawn Lauvao will miss the rest of the week and likely Saturday's game. This should be a good opportunity for the Rams pass rush to show off a little, especially Chris Long and his nasty streak.

Cleveland allowed just one sack against the Packers last week in a game they won through the air. Of the Browns' 296 total yards, 212 of those were passing yards. And those weren't dump off passes. The Browns receivers had three plays of 20 yards or more. With Bartell and Fletcher back in action, the Rams should have improved play from their secondary, to start the game at least. Big plays hurt the Rams last year, with Bartell playing through injury and a parade of replacements on the other side of him. This will be a good test for both the starting unit and the guys competing for playing time behind them.

Once the games gets into the second half, it's more about the players on the field than an accurate assessment of the collective efforts of each unit. That will be particularly true of the Rams corners in the game at that point. Jerome Murphy is unlikely to play, which is a damn shame. They'll be without Kevin Dockery too, so once Bartell and Fletcher are off the field, the coaches will have to skip a step on the depth chart to fill out the secondary. Marquis Johnson will again get lots of playing time. That's a good thing. Yes, he gave up some big plays, the 71-yard TD for example, and looked a lot like a rookie struggling with assignments and technique. However, I'm still intrigued by some of the positives he showed. Keep an eye on how he does. Here's what it look like at CB for the Rams tonight:

Bartell and Fletcher - starters

2nd tier - Dockery (out), Justin King (out)

3rd tier - Quincy Butler, Jerome Murphy (out)

4th tier - Marquis Johnson, Marcus Brown, Antoine Thompson

One unit that most certainly won't be filled with roster depth to start the second half is the Rams offense. The big story is that they want to get Sam Bradford the reps. The real story, however, is the offensive line, as if you didn't already know that. How healthy is Jacob Bell? How about Jason Smith? He wore down last week after missing most of practice up to that point. The Browns gave up 5.2 yards per carry to opposing running backs last week, though the Packers first team offense didn't run much after Ryan Grant left early in the game. The defense, which managed just one sack, allowed Aaron Rodgers to pass at will. He was 12/13 with 159 yards and 1 TD. The Rams line will have plenty of scrutiny and expected to do their job so that the rest of the offense can show some ability moving the football. 

Speaking of pass protection, the Browns will be without NT Shaun Rogers this week. Second year DT Ahtyba Rubin will again start. Rubin is the one who brought down Ryan Grant last week, stripping him of the ball in the process. 

The run defense looked pretty effective last week, with one notable absence on the MIN side of the equation. Cleveland was 5-for-14 on third downs last week, but none of those third downs were third-and-short situations. Minnesota mostly passed in those situations against the Rams, though the defense did make some nice tackles for losses to keep the running game in check. Last year, the Rams DL was fairly effective in those 3rd and 4th down "power" situations, according to Football Outsiders' stats. I'll be anxious to see how they look this year with the growth of players on the DL, the addition of Fred Robbins and a strong group of linebackers. 

The biggest weakness in the Rams run defense last year came beyond the line of scrimmage. The safties and the corners will be evaluated against the run this week too. Will a more physical unit hold runners in check?

Ok, I warned you above that this post could ramble, so I'm going to try and channel this stream of consciousness to wrap it up. Here are my thoughts on the three players I'm most interested to watch tonight, after Bradford of course.

 

  1. Jacob Bell - Bell has been out of action for most of the month, but he's starting tonight. Will he be rusty from being out of action for that long? The playbook and assignments should be familiar enough to the athletic Bell. What kind of chemistry will he have with the rookie Rodger Saffold playing next to him at LT?
  2. Oshiomogho Atogwe - Reports from practice this week saw him miss a few balls that could have been interceptions. A pass happy Browns offense would normally be a nice matchup. This is a big season for Atogwe, who is basically playing on a one-year deal with the Rams. Can his hands have the impact they once did?
  3. Mardy Gilyard - I think Gilyard makes the final cut simply because the Rams won't want him exposed on the practice squad. However, he start making an airtight case for that tonight. I want to see him get some of those all-precious yards after the catch. He'll also get some opportunities to return some kicks, a job that Danny Amendola looks to have sewn up. Amendola, however, is making an impact as a WR too, so if Gilyard can be an effective returner that will save some wear and tear on Amendola. 
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