The Los Angeles Rams are on a two-game winning streak and are seeking to add to it against the Cleveland Browns who are 4-point underdogs according to DraftKings Sportsbook. LA is attempting to even their record at the .500 mark for the first time since a Week 6 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Both the Rams and Browns are firmly in the playoff hunt in their respective conferences. I had the opportunity to speak with Chris Pokorny from SB Nation’s Browns blog Dawgs by Nature to gain familiarity with the enemy ahead of their Week 13 meeting.
Q - Head coach Kevin Stefanski was seemingly on the hot seat entering 2023. Yet the Browns are 7-4 despite all their injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. How has Stefanski managed to keep Cleveland afloat given all the adversity his team has faced this season?
A - I don’t really think Kevin Stefanski has been on the hot seat, even though it’s been speculated a few times. Initially, I think the perception was that owner Jimmy Haslam used to have a quick trigger on firing head coaches. Although he’s been patient with Kevin Stefanski, fans were thinking, “Now that the team spent so much on Deshaun Watson, if the team doesn’t do well with him, Stefanski will be the scapegoat.” The narrative has been a bit different, though, because Watson either struggled with so much rust, or has been hurt, since his return, so you can’t lay that blame on Stefanski. The team also lost their star running back, Nick Chubb, back in Week 2. Fans will complain that the team didn’t run the ball enough times last week against Denver, but 1) Stefanski runs it more than anyone in the NFL on average, and 2) teams are loading the box against a rookie quarterback, so you have to throw a bit to open things up. It’s little things like that which draw the ire of fans, but I look at the team’s record in spite of the issues and give credit to Stefanski. I never sense any form of dissention or mistrust among the team. The one area that I think Stefanski fails at is his in-game adjustments on offense. Overall, I think Stefanski does a good job coaching the offense within the limitations it has.
Q - Rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson has started the last two games after Deshaun Watson was lost to a season-ending shoulder injury. Thompson-Robinson led the Browns on a game-winning drive against the Steelers in Week 11 and left last week’s game in Denver with a concussion. What have you noticed in DTR’s game and additionally, what area could he use the most improvement?
A - I tried to hold off on this answer as long as possible for you, in order to try to give an accurate assessment of who will start for the Browns on Sunday. As of Friday morning, DTR is still in the concussion protocol, so it looks like veteran Joe Flacco will get the start after signing with the team two weeks ago. I think Flacco’s reputation speaks for itself on what type of quarterback he is. We’d be getting an older version of him, but my mind thinks about the big arm he has, and his lack of mobility. That would be the complete opposite of DTR, who had mobility but was not trusted to throw downfield. The thing that irked me about DTR, and any quarterback who does this, is that his ball placement on every pass is not good. It’s often behind the receiver, low, high, etc. Granted, you want your receivers to still make those catches, but we’ve seen a lot of drops the past two weeks, and I attribute it to receivers not being used to that inconsistent ball placement. His lack of downfield throws was a byproduct of Kevin Stefanski trying to reel him in and play a safe, measured gameplan on offense, hoping to minimize turnovers and allow the defense to help win them the game. It worked against Pittsburgh, and although it started rough against Denver, the team was within one score heading to the fourth quarter (DTR got concussed on the final play of the third quarter). Cleveland fumbled on a botched trick play to begin the fourth quarter, and the game unraveled from there.
Q - The defense was on a historic tear under veteran defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz through the first five weeks. Schwartz’s unit has been the lone reason the Browns have been in any games lately due to their offensive struggles. Could you describe all the improvements Schwartz has made to the defense in his first season in Cleveland?
A - When the Browns’ defense is at its best, they have their cornerbacks playing man coverage and allow their talented pass rushers to get after the quarterback. Additionally, you have the linebackers and safeties going off of their first instinct in trying to tackle or pursue potential receivers, knowing that the quarterback has to deliver the ball quickly. When offenses have that type of system, the Browns’ defense has thrived. Where they have had lapses, though, is when there is either a mobile quarterback, or a rushing attack that features a lot of misdirection. That keeps the defense flat-footed, and then they are no longer in control. We saw that the first time against the Ravens, and a bit against Denver last week — although last week, the team was also hurt by not having Denzel Ward in the lineup (shoulder injury), as Russell Wilson threw the ball up for grabs to Courtland Sutton in the first quarter, yielding positive results for the Broncos. It’ll be interesting to see how Matthew Stafford does against the defense — he doesn’t have that mobility factor that has given the defense fits, but he also has a lot of wide receivers who know how to get open.
Q - Myles Garrett led the NFL with 13 sacks through the first 12 weeks. Garrett is a DPOY favorite and a total game-wrecker which has me worried about what he might do to poor Matthew Stafford on Sunday. What makes Garrett so unstoppable on the defensive line and how could LA slow him down in Week 13?
A - Myles Garrett is consistently double- and triple-teamed, so it’s a tribute to how dominant he is that not only does the rest of the defensive line benefit from that, but Garrett still finds a way to make several key plays per week. His get-off is second-to-none; every so often, it results in an offsides penalty, but we live with that. Quarterbacks have him in the back of their mind, so they know they have to rush things a little bit. Last week against the Broncos, Garrett hurt his shoulder and couldn’t lift it — he still stayed on the field and played, but was operating with one arm, limiting his effectiveness. The team said this week that he has “soreness” and no structural damage, so it sounds like he will play through the pain. Whether that limits his effectiveness a week removed from hurting it remains to be seen.
Q - The Browns are 4-point underdogs with an O/U of 40.5 at DraftKings Sportsbook. How do you envision this game going and how does Cleveland get to 8-4?
A - The Browns have not suffered a two-game losing streak this season. After losing to the Steelers, they crushed the Titans 27-3. After losing to the Ravens, they gave the 49ers their first loss of the season 19-17. After losing to the Seahawks, they shut out the Cardinals 27-0. This defense is built to bounce back. Obviously, the quarterback situation makes it hard to be confident in getting to 8-4; how many teams can do that when being on their fourth starting quarterback of the season (Joe Flacco). I’ll still go with a bounceback game and win for Cleveland, but I don’t think I’d put money on it.