This week, the Los Angeles Rams will travel to the Mistake on the Lake to take on Marty Schottenheimer’s Cleveland Browns. The Browns will try to establish a ground attack on the giant shoulder pads and neck rolls of running backs Kevin Mack and Ernest Byner. Should those two rhinos get going quarterback Bernie Kosar may have just enough time to find receiver Webster Slaughter and tight end Ozzie Newsome downfield. On the other side of the line Jackie Slater and company will try to control Clay Matthews, Michael Den Perry, and…wait, this isn’t 1988? This is 2019 and the Cleveland Browns think that they’re going to make the playoffs!??!
Okay Big Dawg, we’ll play along.
Not completely dissimilar from the 2017 San Francisco 49ers, last year’s Browns finished the season pretty hot, winning 5 of their last 7, leading to a general feeling of frogginess among long-suffering Browns fans. That stretch, combined with now-sophomore quarterback Baker Mayfield’s mojo, the emergence of running back Nick Chubb, and the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. propelled the Browns into the national spotlight heading into this season. But will they flop like the injury-plagued 49ers of 2018 did?
Getting stomped out and disrespected by the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 was certainly not the start that newly-promoted head coach Freddie Kitchens would have hoped for, but the Browns were able to even up their record against the quarterback-less New York Jets in Week 2. Following the Rams game, the Browns will travel to Baltimore and Santa Clara, before hosting the Seattle Seahawks, and then going to New England to play the Patriots. The Browns should be really hungry to handle business at home, because if they don’t they could fall into a 2-5 or 1-6 hole before their schedule eases up.
If Kinchens is able to utilize his riches at the skill positions to keep defenses off balance, the Browns should be able to jump out to leads at which point their pass rush, led by Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, should really get going on the other side. The biggest issue with all that will be developing offensive rhythm behind a somewhat suspect offensive line, which features former Rams dud Greg Robinson at left tackle. That being said, the line is returning four starters from last year, and will hope to gel as the season progresses. This week however, Robinson is going against a team that knows him well, and will consequently be hit with a flurry of speed with Dante Fowler and Aaron Donald storming the backfield.
Browns tight end David Njoku will miss the game with a concussion and wrist injury, but the Rams will still have to contend with Jarvis Landry out of the slot, Beckham outside, and Nick Chubb out of the backfield, all serious threats. The Rams have plenty of opportunistic playmakers in their secondary and will hope their pass rush is able to force the Baker Mayfield to make enough mistakes keep a lid on the Browns offensive production. Look for plenty of the the Rams signature “bend but don’t break” sequences on defense.
Expect the Browns defense to be pass-rush centric, following Myles Garrett reenactment of Godzilla goes to New York last week. The Rams offensive line has been inconsistent at best so far, but look for Sean McVay to call some early run plays to help keep the pass rush honest. If the Rams are successful on this front, then quarterback Jared Goff should continue to build on the rhythm he began to establish late in the game against the New Orleans Saints. Browns corners Denzel Ward and rookie Greedy Williams are both listed as questionable with hamstring issues. If they can’t play, things could get ugly. On the flip side, if the Rams have trouble running the ball and Garrett starts flying it could be another long night on the lakes for the Rams offense. This really could play out in a number of ways.
Ultimately, the Rams are far more experienced and should be able to make enough plays to outlast the upstarts in Cleveland, but they would be wise to jump out to an early lead to take the wind out of what should be a fully-charged environment for Sunday night football by Lake Erie.