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Eight is enough

If there's any doubt that the Rams need to make drafting an ofensive lineman their top priority, this game should have put that to rest.

For Cleveland, first round pick Joe Thomas (3rd overall) was a force yesterday and has been a force all season and a big reason why the Browns - once so dependable for an easy win - can score points now.

Check out what Football Outsiders' Doug Farrar said about Cleveland's line:

During the time that I’ve observed them in preparation for next week’s matchup with the Seahawks, the Browns have moved up from "interestingly frisky" to "officially dangerous." They have a great aerial game, and perhaps the NFL’s most underrated offensive line. Actually, they’re a great argument for putting your money in the line if you want to improve your offense. They drafted Joe Thomas and stole Eric Steinbach away from the Bengals, and they’re 10th in Adjusted Line Yards and 15th in Adjusted Sack Rate through Week 7. Last season, they were 31st and 26th, respectively, in those categories. Meanwhile, teams like the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams are looking around for answers on offense, and their line deficiencies have a great deal to do with that.
On the other side of the ball, besides Alex Barron, who's since become a first round bust, the inability of the makeshift, injury-depleted line to help the offense sustain any of the pressure they've sorely lack this season points to a clear need for immediate help in that department for the Rams. They came up short with the game on the line, giving some credence to any thoughts that the Rams might go 0-16. (However, you can also point to the failure of Linehan and/or Bulger to call a time out when the Browns put nine defenders in the box on 4th and 1.)

Unlike the last seven games, the defense bears some considerable responsibility for this one too. The biggest criticism, that seems to be almost unanimous, of the Rams defense is the decision to go with man-to-man coverage, which let the Browns pass to Braylon Edwards at will. With Leonard out and the pass rush suffering accordingly, putting the secondary in man coverage was the only way to try and generate a rushing attack by bringing up the safeties. The Rams protected the middle of the field pretty well, but that didn't matter since Anderson and his receivers did their real damage deep. Anderson averaged just over 13 yards per throw. Without Leonard, the Cleveland line really controlled the field, and that's probably something the Rams should have known about through their game prep, as Cleveland's line has been doing that all season, and is a big reason why they're 4-3 after being the league's doormat for years and years.

It sounds silly to say when your team's 0-8, but we saw some things that point toward improvement for this team. Bulger looked much better than he has all season, and Steven Jackson proved that, even with a lame offensive line, he has the talent to open up games. Now, Cleveland's defense isn't exactly New England's, but if you look at the rest of the Rams schedule there's only one defense of note, Pittsburgh, left. I'm as confident as I've ever been that they'll be able to pick up a win or two before the season ends. Note the decline of the 49ers, winless since week 2. The Falcons also offer a chance to put that rare tick mark in the win column. Still, there's no such thing as a guaranteed win for an 0-8 team, so we'll need to see this week's progressed sustained before we get too carried away.

More than anything, this game’s silver lining is the progress Cleveland has made in just a year. In 2006 they finished 4-12, and their offense was ranked 30th in the league both in terms of points scored and total yardage. This season, with just a few important tweaks, notably on the offensive line, they’re 5th in total points and 15th in total yards. The gains the Rams have made in player development/personnel evaluation in the last two years hold out hope that another fruitful draft and the right free agent/trade or two can put the Rams right back into the thick of it next season.